Bradley Byrne: Agriculture key to local economy

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You often hear a lot about how the United States economy is becoming more and more dependent on manufacturing. The same holds true for us here in South Alabama with big companies like Airbus and Austal setting up operations in our area.

With the growth in manufacturing, it is easy to lose focus on the fact that agriculture remains the top industry in Alabama. 580,000 jobs in our state are related to agriculture and forestry. Agriculture’s impact on the state’s economy is over $70 billion a year. Right here in the First Congressional District, over 100,000 jobs are tied to agriculture.

With this in mind, last week I set off on a two-day, six county “Ag Matters” tour to visit with farmers and foresters in Southwest Alabama. I was happy to be joined on the tour by Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan and representatives from the Alabama Farmers Federation and the Alabama Forestry Association.

We started things off in Baldwin County at a farm outside of Robertsdale. From there, we stopped by farms in Uriah, Leroy, and Grand Bay. We also held a roundtable with local forestry leaders in Brewton, visited private timberland in Evergreen, and toured the Scotch Plywood facility in Clarke County. At each stop, I learned new information about some of the challenges facing our nation’s farmers and foresters.

One common theme at all the stops was that federal regulations from Washington are making life harder for our local farmers. For example, the EPA’s recently proposed “Waters of the US” rule will greatly expand the agency’s ability to regulate bodies of water. Some legal scholars believe the regulation is so broad that it could lead to the EPA regulating bodies of water as small as ditches or puddles in a farm pasture.

If this regulation goes into effect, our local farmers and foresters would be required to seek special permits or face outrageous fines. Instead of being able to focus on farming, they would have to spend precious time and money complying with frivolous federal mandates. Any additional costs would likely be passed on to the consumer in the form of higher grocery bills.

Just last week, a federal judge issued a ruling that puts the future of the regulation in question, Regardless of what the courts say, I will keep working in Congress to get rid of this silly regulation.

Another concern I heard a lot about during my “Ag Matters” tour related to the Endangered Species Act. Farmers and foresters often have to suspend operations due to new species being declared endangered or threatened. These species range from things like the black pine snake to the gopher tortoise.

I am all for protecting our nation’s wildlife, but it is clear the Endangered Species Act isn’t working. In fact, the Endangered Species Act has had very little success in recovering and protecting key domestic species and instead the law has resulted in excessive litigation. That is why I supported a bill last year to reform the Endangered Species Act to ensure more accountability and transparency in the process.

No one is going to be a greater steward of the land than those who depend on our natural resources in order to make a living. Our farmers and foresters don’t need federal regulators from Washington – who have never even been to Alabama – telling them how to run their farms.

Ultimately, when our “Ag Matters” tour wrapped up in Mobile County last Friday, I had an even greater appreciation for the challenges facing our agriculture industry, but I took great hope in the dedicated and hardworking farmers and foresters who call Southwest Alabama their home.

Bradley Byrne is a member of the U.S. Congress representing Alabama’s 1st Congressional District.

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