Aberdeen Paper Endorses Grassy Buffer Strip Legislation

The Aberdeen American News doesn’t endorse candidates. But in yesterday’s edition, the AAN editorial board endorsed my position on grassy buffer strips, a position my opponent in the District 3 Senate race voted against twice in the 2016 Session:

…we are happy to see advocates of buffer strips between farmland and waterways living to fight another day.

Strips of land between fields and water help trap fertilizer, pesticide and sediment before they reach water [editorialAberdeen American News, 2016.08.04].

South Dakota needs more sensible conservation and taxation policy. Senate Bill 136, the grassy buffer strips bill that Rep. Novstrup opposed and the Governor vetoed offered both: a voluntary program that encourages sensible land use, water quality, and wildlife at minimal cost while fairly taxing farmers on the actual use of their land instead of someone’s actuarial woulda-coulda-shouldas based on planting each year’s top crop to the water’s edge. While Rep. Novstrup waits for the signal from the second floor of the Capitol on which way to vote, I’ll happily support a new riparian buffer bill from my seat in the 2017 Senate.

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  1. While I support the buffer strip idea it may be too little, to late. Especially since it would be voluntary. People are starting to realize that farmers/livestock producers are fouling the streams and rivers and they are not happy. Those that pollute the water should be made to pay to clean up that same water. Why should the cleanup costs be born by the taxpayer? If you live above me in a drainage you have no right to send your pollutants down stream to me.

  2. Another good idea, that needs to start getting circulation, is figuring out how to make shelter belts exempt from taxation. We have a lot of South Dakotans that do the right thing by planting and keepin them; however, we have unfortunately seen vast amounts of them ripped out to help meet the bottom line in an an ever shrinking profit margin.

  3. Paul, that’s a perfectly reasonable characterization yet lawmakers in both parties, both in the state legislature and Congress, will not see it that way. At the same time we have bumper crops and grain on the ground not being sold. Agriculture is doing itself and future farmers a huge disservice by not taking a proactive stance here, mandatory buffer strips would go a long way, there’s federal money to pay farmers to do so, and the argument that taking that land out of production hurts the bottom line is invalidated by the fact that we’re growing too much as it is.

  4. Stace Nelson, that is a great idea. Reduce property tax on shelter belts to zero. Maybe carry it a little further and pay landowners for keeping that land available for wildlife. Maybe something that Pheasants Forever could get behind.

  5. Ever shrinking profit margin my $%^. Farming profits fluctuate with the price of commodities – not “ever shrinking.” Farmers already get huge property tax breaks off of what homeowners and businesses pay. To top it off, the tax code is structured so that they can expense away their taxable income (and their tax burden) by purchasing equipment.

    I’m pretty tired of millionaires complaining about paying taxes. Anybody who says, “pay up or the shelterbelt gets it” deserves the the same condemnation as a kidnapper.

  6. What’s the difference between a pipe (drain tile outlet) from a field that discharges water laden with nitrate, phosphorus, sediment, E. coli, herbicides, and pesticides into a stream versus a pipe from a factory that discharges a slightly different chemical cocktail into a stream? They both pollute our most precious publically-held natural resource, yet the latter is strictly regulated, but the former isn’t.

    There’s a gaping hole in the Clean Water Act, and the state of our water resources in this county is a testament to that reality. Thankfully, as Paul Seamans has alluded to several times in other comments, the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit against drainage districts in Iowa seeks to remedy that inconsistency. Predictably, the Corn and Soybean Growers Associations and the Farm Bureau, among others, oppose the lawsuit and have provided substantial financial support to the defendants:

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2016/04/09/secret-donors-pay-934k-defend-water-suit/82715656/

    http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/money/agriculture/2016/04/11/water-works-nitrates-lawsuit-billing-paying/82900944/

    Those who profit handsomely by the unfettered ability to dump the toxic byproducts of their production process in streams, wetlands, and lakes—thereby destroying aquatic ecosystems and endangering public health— need to be held accountable, not rewarded via taxpayer-funded subsidies (e.g., commodity, indemnity, crop insurance premiums, tax exemptions, etc.). The fact that those entities fight fiercely to stave off protectionary government regulation with one hand but, at the same time, have the other extended for their “welfare” check is hypocrisy at its finest.

  7. With a little government incentive payment farmers may be induced to preserve old shelterbelts. Without them they may tear these old shelterbelts out. Some may consider this as holding the people hostage. Farmers are in no way required to keep these areas in wildlife habitat but if non-landowners can’t see the benefit in keeping these areas in wildlife habitat then I really don’t want to hear the crying when pheasant numbers plummet.

  8. Poor little Rorschach. Get into farming yourself if you think farmers and ranchers get huge tax breaks. Mostly we pay significant taxes and get little or nothing in return. Every business can expense equipment. That is not limited to agriculture. We have about 15 acres of trees that have been there for 75 years or so. Taxes on that are about $150 yearly and rent income is also lost. Nobody around here or anywhere else wants to rent trees and windbreaks just for the fun of it.

    We have about 77 acres that are now taxed at $25 per acre. Taxes on ag ground here in Tripp County jumped 15% this year. School board has squandered $4 or $5 million on a totally unnecessary fourth gymnasium for a school graduating only 34 to 40 students per year. They refused to have a vote on the project because they knew it would have been shot down in flames.

    I will not tear out the trees, but it would be nice to not have to pay property taxes on it anyway. Others might be encouraged to plant more trees or some trees or as indicated not bulldoze existing trees. Better to help tree planting than divert insurance company tax to private or religious schools or give tax breaks to profiteers converting bare land to housing projects, etc.

  9. @Paul It is on my list of bill ideas. I would appreciate input and advice if my return to service in D19 becomes reality. With google maps, it should be something that is relatively easy for county EQ officers to identify and compute if it is a passive tax exemption only. It was a no brainer that came to me after I was out of office and lamenting more of them being torn out.

  10. I’m open to including shelterbelts in our conservation incentives. The disincentive to both shelterbelts and grassy buffer strips lies in assessing taxes on best use rather than actual use. Why should we tax a farmer based on what he could have done with his land instead of the income he actually generated with his land? That’s like taxing a worker based on the money she could have made if she’d put in five hours of overtime every week instead of working regular hours and taking a couple weeks leave to take care of her family.

    How about we simplify the problem, Stace, and replace the agricultural land tax with an actual productivity tax? We’ll still tax those darned millionaires that Ror is tired of seeing get breaks; we’ll just make sure we’re taxing them on their actual productivity.

  11. Poor little Wiken all bent out of shape because he has to pay $150 ($10/acre) property tax on his shelterbelt. Another millionaire farmer whining about what for him is essentially a rounding error.

  12. Didn’t SCS plant the belts? What is the current process? A bunch of water skier types bought a stock dam on ag land near the hills and had the gov’t plant their shelterbelts amap.

    Rohr, i always enjoy needeling you abit for your perspective. while i agree about loopholes for the 1%, wikin, as much as i disagree with some of his old schoolness, knows a thing or two and i don’t dismiss his democratic wisdom. democratic farmer/ranchers are a good thing in this red state.

  13. I just don’t understand the argument against these grassy buffer strips. I also feel perfectly clear on why they are good, and why another look at production taxes have been in order since their inception.

    Our production tax is nothing more than a backhanded dishonest way of falsely describing an income tax on what the state thinks a farmer/rancher ‘should have’ earned that year.

    A feeling in my gut says that South Dakota won’t get away with taxing actual agricultural product without going right ahead and calling it what will then be: “agricultural income tax.”

    And we should be proud of it too… you know… calling things what they actually are rather than living in fantasy land.

  14. Adam, you’re right: I’ve heard no argument against the effectiveness of riparian buffer strips. Plant grass along waterways, and the water gets cleaner. The opposition from the Corn Growers, the Governor, and other naysayers (like Al Novstrup) revolves around taxes and corn production.

    You’re spot on about our current ag productivity tax. We’d do farmers a great service by taxing them on their actual ag income instead of their theoretical ag income.

    Say, just curious: would there be complications to taxing farmers on their ag income and excluding any outside income from jobs in town?

  15. How much authority do SD counties have to modify the tax assessment rate to encourage buffer strips (and shelter belt protection, etc.)?

  16. I think I’m the one with the “old schoolness” Leslie. It seems to me that farmers should do right by the land and the water just because it’s the right thing to do and because they are stewards of the land that often has been in the family for generations. Anybody who would tear out a shelterbelt because the government hasn’t offered them a $150 annual tax break … well, let’s just say that person doesn’t get my respect. I think grass buffer strips are a great idea too. Stewards of the land ought to work them into the cost of doing business – just as they should work fines for polluting water into the cost of doing business.

  17. And anyone who is lucky enough to have become a millionaire in this great country, whether through inheritance, hard work, or a combination of both, should never be heard whining about paying taxes. It’s unseemly. It’s ungrateful. Let Warren Buffett be your guide for the proposition that to whom much has been given much will be expected.

  18. Rorschach, you were griping because you did not get tax breaks. That is whining and unseemly.

    Why the hell should farmers and ranchers pay a SD income tax when nobody else does? When we are taxed with a special income tax on the assumed productivity of land per acre, I want to see lawyers, doctors, stores, etc paying a special income tax based on the productivity of every square foot of their property.

    City legislators seem continually searching for new ways to screw agriculture. We pay city sales taxes (as does every visiter) to cities which provide us and other farmers and ranchers no special useful benefits because we pay those taxes. Agriculture pays much of the school tax in Tripp County and something like 80% of the students come from towns here. We subsidize education of city kids.

  19. Wrong, Mr. Wiken. I don’t complain about my taxes. Ever. Whatever they come to I just pay them. The more they are, the better I am doing. And I’m tired of hearing others far wealthier than me complain about their taxes.

    What you say about farmers paying a disproportionate share of school taxes is true. Maybe the legislature should lower your property taxes further and just charge you 4.5% sales tax on the products you sell just like other businesses have to collect and remit. You can do the math on that one.

  20. I am all for landowners being good stewards of the land. It is a landowners responsibility. However to get reluctant landowners to accept this responsibility and “work it into their cost of doing business”, as Mr. Rorschach suggest, will solve nothing. How is a farmer/rancher to do that? Raise the price of the commodity that he sells?

  21. Cory, I was also somewhat upset by the Corn Growers position but after further review there were some problems with the legislation that were of legitimate concern. Yes, taxes were one of them however the definition of what streams, cricks or waterways would fall under this legislation was left up to bureaucrats to decide which one qualified and which did not. Don’t farmers like everyone else have the right to know which ones are affected and the number of acres it would entail?

  22. Cory, I cannot see any significant complications to taxing farmers on their ag income while excluding outside income from jobs in town. If a low wage worker can file pay stubs from different employers into separate folders, while holding down more than one job, then so can farmers and ranchers. If doing a small amount of extra math is the big problem with implementing an ag income tax, then I don’t think it’s a lot to ask ag producers to learn just a little more math.

    South Dakotans are so income tax phobic that they’ve become irrational about it.

  23. Don’t be obtuse, Mr. Seamans. A farmer who switches 5 acres of corn for 5 acres of buffer strips will have 5 acres less to farm. That’s certainly not going to break anybody. That’s assuming that they even need any more incentive to protect their own land from erosion and their streams from pollution. I don’t assume that farmers will be bad stewards of their own land, but that seems to be the premise of this bill.

  24. Mr. Rorschach, how is that being obtuse? On a 3000 acre farm five acres devoted to filter strips will not go far. The filter strip idea doesn’t just apply to the James River or the Big Sioux River. For it to be truly effective it will have to be applied state wide. Unless farmers have some incentive to plant these strips most farmers will not mess with them.

    We seem to be talking like farmers are the only ones guilty of adding to the pollution. Let’s not forget the pollution added to streams by a city the size of Sioux Falls.

  25. Good point Paul, imagine where all that deicer from the streets in Sioux Falls goes. How about fertilizer and herbicide run off from lawns and gardens which the use rates are much higher than ag rates. I will not argue that ag has it’s part in it but it is not alone.

  26. How about the dog parks in SF located right next to the river where dog owners don’t pick up after the dogs do their business. Also, do you know where the hot point for high nitrates coming into the river are for most of the year? Right below the wastewater treatment plants in Watertown, Brookings and Sioux Falls! So we are all in this together!

  27. Good points Gduffy. The legislature needs to wake up to all of this. When people are advised to not come in contact with the water in the Big Sioux River then something is wrong.

  28. Do ag producers really have get all bent when people talk about how their industry pollutes?

    Every industry pollutes, and that’s why we have regulations which help industries of all kinds meet their communities needs. It always requires some change and possibly the sacrifice of a dollar for an industry to do little better job looking out for their community.

    There have never have been political groups who single out farmers and ranchers as the potential primary polluters in the U.S., and when a conversation about shelter belts and grassy buffer strips in South Dakota turns into “yeah, well, the city pollutes a lot too” it really seems like person/people are going out of their way to miss the point.

    Way too many ranchers think environmentalist blame them, and cow farts, for global warming. Way too many farmers are emotionally sensitive about the environmental impact of their business – which is minuscule compared to companies like Dow Chemical, SC Johnson Wax, Ford Motors etc. Nationwide, Liberals really don’t blame farmers or ranchers for much of anything at all, but it’d be really nice if agriculture had a more positive attitude about improving how they do business than multinational automobile and chemical companies – as those guys only seem to care about themselves.

  29. Adam: Have you actually read many of the posts on this and other websites? Many make mass judgement that Ag is a major problem when it comes to pollution! Does Ag do everything right? No, but they are not nearly as bad as they are being portrayed! Many fail to realize that you can do everything right and plans as possibly as you can and this thing called Mother Nature can and will wreak havoc on the best of plans. The other thing that get’s dismissed is that other industries can set their prices to take things like that into account but Ag can’t do that, they are price taker subject to many factors beyond their control. It is real easy to judge from the ” cheap seats” especially with your mouth full!

  30. Yes, I thought I read your posts. I don’t think it’s about Ag doing things right or wrong, only improving how we do things ever continually as a country, as a human race, over time.

    I’m just not familiar enough with people who demonize agriculture for its environmental impact, they’ve never really seemed to exist in my world. If they’re out there, they are a tiny few.

  31. Adam, The World Wildlife outfit trys to claim that cattle eating grass are terrible pollution producers. They somehow try to claim that having wild animals eat grass will produce less pollution. A SDSM&T former prof at a meeting in Rapid City on the problems with glyphosates such as Roundup by Monsanto (that is another can of worms) said that the net impact of grazing animals was pretty close to zero. The carbon dioxide, nitrogen, etc related to grass-fed livestock is more or less a circle with near zero net impact. I can’t prove that and have not tried to find more information however. City residents with no connection to agriculture other than eating are probably unlikely to see or hear of the attacks on agriculture. Legislation which might help small farmers and ranchers dies in committees because big agri-chemical and fertilizer outfits and meat packer and grain conglomerates do not want consumers to know where there meat, grain, and fruits actually come from and who is producing them. The large meat processors are now producing enough of their own cattle to essentially control the price of cattle on the farm or ranch.

    Farmers and ranchers get paranoid because every legislative session and in nearly every city-based media there are more attempts to tax not me, but the guy behind the tree who for most city people is the farmer and rancher. What I find really ironic are city people who are in the city because their families could not make a living in agriculture now thinking about how good agriculture is and how it must be taxed more. It does not even take a generation for that to happen. Some of my wife’s aunts could not understand why farmers and their wives wanted rural water with bathrooms and electric washing machines since they did not have them on the farm when they left….even if they had the same appliances and conveniences in town for decades.

  32. CCarter, I don’t think the counties have much leeway. They assess ag land based on the statutory formula. I don’t think the county equalization officer can up and declare ag land to be a riparian buffer strip and tax it out of compliance with the best-use formula.

  33. GDuffy, when I first read the bill, I too wondered how we would go about figuring out just how much land could be put into the program and thus just how much tax burden might be shifted around. My March analysis took a high-end estimate, counting every waterway in the state and assuming total participation. The plan still wasn’t a budget-buster… and my goodness! If we got every farmer to participate and plant every inch of waterside turf to grass, imagine the benefits for water quality, soil conservation, wildlife habitat, and hunting!

  34. Adam, thanks for that point. Farmers file a whole separate form (Schedule F!) for farm income; the state could easily say to farmers, “We’re not taxing your land; just send us X% of what you calculated on your Schedule F.” Or we could even get creative: assess some minimal landholder fee, some fraction of current best-use property tax, to ensure some minimal base level of revenue. Then add the honest ag production tax (ag profits tax?) on top of that in a way that would still levy pretty much the same level of revenue for the counties et al. as the current ag tax but would simply spread the burden out more fairly based on actual earned wealth.

  35. On ag versus other sources of pollution: Yes, we should tackle all significant sources of pollution. All citizens—farmers, campers, factories, sewer systems, homeowners with septic tanks, etc.—should avoid dumping crap in the water.

    But agriculture is a significant polluter requiring significant action. When I was on the Lake County water quality board, we heard the rough estimate of share of pollution in Lake Madison was 85% agriculture, 15% other business and homeowners. USGS studies have found that more than 70% of pollution in the Mississippi River basin comes from agriculture. The EWG link I cite here also says that “40 years of strictly voluntary programs have barely made a dent in farm pollution” and contends that we need mandatory pollution controls. We can have that debate, but right now, I’m willing to support an incentive for those farmers who want to get ahead of the curve on conservation.

  36. Just a short drive around the country will reveal that farmers are tearing out fence rows, farming across waterways, and tearing out shelterbelts. It takes a lot of room to turn a 48-row planter around. While I believe that there are a lot of conservation minded farmers around I also believe that not much will be done to protect our water until conservation measures are made mandatory.

    At present our federal government pays about 70% of a farmers crop insurance premiums. Maybe tie this to conversation measures.

  37. Cory, Ah you hit the nail on the head! Define waterside turf for me. Is it a stream that runs most months of the year? I might agree with that. Or does it apply to a grass waterway in my field that runs a few days after a heavy rain or a few weeks? What is that definition?

    As far as wildlife habitat, how much am I expected to contribute to the cause? I can visibly show you areas in my fields where deer have munched on my crop or raccoons have drug down 10 foot circles of corn in my field or areas where pheasant have dug up my expensive corn seed next to good habitat so I can have hunters tear up roads I use to get my crop out to hunt for FREE!

  38. GDuffy, SB136 defined waterside turf as within fifty feet of a lake, river, or stream. We have legal/USGS definitions of lake, river, and stream, don’t we?

    Paul, interesting that we subsidize production far more heavily than the conservation that preserves the necessary conditions for production. I’m stepping beyond the South Dakota Legislature’s jurisdiction, but maybe Paula Hawks should propose restoring funding for CRP with dollar-for-dollar reductions in crop insurance subsidies. Say to farmers we’re done paying you to cultivate marginal land, but we’ll support your effort to restore those marginal lands to better use as pasture, shelterbelt, and riparian buffer.

  39. Greg, you talk about pheasants the way Parker folks talk about Sonstegard’s giant egg factory. Don’t you know those pheasants are responsible for all sorts of economic development? ;-)

  40. Cory, I feel that the crop insurance program was developed more for the insurance industry than it was for farmers. Not only does the federal government pay 70% of the premiums they also pay the company a bonus payment of 15% just for selling the policy. Makes it apparent why the Farm Bureau loves this program.