BEMIDJI-A newly minted tax credit that could lure new farmers to the field has a seemingly large exception.
Signed into law last spring, the Beginning Farmer Tax Credit gives tax breaks to farm owners who lease or sell their land to people entering the trade-slash-lifestyle, but it doesn't apply to people who lease or buy the land from their direct relatives and expects prospective farmers to have "adequate experience" and knowledge about the type of farming they'd do. That, according to some attendees at a Minnesota Department of Agriculture town hall on Wednesday, presents a problem.
"It's a little bit of a Catch 22," said cattle farmer Rachel Gray as other attendees nodded and murmured in agreement. Gray left teaching seven years ago to work on her family's farm near Blackduck. "How do you obtain that experience unless you've worked on your own family's farm? And yet, then you become not a beginning farmer because it's your family."
Matthew Wohlman, deputy commissioner at the agriculture department, said state legislators were worried that some families might sell a piece of their land to a relative who already works there just to get the tax credit. He said the department will request some changes to the measure.
"As with any policy, you never get it fully correct the first time around," Wohlman said. "You've got to make some tweaks and build on that."
The market for such a credit, anecdotally, could be large. Wohlman said many Minnesotans have called the ag department or spoken with representatives at other town halls to express their interest in the credit. Gray said some of her neighbors might be more inclined to sell their land because of the credit.
But the new tax credit was just one of several ag topics at the 70-minute meeting at Bemidji State University, where Wohlman outlined new wrinkles in agricultural financing programs, pesticide issues and how the ag department plans to spend the additional $4.97 million it received in state lawmaker's latest deal.
Department staff, Wohlman said, have earmarked $500,000 to research pollinators and their habitats, $400,000 for an industrial hemp pilot program, and $850,000 for noxious weed program grants and a staff member.
A bonding deal struck last spring also means the department has $35 million to allocate toward its Rural Financing Authority, which helps farmers borrow money for machinery or buildings, restructure old debt, and so on.
The town hall piggybacked, so to speak, off of a water quality meeting hosted by Gov. Mark Dayton and his staff at Bemidji High School. Other ag town halls were held at Mankato, Marshall, Crookston and St. Cloud.