Pollution precedent

In a ruling last month that could have implications for agriculture, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that indirect pollution reaching rivers, lakes, oceans and other navigable waters may fall under jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.

The decision came in a closely watched case from Hawaii about whether a sewage treatment plant needs a federal permit when it sends wastewater deep underground instead of dis­charging the treated flow directly into the Pacific Ocean. Studies found the wastewater reaches the ocean and has damaged a coral reef near a Maui beach.

The Clean Water Act prohibits the discharge of “any pollutant to navigable waters from any point source” without a permit. Typically, sewage plants and other such industries must get a permit under the CWA when their pollutants go through a pipe directly into a body of water. The question in this case was whether a permit is needed when the pollutant first passes through the soil or groundwater.

Justices held by a 6-3 vote that industries cannot avoid com­pliance with the CWA by discharging polluted water into the ground rather than directly into waterways.

“We hold that the statute requires a permit when there is a di­rect discharge from a point source into navigable waters or when there is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge,” Justice Stephen Breyer wrote for the court.

The ruling vacated a Ninth Circuit decision that said a permit was required if such pollutants were “fairly traceable” to a point source. According to the lower court, the groundwater served as a conduit to transport the pollutants into navigable water, making it no different than discharging directly into the ocean. Agricultural leaders had expressed concern that, under this definition, farms could be subject to permitting requirements and enforcement if pollutants were “fairly traceable” to their operations.

Asserting that the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation was too broad, the Supreme Court concluded that time and distance would be crucial factors in determining which discharges into groundwater would be the “functional equivalent” of direct discharges. Ag­riculture industry leaders say the ruling may still expose farmers and ranchers to Clean Water Act violations as they relate to groundwater, with the potential to affect everything from field-tiling systems to manure stored in waste lagoons.

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Interns experience agriculture on the job

The 2020 group of MFA Ag Experience interns began their 12-week program May 18 with a slightly modified orientation to accommodate social-distancing guidelines at the home office in Columbia. Seated at desks about six feet apart, the students learned about company standards and became acquainted with MFA executives and fellow interns.

To be eligible for the pro­gram, applicants must be pur­suing a bachelor’s degree at an accredited college or university, be a full-time student in good standing with a grade point average above 2.75 and have completed their sophomore year of college.

The program, ending on Aug. 7, pairs each intern with a mentor from MFA Incorporated based on individual career objectives. Throughout the summer, the students learn about various sectors of agriculture by working with MFA and its members. As trusted employees, the students have access to the same technology resources, events and programs as other full-time employees in similar positions.

Students are challenged to stretch themselves beyond com­pletion of the job and use the opportunity to apply their class­room knowledge and previous work experience to real-world situations in the field. Upon conclusion of the program, the interns give presentations about their summer’s work to senior-level managers. Those who perform well throughout the program may be considered for future Ag Experience internship positions, part-time work during the school year or full-time employment after graduation.

MFA Ag Experience interns are, front row, from left: Larna Schnitker and Blake Elsberry. Middle row, from left: Graeson Bullington, Sara Gholson, Dallas Kleiboeker, Ryan Talkington, Mason Hunter and Paxton Dahmer. Back row, from left: Lillie Hegeman, Erik Eickhoff, Cash Hartley and Caleb Kindle.

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Relief on the way for farmers impacted by COVID-19

Farmers and ranchers whose op­erations have been directly impacted by COVID-19 may receive economic relief through the U.S. Department of Agricul­ture’s $19 billion emergency aid package designed to bolster food security.

The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) includes $16 billion in direct support to agricultural producers who have suffered a 5% or greater price decline or had losses due to market supply chain disruptions related to COVID-19 during the 2020 marketing year. The USDA will make direct pay­ments of $5.1 billion to cattle produc­ers, $2.9 billion for dairy and $1.6 bil­lion for hogs, according to a statement from Senator John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee. Another $3.9 billion will go to producers of row crops, including soybeans, corn and cotton, while $2.1 billion is earmarked for specialty crops such as fruits and vegetables. An addi­tional $500 million is designated for “other” crops such as nuts and mushrooms.

Beyond this direct support, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service will partner with regional and local distributors to purchase $3 billion in fresh produce, dairy and meat for the Farmers to Families Food Box Program. Suppliers will package these products in family-sized boxes and provide them to food banks, communi­ty and faith-based organizations and other nonprofits serving Americans in need.

The CFAP application process began May 26 through Farm Service Agency county offices. Producers who may be eligible for the funding should call their local FSA office to schedule an appointment, and staff members will work with them to file applications. To find an FSA location and get more information, visit farmers.gov/CFAP.

In addition, USDA has other programs and services available to farmers im­pacted by the coronavirus pandemic. Learn more at farmers.gov/coronavirus.

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