What They’re Saying: Tennessee Farmers on WOTUS

Farmers are the backbone of this country. Without them, our nation cannot be self-sufficient, and without self-sufficiency there is no self-government. 

If farmers and growers do not know for certain what waters on their land count as “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS), they could become subject to costly environmental regulations. The Trump administration set clear rules defining WOTUS, giving farmers the certainty, they needed to feed Americans. But the Biden administration is attempting to replace the Trump-era rule with an inconsistent and arbitrary substitute, enforced with costly fines and even criminal penalties. 

I was proud to support a Joint Resolution to rescind the Biden rule, and even the U.S. Senate—controlled by Democrats—agreed that the Biden administration went too far. This bipartisan show of support for our farmers is encouraging. 

I’ve heard from multiple farmers in my district regarding WOTUS and how they believe this rule could affect their livelihoods. Here’s what they’re saying…

Mike Katrutsa is a commercial vegetable farmer in Benton County, Tennessee. He is a first-generation Ukrainian-American who has been farming for ten years. 

Of farming, Mike said: “It’s a lot of hard work and a lot of stress sometimes, but I love it. I wouldn’t do anything different.” 

When asked about his thoughts on WOTUS, Mike told my office:

“There is no clear definition of the navigable waters in the Waters of the United States rule. What is navigable waters: is it a blue line creek, field ditch, irrigation pond or a river? I am very concerned that the rule is very confusing and most farmers are going to have a very hard time interpreting this rule and identifying what they can and can’t do. There needs to be a clear definition of navigable waters and clear list of regulations, not a 69 plus page document that requires a law degree to interpret it.”

He went on to say: “Farmers already use a number of tools to protect our waterways and reduce runoff… farmers like myself know how to conserve our natural resources, it’s in our best interests to do so.”

Steve May is a farmer in Humphreys County, Tennessee. He and his son own 1,400-acre Fairview Farms in Hurricane Mills, where they grow corn, soybeans, and raise beef cattle. 

He said: “The unknowns are what makes WOTUS so difficult for farmers. If we have a pasture and it rains—is that impacted?” 

He also stated: “Many farmers agree that rules should be made and stuck with, but each administration has their own. Additionally, a general consensus among farmers is that counting blue waterways on maps is the most common-sense way to go about it. Farmers are stewards of the land and water. They want to see that it’s protected and conserved. Over regulation leads to unknowns that cripple farmers’ ability to plan.” 

Steve Hargrove is a beef cattle producer and vice president of Benton County Livestock Association. He owns two farms, one of which he was raised on. 

Of farming, he said: “Farming is something that’s in your blood. I started picking cotton by hand when I was five-years-old. Farming is something you grow to love. It’s just a way of life. No one will love their job as much as a farmer.” He shared that his son recently had a baby boy. “We are going to ‘grow’ our grandson on the farm.”

Steve Hargrove shared that he has two major creeks running through his farms. “I do everything I can to keep those streams clean. I don’t need the EPA telling me what I can and can’t do.”

He went on to say: “There’s no one who’s going to take care of our farms as good as we do. The land and the water are our life blood. I want to leave this farm better off than my dad left it to me and I know my son is going to leave it even better than that, farmers know the next generation will always improve the farm—and I believe every farmer is this way.” 

“My concern is that the government is going to try to take over not only the creeks, but the ponds on my farm too. I’m concerned I won’t be allowed to keep these bodies of water clear. And if I’m forced by this rule to let these creeks and streams go wild, it will affect my land. It could cause drainage problems in the field. I could lose ground and that affects my way of life,” he said.  

He also commented: “I know anytime the government gets involved and thinks they know more than we do, that’s when things get messed up.” 

Brian Inman is a row crop and beef cattle farmer with an approximately 2,400-acre farm bordering Birdsong Creek. “All I’ve ever known is row cropping and raising cattle,” he told my office. Of farming he said: “Being a farmer is challenging. There are a lot of good days, but there are also days that are long. It's a seven day a week job.” 

Of WOTUS, he said: “I do understand controlling major rivers and bodies of water, but what about the pond behind my house or in my cow pasture?”

He went on to say: “We have one thing to make our living by and that’s the soil, so we are going to do everything in our power to take care of it. Farmers are the biggest conservationists, that’s part of our job. We have to take care of the soil and wildlife.”

He concluded by saying: “My concern is that if you have someone in Washington that’s going to control every body of water, where does that leave me trying to take care of the land? It doesn’t make common sense to me for someone who doesn’t know what they’re talking about to say that they can control every single one of these streams and bodies of water….”

We should do everything in our power to support our nation's growers, not make their lives harder. I will not stop fighting for our farmers. I represent thousands in Tennessee, each of them with unique situations that this plan may impact. Tennessee is a beautiful state—and no one is a better steward of the land than our farmers and growers.