U.S. Senators Mark Pryor (D-AR), John Boozman (R-AR), Thad Cochran (R-MS), and Roger Wicker (R-MS) today introduced legislation to prevent the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) from unfairly penalizing farmers and sportsmen for rolling their fields during hunting season.
Drought conditions this summer in Arkansas and Mississippi caused harvested rice farms to re-head, creating "ratoon" or second growth crops that are often uneconomical to harvest. According to the Senators, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has now decided to view these ratoon crops that have been rolled as baited fields, even though this practice was recommended by local cooperative extension services as a way to return nutrients to the soil. Inadvertent baiting of a field can level a fine of up to $15,000 or prohibit hunting on the land.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service is wrong to penalize farmers and hunters for a long-standing agricultural practice," Pryor said. "Our bill will help resolve this issue and ensure hunting season--a huge driver of economic activity in Arkansas--continues undeterred."
"Our farmers and hunters are great stewards of the land and wildlife. Farmers should not have to live under the threat of penalty for engaging in common and recommended agriculture practices," Boozman said. "Allowing for state cooperative extension services to determine what is and is not a common practice is not just good policy -- it's common sense."
"This is a case of federal agencies working at cross purposes, leaving famers and hunters in a bind. This legislation would clear up that situation so that farmers are not unfairly punished for adhering to normal agriculture practices," Cochran said.
"Many Mississippi landowners traditionally lease farmland to sportsmen after the land has been harvested, but some of these leases have had to be returned because of Fish and Wildlife Service requirements, costing farmers and sportsmen," said Wicker. "Under this bill, states would define normal agricultural practices, ensuring local farming methods can continue as they have for generations. Rice, soybean, and other producers should be able to manage their fields without the threat of losing valuable hunting rights."
The Farmers Protection Act of 2012 would allow each state's cooperative extension service to distinguish between normal agriculture practices and baiting.