Legislative priorities are always important to the future of our state and federal government. While it is easy to ignore the process of policy and law development, we should never give up the opportunity to participate and ensure our thoughts and ideas are considered. After all, the laws that are adopted have long-lasting impacts and set the direction of our nation.

The area of tax policy is always a very contentious topic. It is rare to find anyone that wants to pay more taxes or likes paying taxes. That is why a balanced approach, one that aligns the services citizens desire with available tax revenue, is necessary to provide services.

NDFU believes we should have a multi-approach system of taxation, so all citizens participate as equitably as possible. In North Dakota, we have a system that reflects this approach as our tax code is based on income, sales and property. The challenge remains in the balance between the three to be as fair and equitable as possible, while meeting the needs of our citizens and state.

Lately, there have been changes in the tax code that shifts the tax burden to property taxes and from some business sectors to others. We have seen state funding decline, only to have the burden shifted to local subdivisions which generally translates into increased property taxes.

If we consider taxation equity, agriculture is paying a larger portion of the property tax burden to support local needs and infrastructure. There have been large cuts to the very system that supports agriculture, everything from research, to promotion, to educational support, to infrastructure. It appears that taxation equity is leaving agriculture, our farms and our ranches behind.

I question the merits of tax relief for one industry only to shift that tax burden to another, especially in a time when farming and ranching is on the edge of a serious financial crisis. Farm income is off 50 percent from a few years ago and rather than relief, we are seeing tax increases. Rather than invest and support agriculture, we are being told the only solution is to toughen up.  

Maybe we should look at tax equity and balance again? Maybe we should look at the real challenge to agriculture, which is profitability? Maybe we should develop tools that create agricultural demand through more research, more value-added plants, more farm input production plants, and innovation related to food and feed production?

We have missed many opportunities to develop our commodity production into a value-added system with input manufacturing plants. This, I believe, is economic development that taxpayers would support. The fastest way to economic success in rural America is a prosperous system of family farms and ranches across the countryside.

I challenge all of you to reach out to your legislators and tell them the importance of family farm agriculture. Tell them the stories of your tax increases and the challenge to make your farm or ranch profitable. Tell them what the state should do to support our industry. After all, food is extremely important to our nation. It should not be taken for granted.

— NDFU President Mark Watne