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Time for Agriculture to Get off the Sidelines

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Now that the election is over (almost over) it is time to think about what’s next.  For most of us, it has been an election where agricultural issues were not in play or even mentioned.  Trade agreements come close but, since both major candidates came out against trade agreements and generally bad-mouthed trade throughout the campaign, there was not much to argue about. So most farmers and farm groups retreated to the sidelines. As the dust settles, it is time to get active again.

White House officials says they are going to try and bring up the TPP trade deal in the lame duck session of Congress, a move that seems ill-advised and doomed to fail.  Yet President Obama wants this as part of his legacy, so he is going to push for it regardless.  Members of his own party, however, feel it might be better to wait until 2017. Some have suggested that a revised TPP push, as part of an overall trade reform plan that would also close some loopholes in NAFTA, might be a path forward.  In either case, agriculture has to be ready for a full court press.  Few issues are as important as trade for the sustained growth and profitability of U.S. agriculture.

Another case for putting TPP off to 2017 is the fact there are some key issues that need to be dealt with in the 2016 Congress. The proposal by the IRS to change estate tax laws that would make it harder for farms to be passed from one generation to the next is about as welcome as a screen door on a submarine.  We should be making it easier, not harder and more costly, for the next generation to take over the land. Farmers need to be speaking out on this and letting lawmakers know the IRS has to be stopped.

Also an issue that requires farmer attention is the HIT tax. This is a little-known part of the Affordable Care Act. It imposes a tax on anyone who buys their own health insurance coverage, such as farmers and small businesses.  Our sneaky lawmakers voted for this tax as a way of paying for the increased cost of the government bureaucracy caused by the ACA. This tax is charged to the insurance companies, who then pass it along to us. Congress postponed implementation of the tax until 2018 so it would become a campaign issue.  But unless something is done, farmers will soon get hit with HIT, and it is going to hurt.

Agriculture may be small in numbers, but can have a significant political impact — if we show up. If farmers write letters, make phone calls, talk to elected officials, or even go to Washington, we can make a difference.  While it may be out of our comfort zone and not what we would prefer to do, being involved in policy issues is critical for the future of agriculture. We cannot sit on the sidelines and watch. It is now time to get into the game.

By Gary Truitt