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Iowa farmer challenging constitutionality of ‘Swampbuster’ provision

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(The Center Square) – An Iowa man is challenging a decades-old provision that designates a portion of his land as “wetlands” by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and prevents its use.

The nonprofits Liberty Justice Center and the Pacific Legal Foundation are filing a lawsuit on behalf of Iowa farmer Jim Conlan, owner of CTM Holdings, LLC.

Conlan owns 1,075 acres of farmland. Nine acres of a 71-acre tract are designated as wetlands by the USDA. The “Swampbuster” law passed in 1985 as part of the Food Security Act prevents farmers from using what is designated as wetlands to grow crops. If they do, farmers could lose USDA benefits including loans and disaster payments, according to the lawsuit.

But the nine-acre area in question is “dry, arable land that is not connected to any water source, contains no standing water, and is not inundated by water at any point in the year,” according to information from the Liberty Justice Center.

“Although the term ‘wetland’ brings to mind areas of shallow water, cattails, and landing ducks, most of our wetlands are forested wetlands or cropped wetlands that only hold surface water temporarily, but are seasonally saturated,” according to information from the the USDA.

Wetland functions improve water quality, maintain critical wildlife habitat and flood and sediment control, according to the USDA.

“While well-intentioned, this conservation scheme is unconstitutional,” said Loren Seehase, senior counsel at the Liberty Justice Center. “The government cannot condition benefits on the waiver of a constitutional right—in this case, the Fifth Amendment right to be compensated when the government takes some or all of your land. If welfare recipients had to promise to never criticize the government to receive welfare benefits, it would be plainly unconstitutional. Why should farmers’ rights be any different?”

Conlan is asking the court to rule that the provisions are “in excess of Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce” and set them aside because they are arbitrary, capricious and contrary to constitutional rights, according to the lawsuit.

As an alternative, Conlan wants the court to force the USDA to reconsider its Oct. 22, 2023, decision declaring the nine acres as wetlands.

The lawsuit is filed in U.S. District Court for the North District of Iowa.

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