BURLEY — For Brian Darrington, obeying the laws and regulations pertaining to farming means being a good steward of the land and a good neighbor.
In the last few decades, the number of rules and regulations on farming and ranching have been on the uptick, said Darrington, president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation board for Cassia County.
Idaho’s agriculture laws include regulations regarding crops and animal production to the right of way of a cow in open range.
Darrington, who was raised on a family farm, grows a variety of crops, including sugar beets, hay and corn, on about 1,800 acres around Burley and Declo.
“Although there are more regulations than there were 20 years ago, I don’t feel like they are terribly cumbersome,” he said.
He attributes part of that to Idaho being an “agriculture-friendly state.”
In fact, Idaho has a law on the books supporting the right to farm. It states that agriculture operations in urban areas sometimes deal with nuisance lawsuits and the state Legislature will work to limit the circumstances where such operations may be deemed a nuisance.
“I farm south of Burley and everyone’s dream it seems is to move to the county and then they try to change the country,” Darrington said. “In reality, sometimes we’re spreading manure. I try to be a good neighbor, but it is still manure.”
Other agriculture regulations target specific types of crops, organic food products, seeds, use of chemicals, noxious weeds, pests and invasive species, the artificial production of rainfall, fisheries and animal health.
Ranchers also deal with laws regarding fire suppression and land leases to graze their animals, Darrington said.
Some of the regulations that affect Darrington the most include the use of chemicals and agriculture labor laws.
In order to use pesticides, Darrington has to be licensed as an independent applicator, which requires classes and tests.
The use of fertilizer, he said, is not regulated unless it’s going to be injected into the water, and then it also requires certification.
“You have to be aware of how the system works because you can’t let the chemicals get back into the ditch or groundwater — and you can get audited or inspected,” he said.
The Idaho Department of Agriculture is charged with overseeing many of the farming and ranching regulations in the state.
“The ISDA wears two hats,” said Chanel Tewalt, the department’s chief operating officer. “One is to regulate agriculture and the other is to promote it.”
The department employs 300 people around the state; during the summer and fall that number swells to 500.
The Department of Agriculture enforces dozens of state regulations or codes and often works hand-in-hand with law enforcement on issues that cross the criminal boundary.
The agency regulates the health of animals coming into the state through veterinarian inspections or farm visits and oversees new plants brought into the state to ensure they do not harbor pests or diseases.
“It’s important to understand that the majority of the regulations are driven by industry or the Statehouse,” Tewalt said.
The regulations and certifications protect the producers and help them market their products.
When new regulations are proposed, stakeholders are invited to participate in the process, she said.
Tewalt said the nature of enforcement if violations occur depend entirely upon what the authorizing statute allows but can include revocation of a license, fines and in some cases criminal charges brought by law enforcement.
“We want the rules to accessible and understood by the community,” Tewalt said.
Following the rules, Darrington said, usually equals good business practices.
“You don’t want to spray any more chemicals than you have to. I try to be a good steward of the land. After all, I have to farm the same field next year and I want it to be in good condition,” he said.
There are also a lot of regulations regarding food safety.
“You have to keep a lot of records regarding the applications of fertilizer and pesticides. You basically track every trip through the field,” he said.
The constant paper trail also benefits the farmer economically and demonstrates sustainability, he said.
Some of the most cumbersome regulations deal with hiring employees. Many agriculture producers hire farm workers through the H2 visa program, which comes with its own set of laws.
“It’s really hard to hire people who want to work like a farmer 70 hours a week,” Darrington said.
Hiring workers on visas includes having a steady set of eyes on the farmers. They have to provide housing for the workers, which is inspected for safety and they can be audited at any time.
“They want to make sure we’re treating the workers fairly and paying them according to the rules,” Darrington said.
Darrington said the most important laws for farmers deal with water.
“We live in a desert and water is our life’s blood,” Darrington said. “It ties into everything that we do.”
Along with laws ensuring no chemicals go back into the irrigation system or into the groundwater, there are also laws regarding the use of irrigation water.
A farmer has an allotment of water each year that is delivered via the canal system — and it is possible to run out.
Darrington orders his water supply in advance each day through the canal system. He’s not allowed to just turn it into his field.
“They can come and lock your head gate,” he said. “It doesn’t belong to you.”
County law enforcement officers can also show up when a farmer is accidentally allowing irrigation water to sprinkle the road.
It can be a vexing problem and a struggle for a farmer, Darrington said.
A farmer can get a wheel line set just right only to hear a complaint after he leaves and the wind shifts, blowing the water onto the road.
“We will have law enforcement show up and they’ll often wait around until we get it fixed,” Darrington said.
If the problem stems from an irrigation pivot, it makes the problem and solution even worse.
The pivot gun can be set just right and as soon as the wind kicks up, the spray could be out of whack, he said.
“It’s a big deal to reset the coordinates, it’s time consuming,” he said.
Cassia County Prosecutor Doug Abenroth said water on the road is a misdemeanor crime.
“It damages the roads and causes them to deteriorate and it is also a safety issue,” Abenroth said.
But, he said, those citations can be difficult to prosecute because his office has to prove general intent and that it was not caused by geography or wind.
His office hasn’t prosecuted many water citations in the last four and a half years.
All of Idaho, Abenroth said, is considered open range, which means that livestock has the right-of-way on roads unless herd districts have been established or the road is in an incorporated city.
“If you hit a cow on the open range in a car you could be liable to the rancher for the value of the animal,” Abenroth said.
But, he said, it would be up to the rancher to file the claim against the motorist.
If a resident living in an open range area wants to keep cattle from munching their garden or crops, they have to put up a fence to keep the animals out.
“If you are driving in the country and see fences you are most likely in a herd district,” he said.