By Matt Reese
The 94th Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) Annual Meeting recently concluded and there were a number of hot topics being discussed in the meeting rooms and hallways during the event. Policy guidelines for the next year were set as Ohio Farm Bureau members from around the state gathered to discuss pertinent issues for agriculture.
Tax issues were an important part of the discussion — most notably, Gov. John Kasich’s idea of increasing the severance tax (which taxes the production of a natural resource) in Ohio to cash in on Ohio’s oil and gas boom. Currently, Ohio’s production tax rates of 20 cents a barrel on oil
and 3 cents per 1,000 cubic feet of natural gas are among the lowest in the country.
Kasich wants to raise severance taxes up to 4% over time on the highest-producing oil and gas wells and use the proceeds for modest statewide income tax cuts. Ohio Farm Bureau members expressed strong opposition to increasing severance taxes due to the potential ill effects it could have on landowners and the emerging industry in the state.
“We strongly oppose new severance tax increases that would be used to solely pay for a reduction in income taxes,” said Adam Sharp, with OFBF. “We believe that if you are going to look at a severance tax increase in the state that it should be a part of a comprehensive tax plan that looks at local community needs and tax structure.”
If the severance tax is increased, OFBF members would want those funds to be used as tax revenue for local governments, infrastructure needs, economic development, mitigating future environmental impacts, and enhancing the sustainability of local economies in the impacted areas, Sharp said. In related policy, the organization’s delegates voted to support rural economic development centered on energy industries including generation and distribution, as long as they are responsive to community and landowner needs.
The Governor’s proposal to privatize the turnpike was also opposed by OFBF members.
“With privatization there could be issues with maintaining the areas around the turnpike and the overpasses,” Sharp said. “Farmers use the overpasses and they are dependent on the use of that road to get products in and out. We also want to make sure safety issues are addressed.”
In terms of water quality, delegates addressed the challenges of keeping farm nutrients out of the state’s waters by endorsing farmers’ adoption of a management system referred to as 4R, which encourages nutrient applications that are the right source, right rate, right time and right place. Farm Bureau members said they believe all farmers should have nutrient management plans, and the organization encouraged ongoing research into ways to farm profitably without harming water supplies.
The 341 voting delegates also addressed the need to preserve the state’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program, which taxes farmland at its farm value as opposed to its highest potential value, and is essential to maintaining viable farming in Ohio. Farm Bureau believes that farmland enrolled in federal conservation programs should remain qualified for CAUV.
In addition, Farm Bureau members also addressed ways to assure that farmers can meet the growing consumer demand for agricultural experiences such as farm markets and agritainment venues. Farmers need certainty in what regulations will be and how to comply to provide visitors with safe, enjoyable activities.
Delegates also took a broad approach to the topic of agricultural education.
“Farmers spoke loudly about the importance of agricultural education funding in the budget whether you are talking about Extension, OARDC, 4-H, high school programs, stem schools including agriculture, or basic agricultural education for the public so they understand what agriculture means to the state of Ohio,” Sharp said.
There were plenty of differences in opinion during the OFBF policy debates but, ultimately, policy was set for making a difference at the Statehouse for the following year.