Archive for Thursday, June 30, 2011

Opinion: Harvest restrictions

June 30, 2011

It’s harvest time in Kansas. And while most Americans associate harvest with autumn leaves and Thanksgiving, Kansans think of hot southern winds that ripen the wheat and signal it’s time to get the combine ready for what they hope will be a good crop. Ever since Kansas’ first settlers converted the prairie from a sea of tall grass into amber waves of grain, families have labored together during the summer months to bring in the harvest.

Harvest is a time when sons and daughters work alongside their parents and grandparents. It’s a time when values are passed down and life lessons are learned — not just those of hard work, but of how to manage disappointment and make the most of success. It’s also a time for family gatherings and giving thanks for the special way of life we lead in Kansas.

It seems that no matter where a son or daughter lives, they find a way to come back home and help their family during harvest. There is more to this pilgrimage than just lending a hand; there is a pride that reminds us of our heritage, and draws families and generations closer together.

The family farm contributes enormously to the values and traditions Kansans hold dear, as well as to the strength and stability of our state and nation’s economy. Every day, millions of Americans enjoy a safe and affordable food supply thanks to our nation’s farmers, but trends show that more young adults are leaving their rural hometowns for jobs in the city. According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, only 8 percent of all farmers today are age 35 or younger while more than half of U.S. farmers are between the ages of 45 and 65. Additionally, the average Kansas farmer is getting older — increasing in age from 54 to 58 over the last decade.

This trend is concerning and the only way to reverse it is to create opportunities that make it easier for sons and daughters to make the choice to return to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Congress can do its part by removing regulatory obstacles that make it more difficult for families to operate their businesses. A good place to start is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From limiting the amount of dust that can be kicked up by a combine, to regulating every mud puddle on a farm and dictating which day ranchers can burn their pastures in the Flint Hills, EPA’s overbearing regulations must be reined in.

For farmers to earn a living and remain competitive, Congress must also develop a comprehensive energy policy that allows for an ample energy supply which is both affordable and reliable. Rising fuel prices increase operating costs for farmers and ranchers — making it more expensive to purchase fertilizer, produce crops and transport them to market.

Creating a friendly environment for the family farm at home must be coupled with opening new foreign markets for agricultural commodities overseas. Delayed approval of pending trade agreements with countries such as Colombia, Panama, and South Korea are costing farmers and ranchers real money, and each day that passes we risk losing more of our market share to competing nations. It is past time to create more opportunities for American farms to grow and prosper.

Finally, nothing hinders the transfer of the family farm to the next generation more than the estate tax. It is an unfair, unjust burden on our economy and it punishes Kansans who want to continue their family business. I have long sought a permanent repeal of the estate tax, but have also pursued opportunities to increase the size of estate tax exemption and lower rates. I will continue to look for common sense ways to decrease the impact of the estate tax so farmers can make long-term plans with more certainty.

Just like the summer wheat harvest, creating an environment of economic certainty will take hard work. To keep the family farm alive, however, it is worth every bit of effort. I will continue my efforts to educate my colleagues in Congress about the vital contributions of our nation’s farmers and ranchers, and will work to keep the federal government out of the way so we can preserve that special way of life for future generations of Kansans.

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