After reporting recent U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and USDA intimidation tactics towards successful, large U.S. agribusinesses for possible “competition issues” in the March 18, 2010 edition of the Soybean E-Digest, I’m sorry to report that a government regulatory authority is back in the news intimidating agricultural enterprises again. This time, the Big Government entity of interest is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the topic is prior-converted croplands.

According to the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the definition for a prior-converted cropland is: “A converted wetland where the conversion occurred prior to Dec. 23, 1985, an agricultural commodity had been produced at least once before Dec. 23, 1985, and as of Dec. 23, 1985, the converted wetland did not support woody vegetation and met wetland hydrologic criteria.”

Now, if you believe the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), which I do, the U.S. Corps of Engineers is failing to comply with its own rules regarding prior-converted cropland in an attempt gain jurisdiction over more private property – more than 50 million prior-converted cropland acres. “This is important, because the value of prior converted croplands is significantly higher than land encumbered by costly federal wetlands regulations,” says Bob Stallman, AFBF president.

Imagine that … AFBF’s top leader thinks land encumbered by government regulations is worth less than land that has little or no government restrictions on its use! In other words (mine, not Stallman’s), more property under government control means more power and wealth for Big Government and less power and wealth for common folks trying to make a living from the land, such as farmers and farmland owners.

So, what logical reason (other than a political power-grab) would the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have for wanting more control over cropland that used to be wetlands? After all, the Corps’ stated mission is to “provide vital public engineering services in peace and war to strengthen our nation’s security, energize the economy and reduce risks from disasters.”

It’s my view that our nation’s security would be better off if the people who actually work and own the land were free to make a decent living from it, unencumbered by costly federal regulations. In other words, a more prosperous people (who would have the means to pay more taxes, by the way) would be more secure than an un-prosperous people, such as the poor people who live in third-world countries and who tend to be more concerned about where their next meal will come from than being good environmental stewards.

Certainly, no one could reasonably argue that having the U.S. Corps of Engineers hijack a private property owner’s jurisdiction over their land is going to “energize the economy.” Or, does the U.S. Corps of Engineering think that they are experts in economics as well as engineering?

The only possible rationalization that the U.S. Corps of Engineers might have to try and wrest more control over more private lands would be their third mission, “to reduce risks from disasters.” Now, maybe the Corps is thinking that if you force enough people to put a bunch more potential cropland acres back into wetlands, then you might have less flooding risk for cities like New Orleans. Of course, that would depend on whether or not all the prior-converted cropland that could be returned to wetlands is really going to hold water better, for longer periods, than they do now.

I’m not an expert in that area, so I’ll just leave that as a possibility. Also, I’ll leave out trying to argue that taking away the property rights from one group of citizens to protect another group of citizens from occasional flooding is probably a bad idea that might lead to some anger-management issues for the first group of citizens.

I will, however, gladly remind folks about the need for food security. The more land we unnecessarily tie up into wetlands increases our risk for food shortages, higher food prices or an increased reliance on other countries to supply our food needs. Just consider how our economy has fared with our ever-increasing reliance on foreign countries to supply our energy needs.

Just where has that reliance on foreign energy led us as a nation? Some would argue that it has led us to a war in Iraq, but I would not. I would rather argue that it has led to decreased prosperity – and less security – for the U.S.

No, I don’t think the Corps of Engineers has any legitimate reason to be taking control of prior-converted cropland from this nation’s citizens. Sadly, however, it has become politically trendy for government administrators to place more burdens on the private sector and to see how much Big Government can take from the people.

What about you? Do you agree with me that government regulatory entities are becoming too restrictive in their policies towards U.S. agriculture? Or, do you think public officials are justified in this and other recent regulatory restrictions?

Either way, I welcome your input, both on this or any other topics related to soybean production. When writing, please let me know your name, where you farm or work, what your comment is and whether or not I have permission to use your comment in a future Soybean E-Digest newsletter.

You can contact me (John Pocock) at: john.pocock@penton.com.