Green Acres is not place to be

Published 3:29 pm Saturday, January 31, 2009

This year there were big changes made to the Green Acres farm program by the Minnesota Legislature. These changes have the potential to negatively impact hundreds of family farms across the state — farms just like my family’s in Washington County.

Our farm has been in operation since 1870, and for many years has been enrolled in the Green Acres program to help stabilize property taxes due to development pressures. Now, we are being told, parts of the farm that are set aside to control erosion, encourage biodiversity, and act as buffers for our non-farming neighbors, are no longer eligible for the program. The result will be a huge increase in property taxes.

These changes — which were made without committee hearings at the state and with virtually no public testimony — make it so that patches of land that don’t have corn growing on it or aren’t being hayed will be deemed “non-productive.” Yet a healthy farm does not function with dividing lines between “productive” and “non-productive” land. It is all one unit: asmong tilled tracts of crops, lowlands serve as drainage, stands of trees serve as wind buffers and undisturbed land acts as safe havens for wildlife — they all serve a purpose. In fact, the state has been telling farmers for years that such conservation practices are an essential part of responsible farming. Now many of these parcels will be taxed so high that the farm families I know will be pressured to put that marginal land back into production or sell it.

Email newsletter signup

To make matters worse, additional changes to the law create a huge tax penalty for those wishing to transfer the farm business on to the next generation. It is difficult enough to make that transition; in many cases this will make it impossible. The direct impact in Washington County will be fewer farms, more development and a spoiling of the rural character that you and I cherish. It is no exaggeration to say that Minnesota’s farming heritage has been diminished by the changes to this law.

It is said that there are people abusing this program and not using it in the way it was intended; if so, we should get together to come up with a solution to address that. But the current changes are not a fix — no, they are a disaster to working farm families, rural communities and for land preservation. Please call your state representatives and ask them to repeal last session’s changes to the Minnesota Green Acres Program.

Peter Kastler