Idaho state government's relationship to farmers could see changes under legislation working its way through the Legislature this session. Changes to regulations for dairy farms and large poultry operations, supported by the agricultural industry, were approved by the Idaho Senate Thursday.
The Senate approved changes to the state's right to farm law that would limit legal actions that could be taken against farms that are looking to expand. It also limits any nuisance complaints against farming operations. The vote on the plan was 32-2.
Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, said conflicts between farmers and residents have grown as more people have built homes in rural areas and had to deal with irritations like the smell of pesticides or sound of crop dusting airplanes.
“Things have changed, but what has remained unchanged is our need to maintain our farm ground,” Corder said.
The legislation, which heads to the governor's desk, would limit people's abilities to claim nuisance on agricultural operations including noise, applying pesticide, and animal waste. Corder said current state law doesn't specify those farming activities but they would be included, and that the new legislation makes the law less vague.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, said the right to farm isn't a right to pollute, and that the change wouldn't affect existing environmental regulations.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she was against the legislation, and had fought for years with a neighbor who had a dump on their property.
The Senate also approved a plan to let the Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) regulate large facilities for chickens and other poultry, called concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Currently, the Department of Environmental Quality could regulate poultry CAFOS, but none in Idaho are large enough to trigger such oversight.
At a Senate hearing on March 24, Sen. Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, called the switch a positive move. “The regulations and requirements we're putting on here are very strict,” Pearce said. "I think the Department of Ag are the specialists.” The change was also backed by the Idaho Farm Bureau and Central Coast Farms, a California poultry company that is looking at Idaho as a new base of operations.
“The chickens are coming,” Corder said Thursday.
Under the plan, poultry operations would also be charged an annual fee based on the size of their facility. The ISDA would be in charge of monitoring the CAFO's nutrient management plans and environmental impact.
The switch is opposed by Alma Hasse, the founder of Idaho Concerned Area Residents for the Environment (ICARE), which opposes CAFOs. She told lawmakers that the Department of Agriculture can't adequately regulate poultry CAFOs since it's also in charge of promoting Idaho food products.
The Senate approved that plan unanimously.
On Thursday, the Senate also approved a plan that would classify part of dairy farms' reporting to the the ISDA; specifically, its nutrient management plans. Those plans include how dairies deal with animal waste.
Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise said he's concerned about the added confidentiality, though Idaho's dairy industry has been acting with greater transparency. “If for some reason these confidentiality provisions prove to be problematic, then I for one would want to revisit them,” Bock said.
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said the plan was a little too much cow pucky, and opposed the plan.
The Senate also approved legislation requiring the ISDA to make sure all of its rules follow the best available science, including studies on public health or environmental impacts.
All the legislation affecting agriculture now heads to Gov. Butch Otter for his consideration.
Photo courtesy of FreeFoto.com.
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