I live in Colorado, a place many in agriculture have affectionately begun to refer to as a little California. Like California, Colorado was an agricultural state that increasingly became urbanized and has seen the regulatory, policy, and tax side of the equation change substantially as a result.
Those of us in agriculture have always been afflicted with a little bit of overconfidence. The best analogy is the presidential electoral maps. Ninety-six percent of the country was colored red, yet the blue urban areas carried the election.
Those who farm and ranch in blue states have long understood the pressures that come from the regulatory, policy and taxing side of the equations, and understand what it is like to be severely outnumbered. However, those of us residing in the red states throughout the heartland of America have always assumed that we were safe; that common sense would prevail and that agriculture would be seen as a major contributor and not legislated, regulated or taxed out of business.
Yet, in state after state, the congressional and state legislative districts have continued to be gerrymandered around. I’m not just talking about making districts safe for one party or the other, which of course has long occurred. What we have seen is a redrawing of the lines, where rural America and as a result, agricultural interests, are minimized and urban agendas dominate.
Which leads me to Kansas, one of the reddest of red states. What has occurred in Topeka the last few weeks should wake everyone up in agriculture. Kansas was supposed to be safe - a rural population where agriculture is a dominant player. It boasts one of the strongest land grant universities in the country. Agriculture in Kansas accounts for 37% of its economy.
However, even Kansas has seen its state budget grow to the point that it is facing steep deficits, and that put agriculture in the crosshairs. There were proposals advanced that would have changed the way ag land was valued. Other proposals were offered that were simply an excise tax on every acre of land. Both efforts would have essentially doubled the tax burden on farmers and ranchers.
I certainly understand that agriculture must continue to pay its fair share, but what we are witnessing across the country is that increasingly urban and non-agricultural focused state and national governments are increasingly non-ag friendly. They want the land, the water, or more of the dollars that agriculture generates. They see agriculture as an obstacle rather than part of the solution.
Good prices and improved profitability may actually create a level of complacency that is dangerous. The pressure on agriculture and rural America is not subsiding with good prices and rains. If ranchers or farmers are not actively involved or supporting the organizations that are fighting for them, they are gambling their future on the hope that somebody else steps up to lead.
The opposition is betting that we will remain too busy making a living and caring for the land and the animals entrusted to us, to realize that they are trying to tax, regulate and legislate us out of existence.
That last sentence sounds a little radical even to me, and I’m pretty comfortable with extreme positions. I suggest you sit in on one of your state’s legislative conference calls or get a copy of their legislative watch lists, or call and talk to one of your national lobbyists and discuss the issues they are confronting. When put in that context, the statement is probably lacking the urgency it deserves.
The opinions of Troy Marshall are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com and the Penton Agriculture Group.
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