This Wednesday at 1pm I’m hoping to see the Oregon Capital building FULL of Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and woodland owners. We have been hearing from our industry advocates all winter that they are going to need our help this legislative session and that time is now.
The Oregon Legislature has been scrapping for any amount of money they can get their hands on. Our state is working with a deficit, which it seems like instead of working through the budget they have, many legislators are grasping at straws to fill the gap. Silly ideas like a coffee tax, or old car tax have already come and gone. But Wednesday there will be a hearing to take away tax exemptions that are so valuable to farmers in Oregon, I really can’t stress enough how it would make farming here basically impossible.
Without going into too much detail here, Oregon has a very unique land use system. One that designates land around the state that is Exclusive Farm Use only (EFU). This land is used to farm, and grow crops. Basically it disallows you from selling as industrial ground, or ground for housing, development, etc. Because this limits our ability in what we can do on the land that we own, in turn the state has given us a reduced property tax on those parcels. The state deemed that ground, because they value farm land, as the highest value being farming. In my opinion I would have to agree, we have some of the best soil in the world here in Oregon. So that means that I can’t turn around, sell by the square foot to developers, and make a fortune. Because of the land use system, and the protections that have been hard fought in this state (and I believe rightly so) that ability is taken from us.
So here is the deal, if you as the state think that our farm ground is so valuable that you give us a special assessment in order to farm, why in the world would you take that assessment away, tax us the same as industrial ground, and then force us to keep it as farm ground? It makes no sense, and you can rest assured that this gutting of farm assessments, is in turn a gutting of land use laws as they stand today. This will break our system here in Oregon, one that has allowed me as the third generation on this farm to continue farming. The landscape in Oregon – both figuratively and literally – could change. Who really wants that?
The other issue in this legislation is removing our personal property tax exemptions, which would end up driving farms into the ground, ending the legacy that is farming in Oregon. Our industry by nature creates a significant amount of capital expenditure. We have millions of dollars worth of equipment sitting in our barns, equipment that will only see the light of day for a fraction of the year. Take a piece of harvesting equipment, like a combine for example, the cost of which could be anywhere from $350,000 to a half million dollars. This essential piece of equipment will be used for only about 3 weeks on our farm.
So why bother to upgrade? We update equipment on our farm as technology changes and equipment becomes more efficient for our farm, our soil, and the environment. Just like many households update appliances in their kitchens. But how can you afford to update if every time you parked a newer piece of equipment in your barn your tax bill increased so significantly it never penciled? I did the math, and this part of the legislation alone would take our average profit for the past 5 years. We could never justify planning for the future on our farm, which is what we do every time we make business decisions. My business plan is not for the next 5 years, or even the next decade, it’s what is going to be best for my grandchildren and their children. Between land rent, land taxes and property taxes, I just don’t know how our farm would survive.
Our legislature has to take a hard look at their budget and work within their constraints. I was at a meeting where Representative Tina Kotek spoke a few months ago and something she said made me realize how concerned we all should be this year. I’ll paraphrase because I didn’t write down the exact quote. “We have made a lot of good decisions for Oregonians, now we just need to figure out how to pay for them.” This goes against everything I believe to my core, everything that business, school, farming, and life has taught me. No, you need to find what you can pay for and THEN and only then decide on what decisions are best for Oregonians.
We seem to be living in a backwards world here and it’s scary! So please, come and stand up for Oregon’s farmers, ranchers, foresters and woodland owners on Wednesday! Tell the legislature that they need to work within their budget just like the rest of the real world. They need to stand up for farm, ranch and timber!
To write a letter to your legislator you can use the link below through Oregon Farm Bureau: