Embattled Farmer John Duarte Defends Farming in Federal Court

Farmer Must Defend Plowing His Wheat Field

By Patrick Cavanaugh, Farm News Director

John Duarte, a California farmer who gained national attention after the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE or Army Corps) sued him for plowing his Tehama County wheat field, will defend himself in a federal courthouse in Sacramento on Tuesday, August 15.

“Agriculture is at a very dire crossroads right now,” said Duarte, imploring all farming stakeholders and food consumers across the country “to get loud with their Senators, Representatives and USACE. And if you know how to get ahold of President Trump, give him a call.”

In February 2013, with no warning or opportunity to discuss the matter, USACE sent Duarte a cease and desist letter to suspend farming operations, claiming that he had illegally filled wetlands on his wheat field simply by plowing it.

“I am being prosecuted for planting wheat in a wheat field during a global food crisis,” Duarte said. “They’re claiming I should have pulled a [Clean Water Act] permit that nobody has ever pulled and conducted practices that nobody has ever conducted to grow wheat.”

Duarte who is also the owner of Duarte Nursery, argues that the Army Corps violated his constitutional right to due process. He said the agency came down on him hard and never gave him an opportunity to defend himself against the accusations before levying the fine. Duarte now faces $2.8 million in government fines.

“The Army Corps of Engineers is prosecuting us,” Duarte said, “and the Army Corps does not even have subject matter jurisdiction to conduct this prosecution.”

In a June 14, 2017, news release, Tony Francois, senior attorney for Pacific Legal Foundation, explained, “Prosecutors and bureaucrats are seeking to establish, for the first time, that farmers with seasonal puddles need a federal wetlands permit in order to plow their own private land—even though plowing is exempt from Clean Water Act (CWA) coverage.”

Duarte believes if he were to lose the upcoming trial, it would change the way farmers in America farm. “This battle may never be resurrected in court. Taking this battle to the Supreme Court on several fronts is the only way to give farmers the long-term security they need, the right to farm and property rights protections, to deliver food security to America.”

The American Farm Bureau Federation, the California Farm Bureau Federation, the farm bureau in Duarte’s backyard and farm bureaus across the country are behind him.

“The Butte County Farm Bureau has 1065 members,” Duarte stated, “and they donated a check for $10,650 to the Duarte Defense Fund at California Farm Bureau Federation. That’s $10 a member! Thanks to the challenge from Biggs, CA, farmer, Clark Becker (President of the Butte County Farm Bureau) that defense fund has already collected over $100,000 in support of our lawsuit. We are hoping to collect hundreds of thousands more.”

Duarte said, “Although this lawsuit for planting wheat in a wheat field has gained a lot of attention, we need more help to fight it.”

While Duarte is grateful for the political support in favor of Duarte Nursery’s position in this wetlands prosecution, he wants to settle this case before trial. “We need complete rights to appeal, and if necessary, to take it to the Supreme Court of the United States. We must protect food security as well as farmers’ right to farm.”

“My greatest nightmare is if Duarte Nursery is forced into settling this case without the right to appeal. If we cannot get such a release, American farming could be oppressed by federal agencies into the future, and there won’t be another fool to follow us and stand up to them again.”

“Any farmer can see the kind of abuse—the misstatements, the falsehoods, the misquoting of laws that the Department of Justice is using in this case against us—and the $2.5 to $3 million we’re spending to fight this battle. There won’t be another family to come along and fight like this in the future.”

Postcard Campaign to Stop Additional Pesticide Regulations Near Schools

Call to Growers: Join Postcard Campaign to Stop Additional Pesticide Regulations Near Schools before Friday, Dec. 9

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

Proposed DPR Regulations

“The proposed California Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) further restricting growers from applying crop protection products near schools is unnecessary,” noted Kelly Covello, president of the Almond Alliance of California, which advocates and lobbies for the almond industry.

“Basically, this proposed rule is going to add a layer of unnecessary regulation. It proposes restricting pesticide applications within a quarter mile of schools and daycare centers between Mondays and Fridays, 6am to 6pm,” said Covello. She noted there are already regulations in place to protect both the community and the applicator.

Likewise, Colleen Cecil, executive director, Butte County Farm Bureau, said, “We’re very confident in the regulation that currently exists and the responsibility that landowners take when it comes to spraying anywhere. There are rules in place and these rules work.”

“The environmental community has done a bang-em-up job at fear-mongering, period. They believe they can take pictures of kids next to fields and make the farmer the bad guy. Nothing can be further from the truth,” Cecil said.

“Nothing is more important than the health and safety of people,” noted Ceil. “As stewards of the land, farmers already do everything in their power to mitigate risks involved in agriculture and the application of pesticide is no exception.”  Cecil added, “The puzzling part of the proposed regulation is that DPR have stated themselves that they were ‘unable to quantify the benefits’ and that ‘any health benefits of the prohibitions are unknown.'”

 

 

Postcard campaign to stop additional pesticide regulation near schools dpr
Postcard campaign to stop additional pesticide regulation near schools

Call for Growers to Take Action

“We have joined California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) and other organizations that are working on this issue,” said Covello. “One of the main calls to action for grower engagement with DPR is CFBF’s postcard campaign. If you would like postcards to share with your grower network, please email staff@almondalliance.org or simply print from the Postcard PDF document and mail directly to DPR (contact information is on the last page of the PDF document).   A high volume of input will be critical.

Growers can also sign and share CFBF’s petition. Farm Bureau will deliver the petitions to DPR before the comment period closes on December 9.

“This [proposed regulation] really is unnecessary,” said Covello. “There is no science. There is no injury or illness that has sparked the need for new regulations. We are really hoping we can get our growers engaged by sending in a postcard or sending in comments. Again, growers can contact the Almond Alliance by email at staff@almondalliance.org and by phone at (209) 300-7140.

“We would be happy to get you a postcard,” Covello said. “We can also email it to anyone. So please help us in this fight to stop unnecessary regulation.”


Almond Alliance of California

Butte County Farm Bureau

California Department of Pesticide Regulation

California Farm Bureau Federation

Early Rain Caused Concern for Butte County Rice Growers

Butte County Rice Growers Respond to Early Rain

 

By Brian German, Associate Broadcaster

 

The Butte County Farm Bureau has been working to protect agriculture’s interests since 1917, thanks in large part to the continued hard work of their members. With continued support, the Bureau is able to advocate for growers on important issues in the community and fund educational opportunities.

Colleen Cecil, executive director of the Bureau, observed the rice harvest looks strong for Butte County rice growers, but a weather-related issue caused a bit of a problem during harvest. “We had some wet weather and then we had a break. Then it was, ‘Hurry up and get it done before the next storm comes in,’” said Cecil.

While the weather was an issue for growers, its impact was minimal. “There was a percentage, somewhere in the teens likely, of rice that was still left out in the field after the last wet weather event [in which] we just got pounded with rain,” Cecil noted.

“Water shortages over the past couple of years had forced many rice growers in Northern California to cut back on overall production. However earlier this year, as a result of improved rainfall last winter, growers went back to planting a more average level of rice. Those fields that had been taken out of production had a good amount of rest, and are now producing nicely once again.”

Though not uncommon, growers may have adjusted their harvest schedule in response to the early winter rain. “While it does happen on occasion, it is not ideal for farmers to harvest rice after wet weather all the time. It goes more slowly, it becomes a little messier, and it requires a transition from tires to tracks on their harvesting equipment. Again, it slows it down,” Cecil said.

“In 2013, the average rice grower in Butte County was producing just under 90 sacks per acre, with each sack weighing the [approximately] 100 pounds. Butte County has close to 88 thousand bearing acres of rice. While the local industry remains strong, early rainy weather can put a dent in production.”

Cecil explained, “It wasn’t that they couldn’t get [the rice] out, it was that the crop wasn’t ready to come out. There was still a tremendous amount of moisture in it and it wasn’t at the right percentage of moisture to take out of the field, so they had to wait.”

Last year’s crop report shows that Butte County’s five most valuable crops were walnuts, almonds, rice, prunes and peaches. The area’s walnut crop alone was valued at just under $241 million dollars. Cecil said this year’s harvest, “the almonds came off without a hitch. The walnuts got tagged at the end with the wet weather, but I don’t think it slowed everybody down,” Cecil said.


Featured Photo: Richard and Laurel Nelson’s Farm, Twin Creek Ranch, on Pleasant Grove Road and Marcum, Thursday, September 29, 2016.
Photo Courtesy of California Rice Commission/Brian Baer Photography

Butte County Rice Growers Association (BUCRA)