Swampbuster Challenged by Iowa Farmland Owner in Lawsuit

Swampbuster Challenged by Iowa Farmland Owner in Lawsuit

An Iowa company is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the federal government’s so-called “swampbuster law” that requires farmers to either leave wetlands untouched or forfeit certain federal benefits.

Wetland on an Iowa farm property

The lawsuit was filed April 24, 2024, by CTM Holdings in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa. CTM Holdings defines itself as a family-owned limited liability corporation that owns 1,075 acres of Iowa farmland. That farmland includes a 72-acre parcel of land in Delaware County that contains a nine-acre strip of property designated a wetland by the USDA.

According to the lawsuit, if the USDA designates any part of a farmer’s land as a wetland, it effectively obtains a conservation easement over that portion of the property, restricting the use of that area. If a farmer develops or farms the area that’s designated a wetland, he or she loses USDA benefits, such as loans and crop insurance, not just for the property in question, but potentially for all of their farmland.

The law at issue in the case was approved in 1985 as part of the Food Security Act, which established a conservation effort called the Erodible Land and Wetland Conservation and Reserve Program. Two components of the program are referred to as the “sodbuster” and “swampbuster” laws, which are intended to preserve highly erodible land and wetlands and protect natural resources for a public purpose.

The swampbuster provision conditions USDA agricultural benefits on farmers keeping designated wetlands in conservation rather than converting them to cropland. Under the law, once an area of farmland is designated a “wetland,” it cannot be “drained, dredged, filled, leveled, or otherwise manipulated” without the loss of USDA-provided agricultural benefits.

Because of the way the law is structured, CTM Holdings argues, the company has no choice but to give up all uses of the nine acres in order to retain the USDA benefits for itself and for its tenant farmers on all of the 1,075 acres the company owns.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for alleged violations of the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, as well as a judgment declaring that the swampbuster provisions of the law are unconstitutional and exceed Congress’ power to regulate interstate commerce.

The lawsuit is backed by the Liberty Justice Center and Pacific Legal Foundation. The USDA and other defendants have yet to file a response to the lawsuit.

Photo Credit
Mark Vandever, U.S. Geological Survey
June 14, 2024