CFBF delegates debate and adopt policies for 2013
By Kate Campbell
New or revised policies on estate taxes, wildfire management, the gray wolf and the environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana operations highlighted policy discussions during the California Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting in Pasadena last week.
Delegates selected by county Farm Bureaus establish CFBF policies to help guide the organization's work in representing family farmers and ranchers before elected officials and government agencies.
"Each year, the CFBF House of Delegates reviews policies and debates issues that affect our agricultural operations," CFBF President Paul Wenger said. "The delegates hone policies that help ensure production of a healthful and abundant California-grown food supply, and that aim to help farmers and ranchers remain profitable."
Because federal estate taxes can create severe hardship for a new generation that wants to continue in farming and ranching, delegates voted to oppose any regulatory action by the Internal Revenue Service that could cause extreme difficulty in paying estate taxes.
The delegates adopted a policy position that opposes "unreasonable and unfair IRS estate tax audits" by auditors not experienced in agricultural land values—which can result in an additional tax due in full within an unattainable time frame—and delegates supported allowing sufficient time for a farm or ranch family to sell land without additional penalty. A reasonable time is nine months, delegates said, similar to the requirement for the first estate tax payment.
Delegates also adopted the position that determining the amount of estate tax due should not rely solely on a single IRS agent's opinion, but should instead be based on the opinions of California-licensed appraisers with agricultural experience.
"Our estate tax policy now addresses an often-overlooked element of the tax, which is included in the complex IRS rules that can increase the burden on families trying to preserve their farm through a generational transfer," said Josh Rolph of the CFBF Federal Policy Division. "Our delegates unanimously supported this change. We hope farmers in other states agree as this change goes through the AFBF policy process."
The California position on estate taxes will be carried to the American Farm Bureau Federation Annual Meeting next month in Nashville, Tenn. Meanwhile, CFBF delegates remain firmly in support of permanent repeal of federal estate taxes.
Great concern was expressed by CFBF delegates about the impact of wildfires on ranching and livestock grazing on public lands and they added CFBF policy to support improved communication among state and federal wildfire managers and incident commanders, to better coordinate with local ranchers and agencies.
In proposing the new policy language, mountain county Farm Bureaus said poor communication with grazing permitees resulted in the loss of many head of livestock, because the animals were caught between wildfires and backfires set to stop the wildfires' advance, and ranchers on grazing allotments weren't notified. This happened during wildfires in at least four Western states.
Delegates also adopted an emergency policy proposal calling on law enforcement to notify landowners when they become aware of trespass marijuana grows. Agricultural and forest landowners say these illegal operations pose serious safety and environmental problems on private property, as well as on public land, through the illegal use of pesticides and other impacts on land and water.
County Farm Bureaus that proposed the new policy said the illegal activities are dominated and financed by Mexican drug trafficking organizations with a high propensity for violence, and that current laws lack landowner notification requirements when clandestine activities are taking place on their property or adjacent land.
Also of concern is the lack of funding available for cleanup and restoration of land damaged by the illegal grows. CFBF delegates approved a policy that calls for a collaborative effort among law enforcement, environmental agencies and other public and private entities to cover the cost of damage to private land from the activities of trespassers.
With the re-emergence of the gray wolf in California, delegates approved a measure that calls for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to promptly develop a wolf management plan that balances the needs for public safety, private property and the environment.
Noting the continued difficulty in hiring enough people to work on California farms and ranches, delegates adopted a resolution re-emphasizing the need to place a high priority on finding solutions, including pursuit of a user-friendly, temporary foreign worker program.
Delegates voted to support "all reasonable and cost-effective means" to generate funding for construction and maintenance of the state's highway system, and to support efforts to harmonize state and federal highway transportation laws for more efficient movement of goods within California and across state lines.
"Delegates not only adopted new policy positions, they also worked to clarify existing policies and help move important issues to the top of the national agenda for agriculture," CFBF Federal Policy Division Manager Rayne Pegg said. "This House of Delegates session built on many existing policies in an effort to strengthen them at the state and national levels."
Pegg said delegates' thoughtful discussion of highly detailed issues demonstrates the value of ongoing and rigorous policy development.
"Many CFBF policies were developed years ago, but continue to be relevant and guide us today as new issues emerge," she said.
(Kate Campbell is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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