In North Dakota, we rely heavily on the economic success of agriculture and families that farm and ranch the land. Agriculture has been the mainstay of our economy since statehood and will remain our economic driver long into the future. While many other industries are important, they do not provide the sustainable long-term economics or new wealth that agriculture generates.
This begs the question, why didn’t legislators focus some effort this session on ensuring agriculture has the tools and economic drivers it needs to be successful? NDSU’s economic multiplier for agriculture averages between 3.7 times to 4.49 based on the crop type. It suggests we would want farms and ranches to be successful because they enhance North Dakota’s economy.
It is important to support diversity and new business and industry in the state. It is more important to support our base industry. If we give tax incentives and tax breaks to only new shiny objects, we risk losing our base. Agriculture is struggling and any business that has a struggling primary sector should work to determine avenues to enhance the industry’s ability to be profitable. Our legislature chose to undermine agriculture research when it cut funding by 13.5 percent, Extension by 14 percent, and full-time employee (FTE) reductions. The reduction in FTEs amounts to less research and Extension services.
With budget shortfalls this session, legislators maintained prior tax breaks for some industries but voted to pass higher property taxes on farmland. Rather than investing in value-added agriculture, we took more profits from the state Mill and Elevator to balance the budget. The Mill and Elevator is a great example of a tool that enhances farm income. Legislators also siphoned more profits from the Bank of North Dakota, which could have been used to develop a program like what Minnesota legislators passed to give tax credits to landowners who sell or rent to young producers.
North Dakota agriculture is facing a silent economic crisis. We need to look at the needs of our most sustainable industry – agriculture – and create opportunities for success. This can be done with tax incentives, value-added and processing projects, investment in research, new logistic concepts, farm program support, crop insurance support, and other new ideas. No business would let its mainstay industry die a slow death without a series of strategic planning sessions and investment to help it become profitable. It is time for North Dakota’s elected officials to step up and support family farming and ranching in our state.
– NDFU President Mark Watne