Bob V starts with an easy pitch:
But those regulations are all intended toward one end, the ‘What happens on your farm can’t hurt anyone else’ end.Fine. We can work this from the angle of “no negative externalities from farming – you, the grower, make it happen.” Some portion of growers would instantly react, asking if we’d lost our minds. “Put the burden of figuring out all the complicated ways our farms influence their surroundings on the grower?! Make us figure out what can go in our tail and tilewater, what pesticides are safe in what applications, what emissions our farm motors should have, what endangered species are in the area? Oh hell no. You figure it out, tell me what to do, and I’ll concentrate on growing my crop and getting the best price for it.” So you would have one crowd that would rather have a process-based than outcome-based regulatory system.
Then why not make *that* the regulation? Why not regulate the consequences you are trying to avoid rather than the means that at this particular moment in time bureaucrats think will probably lead to those consequences? If you regulate the consequences, it leaves open the opportunity for innovation in the future that avoids them using a method that happens to use means we currently think are bad.
But maybe they aren’t the majority. Maybe most growers would rather have an ends-based, Do No Harm bottom line. I would still say that they cannot work internally to meet that end. For starters, complying is expensive for them. It would be asking them to seek out the problems they are causing and make difficult corrections. Very few people can bring themselves to do that, even with some threat hanging over them. But second, the problems are hard. There are pesticides for cotton that are normally fine, but damage downwind olive orchards. How long would it take an individual farmer to make that connection? When drainwater carrying naturally occurring selenium from the soils ran off westside farms, it took biologists a while to trace that effect back to the farms. They knew to look for something because there were drastic, visible deformations in local birds. What if the effect were way more subtle, like drops in plankton that birds feed on, so they starve without anyone seeing? I could list these forever, and I promise you, no individual grower can address them all. Linking their diesel engines to asthma a town over? They can’t. You know who you need to do that? You need the ag diesel engine bureaucrat. That’s who has the time and knowledge to figure that out.
Finally, in an ends-based, Do No Harm system, what would be your penalties? We all want it to be a simple system, so… what? A fine when they trace a pesticide drift back to your farm? A big fine? A little fine? Well, maybe the fine should fit the harm. Maybe there should be a big fine if we catch someone emptying surplus pesticides into a stream, and little fine if they spray without checking to see if there’ll be a strong wind that day. There will probably be in between situations, so you might want gradations for your penalties... and look. You have just backed yourself into a process-based regulations system.