VALLEY SPRINGS — As farmers find themselves resigned to a waiting game hoping for rain, agriculture leaders recently addressed non-weather-related problems coming down from the federal government.
On Monday, June 7, members of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and South Dakota Soybean Association met with Rep. Dusty Johnson — South Dakota’s lone congressional representative — for a roundtable discussion at Scott Family Farms farm south of Valley Springs.
The farm is run by Kevin Scott, president of the American Soybean Association, and his son Jordan Scott, president of the South Dakota Soybean Association.
They joined about eight others to share some of their larger concerns from what is being talked about back in Washington D.C.
“Frankly, there are not a lot of folks in Congress who really understand these issues,” Johnson said. “Out of 435 members of Congress, only 45 represent mostly rural districts by population. So these guys are like force multipliers for me. They tell me how it really is. That gives me the ammunition I need to go get it done in D.C.”
South Dakota Corn Growers Association President Scott Stahl, a McCook County farmer, felt the meeting provided the support that farmers have advocates working for them in Washington.
As more and more politicians talk about sustainable and green energy, Stahl said many people don’t really understand the environmental impact of such technologies as electric vehicles.
“The buzz right now is electric vehicles, and not saying they don't have a place in the transportation sector,” Stahl said. “But if you look at a full lifecycle analysis, and what the efficiency of a vehicle driven with mid blend biofuel is, and what it means for the environment. . . . It's unbelievable the economic impact it makes.
“Also how much better it is for the environment versus an electric vehicle — strip mining of cobalt and lithium and some of the detrimental effects of electric vehicles that I don't think people fully look through. Also, the electricity coming from a large coal plant.”
As family farming has been on the gradual decline over the years, both members of the corn growers and soybean associations said the new proposed tax plan on inherited property unveiled by the Biden Administration may speed up the demise of family farms.
“Through lowering the step-up in basis, and really creating a death tax,” Stahl said. “The farm industry is very capital intensive, a lot of assets, that doesn't necessarily mean a lot of cash.”
Under the current system, the Joint Committee on Taxation says the law currently saves taxpayers $41 billion per year.
Under the new proposal, home inheritances would be treated as a sale, making the heirs pay for gains that occurred before they received the property.
“Really what that does is it keeps farms in families. Land is something that's very precious to heritage, and it's important for what we do.” Stahl said. “And we'd hate to have to turn that over just to meet a tax obligation.”
Johnson said he recognizes the severity of the farmers' concerns.
“That is a serious problem and it's the kind of thing that we're talking actively with the (Biden) administration about,” Johnson said. “How do we make sure that production ag is not destroyed and that this intergenerational component is not unduly disrupted? Let's get it right.”
Another topic that took up much of the roundtable was carbon credits and a lack of transparency in the market.
With carbon credits, some states set carbon standards to limit the number of greenhouse gases that can be emitted by industries. To comply with these laws, large emitters such as power plants can either alter their operations or pay others to reduce emissions. Often it is less expensive to pay others than to retrofit their operations.
“We see the value of the carbon that we are able to sequester in our area as an opportunity for farmers," Stahl said. “That's why when we see some of these organizations rolling out payment for carbon credits around $20 an acre, it's a little bit of a slap in the face because we know how hard it is to sequester that carbon.
“We also know that the true value of carbon in states like California is over $200. It's kind of a little bit of a Wild West right now. We want to see farmers being able to make decisions based on all the information.”
Working with others in congress, Johnson said has been difficult as of late largely due to a politicization between the political parties and a lack of bipartisanship.
“As members of Congress, many of them don't really understand what Scott does for a living, what Kevin does for a living … to be able to sit down gives me the stories that I need to be able to educate and coach up some of my colleagues about how things really are out here in the farm and ranch country.
Early on in the COVID-19 pandemic, Johnson said the perceived meat shortage — specifically beef — really allowed him to educate his colleagues in Congress.
“I think it gave my urban colleagues a deeper understanding of how much we need to worry about the supply chains, how much we need to worry about the family producer, and how much we need to make sure that we get the stuff right,” Johnson said.
Stahl said he also sees a large part of the problem as just a general lack of understanding of where food comes from.
“Really kind of across the country. I think, unfortunately, a lot of people think their food comes from the grocery store, and it does, but it starts on a farm. And without farms, you cannot have food. So it's so critical that the producers that are out there are able to help educate.”
As Stahl, the Scotts and farmers across the country hope for more rain this summer. The roundtable members all agreed that they felt Johnson genuinely understood their concerns and is a strong proponent for them in D.C.
“It's really nice in our state, we have a congressman that does understand that process,” Stahl said. “But it's also important that he advocates for us because there are fewer politicians and people in agencies that do understand that story.”