Budgets, regulations, flooding worry Missouri Farm Bureau president

Friday, July 22, 2011
Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, speaks during the Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau's annual meeting Thursday, July 21, 2011, at the Knights of Columbus in Jackson. (Kristin Eberts)

Unprecedented flooding, increasing environmental regulations and potential cuts in federal assistance are threatening the livelihood of Missouri farmers, according to Blake Hurst, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau.

Hurst spoke with local farmers Thursday during the Cape Girardeau County Farm Bureau annual meeting at the Knights of Columbus hall in Jackson. Earlier in the day he visited with the Southeast Missourian's editorial board about the challenges Missouri farmers are facing.

Hurst, a wholesale greenhouse operator and row crop farmer from Atchison County in northwest Missouri, took over as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau this year.

He replaced Charles Kruse of Dexter, Mo., who stepped down in December after 18 years as president.

Hurst's most immediate concern is helping Missouri farmers along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers recover from this spring's flooding.

Following the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' intentional breach of the Birds Point levee, Hurst said, he flew over the area and assessed the devastation.

"It's just awful what's happened, and it needs to be replaced quickly. The same thing's happened now in north Missouri, so we've got a bunch of levees to replaced, too," Hurst said.

The corps has steadily increased the amount of water it is releasing from dams along the Missouri River due heavy spring rains in the upper Plains states and an above-average snow melt coming down from the Rockies. Releases from the Missouri's six dams average 70,000 cubic feet per second, but since June 20 they have been averaging about 160,000 cubic feet per second, Hurst said.

Many privately owned levees and some federal ones along the Missouri River have failed, he said.

"A tremendous amount of money is going to need to be spent replacing levees, replacing roads and highways, bridges and culverts," Hurst said. "There's going to have to be a lot of money spent to get farm land back to the productive levels that it was."

Regulatory overreach

A proposed U.S. Department of Transportation guideline that subjects agricultural vehicles to the same safety standards as commercial truckers also concerns Hurst.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, an arm of the transportation department, is accepting public comments online about the proposed guideline through the end of July.

"If you are a farmer and have old truck you use when you harvest in the fall and may only be on the road for a month, you'll have a CDL, a medical card, have to keep a log book and basically have the same regulations as Yellow Freight or any of the large commercial carriers," Hurst said.

More information is available online at http://www.fmcsa.dot.gov/rules-regulatio....

Historically, Congress has exempted farm to market transportation from commercial regulations because it's seasonal and occurs over short distances.

Budget cuts

Hurst is closely watching the budget debate in Congress to see what cuts may be coming to U.S. Department of Agriculture programs.

Congress passes a farm bill every five years, and a new bill is scheduled to be proposed in 2012, Hurst said.

"Whatever budget deal we get, if we get one, if there are so many budget cuts in that you can't continue the farm bill, then they may have to write one this fall. It could happen," Hurst said.

Although he realizes federal spending must be cut, he hopes farm programs don't get cut more than their fair share.

"If they do find savings in the farm bill, we hope they will let the ag committee decide where those savings are made," he said. "They understand it. They know where the cuts are the least harmful."

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

Pertinent address:

3305 N. High Street, Jackson, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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