Proposals point out disconnect between producers and politicians
Most of you have seen the proposals below in one form or another in the past few years. It's difficult to nail down any of these propositions since they seem to change month by month. Some are destined to fail.
Others will succeed, but in a highly altered form. One point remains constant. Politicians and the interest groups they represent are on the offense against agriculture. We cannot let them succeed. A quick look at this list underscores that point.
It's known today as cap and trade or cap and tax. At the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010, cap and trade looked invincible. Agriculture looked vulnerable. Just because the legislation has taken a backseat, none of us needs to be relieved. This legislation is pushed by the EPA and other environmental groups. It was loosely based on mandatory caps on carbon creation and a trading scheme.
The full legislation would have required massive increases in taxes on energy products and services across the board. In theory, agriculture could have benefited through participating in the trading system.
According to Farm Bureau, individuals, family partnerships and family corporations own 98 percent of the nation's two million farms and ranches and generate 86 percent of the food and fiber produced here. All of us know what has happened to land prices over the last 50 years. Farmers and ranchers are land rich and cash poor. We all know as well that when estate taxes eat up available cash reserves, families can be forced to sell assets just to pay the taxes. That's wrong.
Again, according to Farm Bureau, "In the late 1990s, twice the number of farm estates paid estate taxes compared to other estates, and it took two and one-half years of farm returns for a moderate-sized farm operation to pay estate taxes owed."
I realize different people will have different ideas on the exemption threshold. But I hope all of us recognize it's wrong for the government to confiscate 55 percent of anybody's estate.
On again, off again. Up one session of Congress, down the next. It takes constant vigilance to track this changing stat. With farmers tying up 80 percent of their assets in land values and owning those assets for generations, capital gains are a constant source of punishment for farmers and ranchers.
Those taxes also make transfer of lands to children (and young farmers in general) much more difficult and costly.
The EPA is dead set on expanding its regulatory powers in the field of greenhouse gases as noted under climate change above.
A lot of regulatory language boils down to this: one proposed variation required dairy farms with more than 25 cows; beef cattle operations with more than 50 cattle; swine facilities with more than 200 hogs and farms with more than 500 acres of row crops to apply for additional government permits because those operations would run afoul of greenhouse-gas emission rules.
Proposals to eliminate the term "navigable" place the hand of government on the throats of citizens. If these proposals ever come to fruition, government will control all groundwater, all ditches, all culverts, all potholes and all farm ponds.
Explain to me how that's a good idea. Overnight, the reach of government would extend to unimaginable lengths.
The U.S. Department of Justice Antitrust Division is in the midst of investigating Capper-Volstead, the 1922 legislation that enables farmers
to join together and form cooperatives without triggering antitrust laws. After a summer-long exploration, the attorneys seem to have concluded
"big is not bad."
Luckily, the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives is counseling these people who are unfamiliar with agriculture. But no one has a clue
what they will propose.
That brings up another point. The commodity groups and Farm Bureau are doing the majority of work representing your interests in this legislative climate. If you do not now belong to the group that best reflects your operation and philosophy, join now. This fight won't go away.
I have to admit I'm stumped by the onslaught. Are we now reaping the results of urban dwellers who are two to four generations removed from the farm?
I do know one thing for certain: Pass enough laws and you'll make criminals out of honest citizens. Please vote wisely, folks. Agriculture's fate and the fate of the nation are in your hands.
Bill Streeter is president and CEO of MFA Incorporated.