Looking Forward for Agriculture
By Rep. Kristi Noem (R-S.D.)
America’s farmers and ranchers have faced a lot of uncertainty over the past several years. With new regulations coming down the pipeline constantly and the threat of higher taxes and consequences of inaction on a farm bill always on the horizon in 2012, our agriculture community has rightly been on edge. This coming year should bring a little more certainty.
Just this week an extension of the current farm bill was approved through the end of the fiscal year. I have been fighting tooth-and-nail for a full, five-year farm bill, but unfortunately, the clock ran out. When that happened, the priority became locking in some certainty for our crop producers and livestock owners that need to make decisions now while we continue to work toward an agreement on a long-term plan. As a lifelong farmer and rancher in South Dakota, I know just how important stable agriculture policy is, and that’s why I supported the extension. I look forward to continuing to work go get a good five-year bill hammered out in the next several months.
Farmers and ranchers also have new, permanent certainty when it comes to the estate tax. In South Dakota, 98 percent of farms are family owned and operated, and most of these folks want to keep that land in the family for generations to come.
Unfortunately, the death tax threatens the ability for family farms to stay in the family. Many people know that the death tax is a very personal issue for me. When I was in college, my father died unexpectedly in a farm accident. On top of the grief of losing my role model, my family was also hit with the death tax. We had to decide to sell land or take out a loan to pay that tax. Death should not be a taxable event and I am continuing to work for a total repeal of the death tax. However, I am glad that we were at least able to prevent the massive increase that was scheduled to go into effect at the start of this year. Without the recently enacted legislation to avert the “fiscal cliff,” the death tax would have reverted to a $1 million exemption and 55 percent tax rate on any assets above that. Now, with the $5 million exemption made permanent, we can continue to work toward total repeal.
As we look forward into the New Year, it’s also important to recognize the success we have seen in the past year. There is one takeaway I want to particularly focus on, and that’s the importance of grassroots efforts. Since I have been in Congress, I have seen how when we band together against government overregulation, we can make a difference. The first example of this is with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) talk of further regulation of farm dust. If EPA would have moved forward with more stringent rules, it could have forced many to stop farming on a windy day. I introduced legislation that passed the U.S. House to put a stop to this, and the uproar from rural communities also caused EPA to give assurances that further regulation of farm dust would not move forward.
Another great example came when the Department of Labor (DOL) tried to make it harder for young people to do work on farms and ranches. Like so many in rural communities, I grew up working cows, fixing fences and helping my dad during planting and harvest. I didn’t just learn practical skills for life, but I also gained a strong appreciation for hard work, patience and persistence. Like so many parents, farm safety is critically important to me, but I don’t believe Washington bureaucrats, many of whom have never spent a day on the farm, should be overregulating a young person’s ability to learn these life lessons. I was proud of the wave of opposition that rose up from South Dakota and rural communities across the country against this infringement on our way of life, and was pleased when DOL rescinded its proposal.
I am proud of what our agriculture community has been able to accomplish together and look forward to working to further protect our way of life. As we see the average age of farmers and ranchers increasing, we need to promote rural life and encourage young people to stay in the family business. I will continue working on policies in Washington that will make agriculture a viable industry for our young people far into the future.