Tax reform, farm bill, etc

What’s ahead for farmers, ranchers, etc

Eloise Ogden/MDN A strong farm bill is important to farmers and ranchers in North Dakota and across the country. This photo was taken in 2017 near Minot.

North Dakota’s farm organization leaders offer their views on what’s ahead for farmers and ranchers.

Daryl Lies, who farms at Douglas, who leads the North Dakota Farm Bureau, an organization with 27,000 member families, just returned from the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual convention held in Nashville, Jan. 5-10. President Trump spoke on Monday to the group about the tax reform package he signed into law Dec. 22.

Highlights of Trump’s speech, according to The Associated Press, included:

— Doubling of the threshold for the estate tax.

— Ability for companies to immediately write off the full cost of new equipment.

— Rolling back the Obama administration’s interpretation of the Clean Water Act, which had greatly expanded the list of bodies of water subject to federal regulation.

— Calling on Congress to renew the farm bill this year and that he supports providing federal crop insurance.

At the convention Trump signed an executive order promoting the expansion of broadband internet into rural areas that lack the connectivity.

During “Dialogue with Daryl” on Wednesday, a weekly audio podcast from the N.D. Farm Bureau, Lies said, “We had success in getting policy passed and adopted for the American Farm Bureau policy book that is going to assist many farmers in North Dakota and South Dakota. And that’s dealing with wetland policy,” Lies said. He said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, who spoke at the convention, said it best: “We’ve figured out that sometimes mud puddles are just mud puddles and they don’t need to be regulated by the government.”

Lies, who was re-elected president of the N.D. Farm Bureau at its annual meeting in Fargo in November, said some reform policy regarding sodbuster and swampbuster was passed “and tied to it, if there isn’t sufficient progress in reform, that we should decouple crop insurance from conservation compliance, especially in light of the USDA taking away the 10 percent buy-up in prevent plant coverage.”

“We’re willing, as farmers, to do our part, and save the federal government money. But, if you’re going to change our protections, then you must let farmers farm and ranchers ranch and manage their land to the best of their ability.

He said another highlight of the convention was getting into policy that there should be a buy-out program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service easements. “These are all big wins, important strides for the Northern Plains farmer and rancher,” he said.

Mark Watne, a Velva farmer, was re-elected as president of the North Dakota Farmers Union at the state’s largest farm group’s annual convention held in Bismarck.

He said everyone likes tax cuts but such cuts do not come without risks.

Watne said the estate tax, also known as the death tax, and the number of family farms it impacts is a misnomer.

Trump said in a speech this past fall that the estate tax was a “tremendous burden” for family farms.

Andrew Swenson, a farm management specialist and researcher with North Dakota State University, told Public News Service prior to the tax reform package being signed, that the estate tax has a minimal impact in this state. He said going back to the most recently available tax returns in 2014, about 15 estates in North Dakota had to pay the estate tax and only about two or three were farms. He said the numbers are probably similar in more recent years. The tax is graduated and levied on estates valued at more than $5.5 million or $11 million for married couples.

In 2016, less than half percent of the country’s nearly 40,000 farm estates paid an estate tax, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Swenson said, in the Public News Service story, the estate tax will impact “just a handful of farm estates across the country every year but could impact the revenue to a much larger group of farmers if, in trying to offset the revenue costs, they try to cut some spending. He said one of the areas could be the farm bill.

Watne said the farm program and its support are very important now. He and others across the country representing farmers and ranchers are hoping for a strong farm bill.

Sen. John Hoeven, who serves as chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he and Trump, at a recent meeting, talked about the importance of a strong farm bill. “I emphasized crop insurance, so I was very pleased that the president expressed his strong support for crop insurance today during his speech to the American Farm Bureau because it’s very important to our producers,” Hoeven said in a news release this week.

He said Trump, in his speech, highlighted “the importance of investing in rural America and making our communities stronger and more vibrant. He outlined the benefits of our work to provide tax and regulatory relief that enables our farmers and ranchers to grow and invest in their operations. We’ve worked hard to roll back burdensome regulations, like the Waters of the U.S. rule, which have hampered economic growth.

“We appreciate the administration’s focus on building rural infrastructure, including ensuring better internet access,” Hoeven added.

He said he reminded the president last week that “good farm policy benefits every American, every day with the lowest cost, highest quality food supply in the world.”

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, in response to Trump’s address to the Farm Bureau group, “Every day I come to work fighting for rural America, and today the president helped highlight many critical issues like agriculture trade, opioid abuse, and access to high-speed internet.’

She said “to truly help rural America thrive, Republicans and Democrats need to work together to support the farmers, workers, and families that are the heart of these areas.”

Heitkamp said one of the biggest concerns she hears from North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers is the worry that changes to trade policy could hurt their ability to export their goods.

She said her top priority is ensuring that the next farm bill supports North Dakota – especially in times of drought and low commodity prices.

Heitkamp said she’s been clear about her serious concerns with how the Republican tax bill will impact middle income families across rural America in the long run – including farmers. “The bill will provide temporary, relatively modest tax decreases for farmers and middle income families that will disappear after 2025, and at that point, costs will go up. Meanwhile, the wealthy and corporations will reap permanent rewards. That isn’t fair,” Heitkamp said.