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Compliance 101: Agriculture

Every industry has its own specific rules and regulations when it comes to standards and compliance. The two main governing agencies for agriculture are the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), each with its own set of laws and regulations. We’re providing a high-level overview of the basic regulations from the EPA and USDA so your agriculture business can stay in compliance.

EPA Laws and Regulations

While it’s important to check with your state and local governments for more specific rules and regulations, here is a list of general items that apply to agricultural operations from the EPA.

By Statute

Clean Water Act (CWA)/Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA): The CWA establishes the basic guidelines for regulating discharges of pollutants into bodies of water and the SDWA was established to protect the quality of the drinking water, which could be affected by waste and by-products of agriculture operations.

Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA): The FIFRA provides regulations of pesticide distribution, sales, and use. All pesticides sold and distributed in the U.S. are required to be registered by the EPA and applicants must show that using pesticides will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment.

Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA): The RCRA gives authority to the EPA to control hazardous waste from generation to disposal, including transportation and treatment, and storage.

Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA/Superfund): The CERCLA regulates when you are required to report the release of a hazardous substance. If a hazardous substance is released to the environment in an amount that meets or exceeds its reportable quantities, it must be reported to federal authorities.

Clean Air Act (CAA): The CAA is a federal law that regulates air emissions from stationary and mobile sources. This act authorizes the EPA to establish National Ambient Air Quality Standards to protect public health and welfare and regulate the emissions of hazardous pollutants into the air.

Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA): The EPCRA is designed to help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards.

Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA): The TSCA gives the EPA authority to require reporting, recordkeeping and testing requirements, and restrictions related to chemical substances. TSCA addresses the production, importation, use, and disposal of specific chemicals.

By Farm Activity

Aquaculture: Criteria to determine which aquaculture discharges require a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) and certain permits may be required.

Livestock and Poultry (including beef, dairy, and swine): If concentrated animal feeding operations that discharge to a body of water, NPDES requires a permit.

Crop Production (including nurseries, greenhouses, and forestry): This mostly pertains to pesticide use and water. Specific permits, trainings, and labeling may be required.

Provision of Drinking Water: This mostly pertains to farms providing for human consumption from their own source. Drinking water is subject to specific tests and regulations.

Farm Facilities, Fuel, and Equipment: These operations are subject to specific training, inspections, and safety plans that comply with regulatory compliance.

Buildings, Construction, and Renovation: This pertains to the effects building and construction can have on the environment. Permits will be required for most construction and renovations, as well as regulations regarding stormwater, air quality/asbestos, lead, and water contamination.

Chemical Handling: Owners and operators of facilities handling hazardous substances are required to identify hazards and implement a safety plan to mitigate accidents and injuries. They are also required to report any accidents regarding hazardous substances to the EPA.

Air Emissions and Releases: This pertains to emissions of any regulated pollutants that can affect air quality. Most operations will require a permit and are subject to additional regulatory rules.

Wastes: This pertains to the handling of hazardous waste, including farms that generate, transport, treat, store, or dispose of hazardous waste.

USDA Laws and Regulations

Here is a general list of some rules and regulations governing agricultural operations set by the USDA. For the full list, visit the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service webpage and USDA Laws and Regulations.

Bioengineered (BE) Disclosure: This regulation pertains to the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard that establishes a national mandatory standard for disclosing foods that are or may be bioengineered. The standard defines bioengineered foods as those containing detectable genetic material that has been modified through lab techniques and cannot be created through conventional breeding or found in nature.

Country of Origin Labeling (COOL): The COOL regulation requires retailers to notify their customers of information regarding the source of certain foods, including meats, wild and farm-raised fish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, and certain nuts and spices.

Federal Seed Act (FSA): The FSA regulates the interstate shipment of agriculture and vegetable seeds. It requires seeds shipped through interstate commerce to be labeled with information that allows the buyer to make informed choices.

Food Quality Protection Act (FQPA): The FQPA directs the Secretary of Agriculture to collect pesticide residue data on commodities most frequently consumed by infants and children.

Mandatory Market Reporting: This pertains mostly to dairy and livestock in which the USDA is required to collect and release dairy products and livestock sales information.

Organic Regulations: The National Organic Program develops regulations regarding the production, handling, labeling, and enforcement of all USDA organic products.

Packers and Stockyards Act (P&S Act): The purpose of this act is to ensure fair competition and trade practices to safeguard farmers and consumers from unfair, deceptive practices. It encourages farmers, ranchers, and other producers to report incidents of slow, insufficient, or non-payment for livestock or meat; potential antitrust practices; or unfair, deceptive, and fraudulent practices by parties subject to the P&S Act.

Perishable Agriculture Commodities Act (PACA): PACA protects businesses dealing with fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables by establishing a code for fair business practices and by helping companies resolve business disputes.

Pesticide Recordkeeping: According to the 1990 Farm Bill, all private operators are required by law to keep records of their federally restricted-use pesticide applications for a period of two years.

Plant Variety Protection Act: This act provides legal intellectual property rights protection to breeders of new varieties of plants reproduced.

U.S. Grain Standards Act (USGSA): The USGSA authorizes grain inspection to establish official marketing standards for grains and oilseeds. It requires exported grains to be officially weighed and inspected.

U.S. Warehouse Act (USWA): The USWA authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to license warehouse operators who store agricultural products. Warehouse operators must meet the USDA standards established within the USWA.

When operating in a specific industry, it’s important to know all the laws and regulations that govern it. This can be an overwhelming responsibility, which is why working with a professional employer organization (PEO) like Harbor America can be beneficial. Harbor America has 25 years of PEO experience, as well as experience navigating the agriculture industry. Let our experts keep track of all rules and regulations so your business remains compliant, while you focus on running your day-to-day operations. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.


EPA- Laws and Regulations that Apply to Your Agriculture Operation by Farm Activity

EPA- Laws and Regulations that Apply to Your Agriculture Operation by Statute

USDA- Agricultural Marketing Service: Rules and Regulations

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