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The USDA enacted what’s referred to as the “swamp buster act” in 1985 to promote wetland conservation. It says any farmer who drains a wetland for crop production could face the loss of crop insurance subsidies, conservation payments, and other federal benefits for each year of violation until the wetland’s functions and values are restored.
John Schwarz is a third-generation farmer and the owner of Schwarz Law Firm in Hudson, Indiana. He says it doesn’t matter how large or small the wetland area is, the USDA will calculate financial penalties if they learn about it.
"Let’s say they look over one of my farms and they see that a violation happened in 2010. So, I converted, I planted, and each year I was in violation because I was planting this converted wetland," he says. "They can go back all the way to 2010 and say we want all the benefits you received, all monies you received since 2010 paid back all the way up to 2018."
He says there are exemptions that can reduce or even erase the penalties. One is called a “good faith exemption”.
"You can ask that the USDA look at your case and say, yes, you violated the swamp buster act but there was good faith. There was no scheme, or device, or intent, it was just a mistake. If they find good faith then that can exempt you from the penalties," says Schwarz. "The other exemption can be what’s called a “minimal effect”. You can say look, yes, I did clear this wetland but it didn’t have an effect on the overall neighborhood of wetland."
Another exemption is, if a third party such as the county drained the wetland, the farmer should not be held responsible.
Read much more about the swamp buster act