Buffer compensation sought for farmers

MCGA submits letter to candidates requesting support for Buffer Property Tax Credit

By Per Peterson

The controversial Buffer issue is back in the news, just in time for November elections.

And it’s not by accident.

The Minnesota Corn Growers Association and more than a dozen other agricultural organizations in May vowed the Buffer Property Tax Credit would become an election issue after realizing it wouldn’t pass during this past year’s session. Last week, the MCGA stayed true to its word as it submitted a letter to gubernatorial and house candidates asking for their support of the tax credit.

“We wanted to get the issue in the forefront,” MCGA President Brian Thalmann told the Headlight Herald on Thursday. “If some candidates choose to incorporate it into their election platform, that’s great.”

The Buffer Property Tax Credit, which would utilize Clean Water funds — dollars that are specifically designed for projects and initiatives to improve water quality — was introduced as HF 4395/SF 3960 during this 2018 legislative session, and the MCGA last week sent a letter to gubernatorial and House candidates requesting their support for the tax credit to address what it calls the “unfairness of continuing to tax farmland converted to buffers at a tax level that assumes those acres are still producing crops and revenue.”

“We wanted to get the word out that we’re proposing to use clean water funds; it only makes sense that clean water funds collected by the state be used since the whole agreement for the sales tax was for cleaner water,” Thalmann said.

The tax credit initially had widespread support during the session, but the proposal eventually failed because of a disagreement on the funding source, the MCGA said. The letter to candidates stresses the importance of relieving farmers of this tax burden. The proposal called for a $50/per acre property tax credit for farmers for their acres that are in compliance with the buffer law.

“We don’t think it’s a big ask,” Thalmann said. “With the current state of the economy and stress in rural areas, we would think the appetite would be there to work on something like this. We think it has a good chance of passing.”

Signed into law in 2015, the state’s Buffer Law mandates farmers convert farm acres into vegetative buffers in a statewide effort to protect waterways throughout the state. In April, the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources said that Minnesota was 95% in compliance for buffers on public waters.

The property tax credit, Tahlmann said, would be a big benefit for area farmers.

“We felt that we identified a problem and we feel we’ve identified the solution with the source of funds being from Clean Water funds.