Like many in the agricultural and small business communities, I am looking forward to seeing some changes on the regulatory front with the new Trump Administration. Just this week, the Administration released their plan for rolling back two regulations for each new regulation offered. While the details are still sketchy, I do know that there are a lot of high expectations for scaling back and repealing regulations that have gone beyond common sense, that are unnecessarily burdensome such as Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).

I still remember a neighbor who works for EPA confronting me in the grocery store soon after the last Administration took office, gleeful that I was no longer a Federal appointee and delighted that he would no longer be hampered in his desire to set up more stringent regulatory parameters to achieve his personal environmental goals. Even eight years later that heated exchange stands out as one of my most unpleasant encounters and a harbinger of what was to come in terms of regulatory overreach from the Obama EPA.

As the pendulum swings the other direction, we must ensure a more balanced, sensible approach. It’s easy just to take the position that all regulation is bad. But that’s not true. Regulations can protect resources and people and facilitate commerce. That’s a good thing. Like the rules the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) must make to be sure livestock barns are bonded and operating ethically and that grain standards are in place for uniform standards for corn and beans. But not the last ditch proposed rules by GIPSA to infringe on our business relationships up and down the value chain.

I do believe that every regulation and executive order issued within the final two months by the previous Administration should be scrutinized carefully just as every move by the Trump Administration should and is being scrutinized. Sometimes I think it’s helpful to stand back from a regulation and ask, “Why is the Government requiring this? Did someone cheat somewhere or cut corners or take advantage of someone else? What happened to give rise to this rule?” But we also need to ask, “Is a regulation the best solution? Would something less burdensome do the job just as well? How can we ensure integrity with minimal demands on those who must comply? How can we make it easy to do the right thing? Will a voluntary approach or self-control work just as well?”

At the same time, lightening the yoke of regulation involves more than just revoking rules. More subtle aspects of regulations can also be a headache for farmers and small business people. I hope those who accept political appointments in the days ahead will consider these as well.

What about complicated forms needed to sign up for USDA programs? What about data collection and the overlapping requests for information from agencies like the Farm Service, Risk Management and Natural Resources and Conservation Service? Couldn’t there be more data sharing or alignment of forms to reduce the burden for those participating in farm programs? Where can USDA coordinate, streamline and simplify? 

Complicated applications and multiple data requests are particularly difficult for small and medium sized farms and ranches. They don’t have the staff that large farms or livestock operations have to handle the paperwork. It’s the farm family sitting at the kitchen table trying to sift through their files and pull together the information needed.

As the Congress starts the oversight hearings in preparation for the farm bill, I hope the interest in lightening the yoke of regulation is included. Each USDA program should be examined for ways to responsibly lighten the burden of regulation and reduce the cost of doing business. 

I hope both the new Administration and Congress will heed the call to roll back unnecessary or overreaching rules. But I also hope they will dig down into the weeds to identify some subtle burdens that can and should also be lightened. That would do us all a great service.

About the author: Bruce I. Knight, Principal, Strategic Conservation Solutions, was the Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) from 2006 to 2009. From 2002 to 2006, Knight served as Chief of Natural Resources Conservation Service. The South Dakota native worked on Capitol Hill for Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Rep. Fred Grandy, Iowa, and Sen. James Abdnor, South Dakota. In addition, Knight served as vice president for public policy for the National Corn Growers Association and also worked for the National Association of Wheat Growers. A third-generation rancher and farmer and lifelong conservationist, Knight operates a diversified grain and cattle operation using no-till and rest rotation grazing systems.