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The Ag Agenda

April 2007

'Can't' is Not in Young Farmers' Vocabulary

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

I recently came across a quote that reads, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” My question is, why can’t we do both?

Why can’t we start building a future that ensures property rights for our farmers and ranchers? Why can’t we give our beginning farmers more financial help and incentives to get started in the industry? Why can’t we abolish erroneous capital gains and death taxes that cripple our farmers’ businesses?

Fortunately, for American agriculture, the word “can’t” does not seem to be part of our young farmers and ranchers’ vocabulary.

A Foot in the Door

In a recent informal survey taken among AFBF’s young farmers and ranchers, their biggest concern was the availability of land. Just two years ago, only 5 percent of young farmers considered it a challenge. But with urbanization and the loss of farmland, as well as the deficiency of protection for landowners’ rights, the availability of land has quickly become a critical issue facing American agriculture.

Getting a foot in the door is another concern for young farmers. While traditionally most farms were passed one generation to the next, this is rapidly changing. Today, 30 percent of young farmers have entered the industry on their own. And they need our help. Adequate incentives should be available for beginning farmers to obtain farm credit. And tax incentives need to be in place for people who sell or lease their land or other assets to beginning farmers.

Federal tax reform is also desperately needed by young farmers and ranchers, beginning with the elimination of estate taxes. When older generations pass, young farmers are faced with estate taxes that can be as high as 46 percent and equaling up to two years of net farm income. For a struggling young farmer, this atrocious tax could totally wipe out any chance of keeping the family farm, as a working unit, intact.

Further, capital gains taxes, which are imposed when land is sold, threaten the transfer of farmland between producers and put the efficiency and profitability of the industry at risk. The capital gains tax needs to be repealed to help our young farmers and ranchers stay in the business.

Laying the Foundation

Despite these challenges, our young farmers and ranchers are optimistic about the future of agriculture. So much so, that 92 percent of them see it as a lifelong profession and most would like their children to follow in their footsteps.

Just ask Chris Chinn, AFBF’s Young Farmer and Rancher Chair, who, along with her husband, is taking significant measures to keep their hog operation in their children’s future. They’ve laid out a step-by-step business plan to steadily grow their farm so it is healthy enough 30 years from now to support their children’s families. They also stay up with the latest technology and keep their minds open to new ideas, because, as Chris says, if you don’t, you may not lose out in the near future, but within 10 to 20 years, you wake up and discover the ship has sailed.

Like Chris, most young farmers and ranchers aren’t only being proactive on their farms, they are lobbying their state legislatures and Congress to step up property rights, obtain financial incentives and reform hurtful taxes. They believe in their future and the future of the industry. And they’re not saying “can’t.”