New data on the total number of farms in the U.S. is out, and the overall numbers continue to dwindle. According to USDA, there were 2 million farms in the U.S. in 2022.
These 2 million farms are required to abide by numerous laws enacted on state and federal levels each year. More recently, those laws, including the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) and Proposition 12, have been challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS).
Ray Starling, general counsel at the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce, details what the recent rulings mean for growers and the ag industry as a whole.
EPA published its final definition of WOTUS on Dec. 30, 2022, which gave federal protection to large waterways, such as interstate rivers and streams, and adjacent wetlands starting in March 2023.
The definition was challenged by numerous organizations at the state level, with U.S. District Court Judge Daniel Hovland effectively blocking the rule in April, until SCOTUS officially ruled against the EPA’s definition in May.
How does the ruling impact growers?
SCOTUS’s ruling quickly caused confusion in various states, as many properties are in low-lying areas by rivers, streams and other waters that the federal government could deem a wetland. While the ruling might have disrupted operations, the EPA’s “jurisdictional arm” on-farm is much shorter now, than it was a few weeks ago, according to Starling.
“Growers in the past would say, ‘I have this piece of land that may be wet several weeks of the year. Is that subject to being deemed a wetland by the federal government?’ The new ruling says growers should only have that concern if the water, or very wet spot, has a surface water connection, or is clearly connected to navigable water. Only then can EPA interfere,” he says.
SCOTUS says the EPA’s definition of WOTUS is too broad and needs tweaked. EPA announced it plans to rectify the definition—a move Starling anticipates will come this fall.