fb - voice of agriculture
September 2005

Government: Stop Taking Property for Others’ Gains

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

Regardless of the kind of real property you might own – a home, a vacant lot or a productive farm – government should never be able to make you sell that property just so it can be turned over to someone else who might be able to generate more revenue from that site. Or, as the U.S. Supreme Court recently decided, turn it over to someone who can generate more tax dollars.

The Court ruling in favor of the city in Kelo v. City of New London could have serious negative consequences for farmers and ranchers. Apparently no one’s home, farm or ranch land is safe from government seizure because of this ruling.

An Old-Fashioned Land-Grab

The Kelo case was little more than an old-fashioned land-grab, through which the city of New London attempted to seize the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors – at close-out prices – just to turn the property over to a developer.

If left unchecked, government’s free and expanded use of the power of eminent domain could become its preferred method of balancing its books. Property owners will continue to fall victim to this abuse of authority. Nowhere is the potential for this abuse greater than the farmlands bounding our nation’s cities – farmland and open space that becomes more endangered with each passing year. The potential is real, especially if you consider which entity would generate more revenue and taxes. A cornfield or a condo? A strawberry farm or a shopping mall?

The American Farm Bureau Federation is not only on the front lines battling the Kelo decision, but we are here for our members as a resource in case they need legal or policy help and advice.

Farmers Have a Lot at Stake

Unfortunately, because less than 2 percent of the population has direct ties to farmland, governments seldom recognize farming operations as the best use of land. They will more than likely only see dollar signs that come with recruiting a developer to locate on what is perceived as under-used and under-taxed land at the edge of the city.

Farmers and ranchers are having problems maintaining their fields and pastures for food and fiber production. They are contending with urban sprawl and need protection against government bodies having free reign to take land.

All owners of undeveloped land used for farming or other purposes could see their property become easy pickings for governments. Without protection for property owners, governments could force a farmer – or anyone – to sell at rock bottom prices, only to have that land paved over and turned into yet another office park – albeit a higher-tax-producing office park.

With the fundamental belief that individual property should be protected, be assured that Farm Bureau will continue its efforts so that the effect of the Supreme Court decision can be limited for the sake of the average individual American, whether a farmer, a homeowner or a holder of open space.