Ag leaders plant seeds on Capital Hill

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WASHINGTON – If there was a little different sound in some milking parlors and work was not getting done on some farms in Ohio one day last week, it was, according to Ohio Farm Bureau president Terry McClure, because Ohio farm leaders had come to Washington to plant a few seeds.

The Ohio Farm Bureau took 74 county presidents plus members of the state board, directors, and staff to Washington March 6-8, to meet with the Ohio Congressional delegation and drop a few seeds of influence for Farm Bureau’s legislative policies.

Issues stressed included the inclusion of ethanol in a proposed national energy policy; elimination of inheritance taxes; reduction of capital gains taxes; reform of U.S. trade policy and the opening of trade with Cuba, and an opposition to over-regulation.

Share your story.

“You have taken time to come to Washington to share your story,” McClure told the delegation before they boarded the bus to head for Capital Hill and the offices of their respective Congressmen.

“You have a right to come talk to your legislators,” he said, “but you also have the responsibility. When there is a person sitting in their office, they know how important these issues are to you.”

And with a new sheriff in town, he added, it is even more important for Ohio ag leaders to take the opportunity to come to Washington to plant those seeds.

And when they returned to report back the following day on their legislative visits, there appeared to be a certain amount of agreement among the Ohio Congressional delegation on some of these issues.

New farm bill.

None seemed to be ready to discuss the coming farm bill in any detail, more typically asking for input from their visitors than expressing opinions themselves.

Rep. Ralph Regula said he was waiting to see what would be in the bill, which is likely to come up this summer. But he indicated his support of increased assistance for farmers.

Others Republican Congressmen indicated their willingness to follow the lead of Rep. John Boehner, Ohio’s only representative on the agriculture committee.

On the estate tax, or “death tax” as it is referred to by the Farm Bureau because of its effect on the inheritance of farms into the next generation, most of the congressmen had already formed a position that was fairly unanimous among them – but quite different from that advocated by the Farm Bureau.

Total repeal.

The Farm Bureau has taken a stand favoring the total repeal of the estate tax.

Jim Burnette, Cuyahoga County Farm Bureau spokesperson and former county president, explained how the estate tax had the potential to eat up everything he had worked for his entire life.

“I want my daughter to inherit my farms,” he explained, “but if she has to pay inheritance tax, she would have to either sell one of the farms or the machinery to pay it. There goes the farm.

“Without land or machinery, she wouldn’t be able to farm.”

And in Cuyahoga County, as in many other parts of Ohio, the pressure to sell land for development is high, he said.

“Once it is developed, it is lost as farmland.”

The alternative to abolishing the tax is reform, several Congressmen told the Farm Bureau delegations.

Most expensive farm.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich talked about an exemption that would catch most of Ohio’s farmers. He suggested setting that exemption at the level of what would be the most expensive farm in the state.

Kuchinich suggested a $5-10 million cap; Rep. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, said he might support a $6 million cap. And Regula indicated he felt Congress would probably raise the ceiling to allow the exemptions to agriculture and other small business.

Jack Fisher, executive vice president of the Ohio Farm Bureau, reacted to the statements of caps by referring back to the Farm Bureau position.

“Don’t compromise your position too early in the debate,” he told the state leadership. “We don’t want to hear about all these caps. It is the Farm Bureau’s position that the tax should be repealed entirely, not that it should be reformed.

“We can always compromise our position later if that becomes necessary.”

Ethanol production.

Fisher also told leaders that they should not be satisfied either with vague generalizations about supporting ethanol production in Ohio.

Voinovich told the delegates that he was working on getting an ethanol plant built in Ohio. Other legislators expressed support for ethanol expansion.

“We need to talk about ethanol as part of a national energy policy,” Fisher said, “not about building a plant in your town.”

Of course, not all of the Farm Bureau delegations found essential agreement from the Congressmen they visited.

Montgomery County president Kevin Dill reported that Rep. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who represents Adams, Brown and Clermont counties, was mostly uninterested in ag issues.

“His main issue is world hunger,” Dill said. “Until we can find a way to connect farm exports to feed aid, there isn’t too much we can agree on with him.”

In the office.

Rep. Tom Sawyer, R-Ohio, who represents Portage and Summitt counties, was not available to the delegation that wanted to visit him until Gordon Weber, president of the Portage County Farm Bureau, ran into him while he was in the office talking to an aide.

“He admitted he didn’t know much about farming,” Weber said. “But he was interested. He listened and was receptive, and we parted friends.”

Rep. James Traficant, on the other hand, had a lot to say to the delegation who visited his office, but it was primarily about the federal tax code and the bill that he is sponsoring to do away with the all existing federal taxes to substitute a 15 percent federal sales tax.

He said he would like to see language for a bill that would give a tax break to farms that remain in agricultural and commodity use.

He said state laws are not adequate, and related that the taxes on his farm in Ohio have gotten so high that he feels like he is renting the farm from the county for the privilege of living there.

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