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Growers eye land, immigration, and global warming issues

Agriculture.com Staff 03/03/2008 @ 3:52pm

While the leaders of commodity groups representing corn, soybeans and wheat met in Nashville at the Commodity Classic last week, their cell phones and Blackberries were electronically tied to Washington. Getting a farm bill passed soon remains the top priority for all of them.

But at the delegate sessions of the National Corn Growers Association and American Soybean Association on Saturday, the members are already looking ahead to other issues, including tax policies that may affect land prices, illegal immigration and how efforts to fight global warming will affect farmers.

By a vote of 81% in favor, NCGA delegates voted to back an identification and fingerprinting system to help track the status of immigrants who are agricultural employees. They also want the burden of proving the legal status of immigrant employees removed from employers.

For NCGA, "this is the first policy on immigration," said Curt Watson, a delegate from Renville, Minnesota. Watson said the vote was 97 to 20. "That's a pretty strong delegate count on this issue."

While not all corn growers hire a lot of labor, the group also wanted to show support for their livestock industry customers who may depend even more in immigrant labor. The group didn't respond to one delegate who challenged NCGA to take a position on the broader issue of immigration reform.

By a narrower vote, the NCGA also voted in favor of restricting Section 1031 tax-deferred exchanges of farmland on an acre-per-acre basis only.

Some delegates said this is too restrictive, but a supporter of the amendment, Gerald Tumbleson, a past NCGA president from Minnesota, said later that changing 1031 rules would make land prices more reflective of the marketplace. "Tax laws should not govern production, no matter what it is," he said.

Tumbleson said he also believes there's a chance that the issue of restricting 1031 exchanges could come up in the farm bill that’s taking shape. Farmers in some states have complained that the sale of commercial real estate has created an artificial boost to land prices when those sellers reinvest in rural areas.

Several resolutions dealing with management of carbon were passed, including one calling for more education of farmers about trading carbon credits and another calling on the Department of Energy to give proper credit for carbon conservation when ethanol plants use cellulosic feedstocks.

While the leaders of commodity groups representing corn, soybeans and wheat met in Nashville at the Commodity Classic last week, their cell phones and Blackberries were electronically tied to Washington. Getting a farm bill passed soon remains the top priority for all of them.

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