OP-ED: Article misrepresents Pa. Farm Bureau's role in bay clean-up

John Bell
Pennsylvania Farm Bureau
Fishermen spend the early morning hours casting in the upper Chesapeake Bay where the Susquehanna River flows in at Havre de Grace, MD, Wednesday, April 12, 2017. Clearing waters, increased underwater grasses and a decreased dead zone mean more fish.  John A. Pavoncello photo

Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is disturbed by the lack of professionalism demonstrated by The York Dispatch in its March 14 article — "Smucker, Casey affirm support of Chesapeake Bay program after Trump’s proposed cuts" — that grossly misrepresents the state’s largest farm organization’s position on efforts to clean up the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.

The reporter claims that Farm Bureau “has long opposed the EPA’s efforts to limit nitrogen and phosphorus runoff.” This blatant oversimplification distorts the reality that farmers are deeply concerned about efforts to improve water quality and are taking considerable actions on their land to improve the environment.

The article also provided no perspective on why we originally filed a lawsuit against implementation of EPA’s Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL).

The 2011 lawsuit centered on the onerous and unattainable regulatory demands placed on farmers by federal and state officials under the TMDL. Since then, government officials have taken more practical and positive measures to engage Pennsylvania agriculture as a key partner, not villain, in the commonwealth’s current and future measures to reach nutrient and sediment pollution goals.

Meanwhile, the placement of the writer’s opinion on our position in the story could easily lead readers to believe that Farm Bureau supports recently proposed federal budget cuts to the bay program — which we do not. 

The biggest blunder associated with this story is that the reporter never contacted Pennsylvania Farm Bureau. This would appear to be a violation of Journalism 101.

Had the reporter made any attempt to investigate our organization’s attitude and actions in Pennsylvania’s effort to improve water quality in the watershed, he would have discovered that we not only support this effort, but we are playing an active and significant role in its accomplishment.

I currently serve as co-chair to the Agriculture Workgroup to the state Steering Committee, which is largely responsible for drafting the state watershed implementation plan (WIP) for Pennsylvania’s Phase 3. Several farmers and PFB members serve on this Workgroup. Industry and government representatives on this Workgroup have developed an initial set of recommendations that we believe will help move Pennsylvania significantly closer to achieving pollution-reduction goals and engage farmers as partners in this achievement. Farm Bureau leaders have been actively involved in local water-quality plans that have been developed so far in several counties, including York County.

To suggest that Pennsylvania Farm Bureau is acting against the interest of improving water quality and opposes securing adequate funding for water quality in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is simply not true. And to offer those suggestions without making any effort to contact our organization for our viewpoint is reckless.

— John Bell is the senior government affairs counsel for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.