Government regulations and keeping the next generation interested in agriculture were two of the most discussed topics when U.S. Rep. Jason Smith visited a beef cattle farm just outside of Jackson on Monday.
Paul "Butch" Meier of Butch's Angus is a fourth-generation farmer who said he hopes his sons and grandchildren carry the farm through the next few generations.
"I've lived on this tract of land all my life," he told the congressman and the small group of farmers gathered Monday.
The average age of farmers and ranchers in the U.S. is 58 and has been increasing over the past 30 years, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Census of Agriculture. That's why Meier said he's taken an interest in encouraging more children and young adults to consider careers in agriculture. He's involved with the SEMO Cattlemen's Association, which hosts a Farm Day event that draws more than 800 students from area schools.
"For 20 years, we've done a Farm Day for kids," Meier said.
In a discussion with Meier and a small group of visiting Woodland High School students involved in Future Farmers of America, Smith -- a former member of FFA -- said he hopes to see an increase in the organization's chapters across the state.
The question of how many children will one day tend to farms around the state brought Meier and crowd to a second question: What will these future farms look like? Some farmers questioned whether government regulations will change the way they run their operations.
Smith, R-Salem, is more than two weeks into his farm tour, which he said has been diverse. He's visited a rabbit farm, deer farm, goat farm and even a garland farm. Each stop offers different lessons or suggestions, but he said concern about government intervention is a common thread with each visit.
"Without a doubt, it's always government control and government regulations, and they always go back to EPA," he said. "I think every stop that I've went to, Waters of the U.S. has come up, and then the coal power plant rules. If I don't bring them up, someone else does. Sometimes I think people get tired of me talking about government regulations, but that's what people talk to me about, because that's some of the biggest problems they're facing."
New federal rules proposed under Waters of the U.S. were designed to better protect small streams, tributaries and wetlands, according to the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with drinking water for 117 million Americans. The effort is an attempt to clarify which smaller waterways are under federal protection after Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006 about the Clean Water Act left some uncertainty.
But Smith and others are concerned the definitions are too broad and burdensome for farmers and other property owners. Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster joined a dozen other attorneys general in a lawsuit against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, and a federal judge granted the states an injunction Aug. 27, the day before the rule took effect.
Smith said he hopes to do more. He added language to the Energy and Water Appropriations bill, which advanced out of the House and rests with the Senate, that would bar the EPA from using funds to implement the rule.