The following is a guest blog post from 2015 SC Farm Bureau Young Farmer and Rancher Chair Steven Long of Lexington County:
State Representative Bill Taylor (R-Aiken) recently took aim at the South Carolina Farm Bureau Federation and our members, especially in light of our position on proposed amendments to current surface water withdrawal legislation. He made some pretty bold statements and added that he wants to know who Farm Bureau is, who our members REALLY are, and what we stand for … well, we should tell him that we are NOT corporate mega-farmers and that we, as an organization, work hard to keep family farmers (and rural lifestyles) thriving. I encourage you to contact your local legislators and let them hear from you on this issue, too.
Rep. Taylor’s proposed bill, among others, would require a permit for surface water withdrawals. Permitting processes include opportunities for public appeals, which could cost farmers tens of thousands of dollars as well as costing them access to essential water. He claims the bill is directed at out-of-state, corporate, “mega- farms”, but I believe it’s naive to think the proposed legislation and permitting process won’t ultimately and negatively affect most SC farmers in the long run.
As a matter of fact, there are more than 300 South Carolina farms across the state larger than the targeted potato farm on the South Fork of the Edisto River in Windsor, SC. I have looked and cannot find a definition of “mega-farm.” That term is just a semantics or media trick used to cast a negative light on farmers who work hard to earn a living for their families. Apparently, Rep. Taylor believes that once you farm a couple thousand acres or more (like hundreds of farmers do in South Carolina), you can no longer be trusted and need to be highly regulated by the government to keep you from being a menace to the community around you. His assertions are just misleading and wrong. What’s more, 98 percent of all farms in the U.S. are family farms.
As an outdoor enthusiast, small farmer, and agriculturalist, I understand the importance of this issue. I am a Farm Bureau member and I am most proud of the fact that I was elected Chairman to represent SC Farm Bureau’s leadership program for young farmers and ranchers ages 18-35. Farm Bureau represents all types of farmers, farming operations, and agribusinesses.
All Farm Bureau has asked legislators, including Rep. Taylor, to do is to be patient enough for a current statewide river basin-by-basin surface water assessment to be completed before this issue is debated and before any new laws or amendments are introduced. The data from that study will show, scientifically, whether or not the surface water withdrawal law that went into effect in 2010 needs to be amended or not. That study is well underway.
We need to join together and let science, not emotion, dictate acceptable withdrawal levels within each river basin. As it is, agriculture currently only uses 3 percent of available water now. Furthermore, before SC Farm Bureau’s involvement with a number of other stakeholders who wrote the current law, there was NO protection of our precious surface water. NONE. Farm Bureau was forward thinking in its desire to conserve water for everyone to enjoy.
Farmers, especially young farmers, cannot stand in the background on this issue any longer, especially while there are people taking potshots with misleading and outright wrong information and statistics about who Farm Bureau is, who our members are, and what we stand for. The time is now for us to stand together; to Save SC Farmers; and to express our voice – while we still have the right to farm in South Carolina!