Land Line: Rural Child Poverty, Climate Crop Cuts, Farmland Field Goals, Estate Taxes, Trust Busting, No-till Organic

April 11: An LSP Round-up of News Covering Land, People & Communities

What the American Rescue Plan Means for Child Poverty in Rural America

(4/6/21) The expansion of the Child Tax Credit (CTC) in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, projected to decrease child poverty by 40%, will have an outsized effect on rural areas, where poverty rates are higher, reports the Daily Yonder. Highlights:

  • The child poverty rates in non-metro counties is 22.6% — compared with an 18% national average. Major metropolitan counties, with a child poverty rate of 20%, will also disproportionately benefit from the expanded CTC. Major suburbs have the lowest child poverty rates at 12.8%.
  • Decades of research shows that childhood poverty produces adverse outcomes long into adulthood. While child advocates applaud the stimulus bill’s measures to drastically reduce childhood poverty, experts have quickly turned to the question of their permanence.
  • The expansion to the CTC removes the credit’s income requirement, increases the maximum amount from $2,000 to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under 6, and makes the entirety of the credit refundable.
  • In the past, the nation’s poorest families received the least from the CTC, said Kris Cox, deputy director of federal tax policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). “There were about 4.3 million children in rural areas whose families got less than the full credit, or no credit at all, because their parents earned too little, or lacked earnings,” said Cox.

LSP Myth Buster #53 addresses how misinformation has fueled attempts to cut food assistance programs.

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Climate Change Cut Global Farming Productivity 21% Since 1960s

(4/1/21) Despite important agricultural advancements during the past 60 years, a Cornell-led study shows that global farming productivity is 21% lower than it could have been without climate change, according to Science News. Highlights:

  • The future potential impacts of climate change on global crop production has been quantified in many scientific reports, but the historic influence of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change on the agricultural sector had yet to be modeled.
  • "We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years," economist Ariel Ortiz-Bobea said. "It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013 and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down."

Check out LSP's white paper, Farming to Capture Carbon & Address Climate Change Through Building Soil Health.

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The Farming Lobby’s Cunning Plan to Fight Climate Change—and Regulation

(4/2/21) The American Farm Bureau Federation, a longtime, powerful foe of federal action on climate issues, has shown its support for an emerging policy: private markets for carbon offsets. However, the group has said it will support carbon banking only as long as agriculture is not forced to modify the industrialized, energy-intensive system that most row cropping and livestock production is based on, according to The New Republic. Highlights:

  • The “carbon bank” the Biden administration is proposing would pay farms directly for the carbon their plants take from the air and root into the soil, with the government taking a leading role in providing verification. Studies show that by building soil organic carbon using practices like cover cropping, diverse rotations, composting, and managed rotational grazing, farmers have incredible potential to sequester greenhouse gases.
  • Carbon banking is a sound idea, but that farmers worry large agribusinesses and food companies would use their political prowess and market heft to profit from paid credits, bending the program to their benefit at the expense of smaller producers. Bloomberg’s editorial recently warned: “The danger is that a carbon-credit system might instead mainly enable airlines, investment funds, energy firms, agribusinesses and other companies to excuse their own greenhouse-gas emissions by purchasing inexpensive and largely meaningless offsets.”
  • American Farm Bureau officials are saying they will support government-based carbon markets for agriculture as long as increased greenhouse gas-based regulation of CAFOs and other industrialized ag operations is off the table. "This is the bottom line in agricultural lobbying: American government should send more money to farmers—just as long as taxpayers don’t ask them to change the fundamentals of a business that is itself a giant emissions and environmental problem," writes The New Republic's Charlie Mitchell.

LSP's "100% Soil Healthy Farming Bill," which would provide incentives for farmers to put regenerative, practical carbon-building practices on the majority of Minnesota farmland, is moving quickly through the state legislature. On Earth Day (April 22), we'll be delivering our 100% Soil-Healthy Farming Petition to members of Governor Tim Walz's cabinet. You can sign the petition here. Check out our latest update on where we stand with the other state legislative issues LSP is prioritizing.

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Billionaire NFL Owner Quietly Buying Up Thousands of Acres of Illinois Farmland

(4/5/21) A Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting review shows that the billionaire owner of the National Football League team Jacksonville Jaguars has purchased 24,000 acres of farmland in central Illinois since 2015. Highlights:

  • Purchases of farmland by wealthy individuals and hedge funds have surged in recent years, but it is not a new phenomenon. Farmland has been a popular investment for a long time because of its stability.
  • Typically, the land purchased by wealthy owners is rented out to farmers. A 2016 report by the USDA showed that about 39% of farmland is rented. About 50% of farmland in Illinois is rented, according to the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers & Rural Appraisers.
  • Bruce Sherrick, the director of the TIAA Center for Farmland Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that the most common reason for selling farmland is to transfer the land after the owner passes away. He said that the heirs of the farmland receive the land at the current value, not the value it was originally purchased. “I think a lot of farmers have an incentive to leave it in their estate until they pass away and then their heirs get it at a higher basis without paying capital gains,” Sherrick said. This makes it difficult to acquire farmland. “It’s a very thin market,” Sherrick said. “That does explain a lot of the difficulty in acquiring farmland because there’s not much changes of hands year-to-year. It’s a very long-term, held-til-death asset in many cases.”

For information on how to transition farmland to the next generation in an affordable and sustainable manner, see LSP's Farm Transition Tools web page.

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Estate Tax Touches Only a Few Farm Families

(4/4/21) Despite its "fearsome" reputation, only a comparative handful of farm households are obliged to file a federal estate-tax return, and most of them won’t pay the government any money, said USDA economists quoted by Successful Farming recently. Highlights:

  • Large tax exemptions — $11.58 million per person in 2020 — shield most estates from tax liability.
  • In addition, heirs face a smaller potential liability for capital gains taxes due to the use of stepped-up basis in calculating property values. Property is assessed at its value at the time of inheritance, rather than when it was purchased. The difference is significant if land stayed in the family for decades.
  • Based on mortality rates, estimates of farm assets and debts, interest rates and farmland rental rates, the USDA estimated that 31,394 farm estates “would be created out of principal farm operator households, and out of those, 0.6% — or 198 estates — would be required to file an estate tax return.” Only 0.16% of estates — roughly 50 estates — would have an estate tax liability, according to the USDA's Economic Research Service.

For information on how to transition farmland to the next generation in an affordable and sustainable manner, see LSP's Farm Transition Tools web page.

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Petition Calls for EPA Regulation of Large Dairy and Hog Farms

(4/7/21) Two dozen environmental and consumer groups have petitioned the EPA to regulate large dairy and hog operations under federal air pollution laws, according to Successful Farming. Highlights:

  • Agriculture generally is exempt from air and water pollution laws. The petition says the EPA could use the same section of the Clean Air Act to establish air pollution limits on industrial hog and dairy farms that it used several years ago to propose carbon emission limits on power plants. The petition called for regulation of facilities that house at least 500 cows or 1,000 hogs without access to pasture. Those large farms account for 13% of all U.S. emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas, according to the groups who filed the petition.
  • The petition also asked EPA to “reject the false solution of burning factory-farm gas” – or methane emissions from animal waste – to power factories. “Proven, pasture-based farming with reduced, sustainable herd sizes…will help restore rural communities, help stabilize the climate, and provide environmental justice,” it said.

Check out LSP's Stopping Factory Farms web page. Soil Health, Water & Climate Change: A Pocket Guide to What You Need to Know is available here.

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Farmers File Antitrust Lawsuit Against Big Ag Companies

(4/7/21) A group of Idaho farmers has filed an antitrust case against several big agricultural companies, contending the companies worked together to ban e-commerce sales in order to keep prices artificially high, according to the Associated Press. Highlights:

  • The farmers are seeking class-action status and they want a judge to force the companies to give up “unlawful profits” and pay compensation to those impacted by the high prices.
  • The lawsuit, which is similar to other federal lawsuits filed around the country, claims that four major manufacturers worked together with major wholesalers and retailers to deprive farmers of a free and open market in order to artificially inflate the price of of seeds, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and other agricultural products used in planting and raising crops.
  • According to the lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Canada Competition Bureau have all launched investigations into the big companies’ actions.

LSP and our allies are demanding that the Biden administration and its USDA leadership address consolidation and anti-competitive practices in agriculture. Check our recent action alert for details on how to send a message to President Joe Biden and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack that we need significant changes in our approach to Big Ag.

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Can California’s Organic Vegetable Farmers Unlock the Secrets of No-Till Farming?

(3/30/21) Farmers in California are working with researchers to figure out if it's possible to attain the holy grail of regenerative agriculture: raising vegetables using no chemicals or tillage. According to Civil Eats, what they learn could have ramifications on farms across the country. Highlights.

  • Because they don't use herbicides, farmers raising organic row crops, small grains, and vegetables are heavily reliant on tillage to control weeds. This tillage can result in erosion while harming soil structure and health.
  • Researchers and farmers are finding they can reduce tillage significantly by relying on techniques like roller crimping, as well as by building soil health with cover crops, composting, diverse rotations, and integration of livestock.

Check out LSP's Soil Builders web page for fact sheets, videos, podcasts, and other resources focused on building soil health profitably.

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Brian DeVore is the editor of the Land Stewardship Letter.