OP-ED: Rural America Needs Sound Tax Policy and Here’s Why

 In Newsroom, Op-Ed

The old saying goes “nothing is certain in life except for death and taxes.” We agree those two certainties are undeniably true, but we need to continue to make sure that family-owned businesses, including farms and ranches, are not taxed to death…or excessively after death. In Nebraska, we have 45,500 farms and ranches. In addition to that, one in four jobs in Nebraska are related to agriculture – further proving why we need sound tax policies for the current and future generation of farmers and ranchers.

Preparing to transition the family farm or ranch to the next generation is a complex task. Current owners of family farms and ranches not only have to make decisions to keep their operations financially viable in the immediate term, but they also must endure heavy and elaborative generational transfer planning because of potential tax burdens incurred at the time of death of an owner or generational transfer.

In Nebraska, farms and ranches utilize 44.9 million acres, which attributes to 92% of the state’s total land dedicated to production agriculture. With the average age of a Nebraska principal operator being 56.4, we are looking at generational transfer becoming a more prominent obstacle for business continuity the coming years. More than 370 million acres of farm and ranch land across the US are expected to change hands in the next two decades. To ensure that future generations can continue to build upon the success of today’s farmers and ranchers, we must prioritize sound tax policy for rural America and specifically, preserve long-standing tax provisions for family-owned agricultural businesses.

As Congress works to enact a comprehensive infrastructure package, it is crucial that Federal tax policy serves as a tool to facilitate generational transfer. Some recent proposals to the tax code – such as eliminating the long-standing stepped-up basis provision, restricting Section 1031 like-kind exchanges, and lowering the current estate tax exemption limits – are completely out of touch with the needs of family-owned farms and ranches in rural Nebraska because of their unique structure. When considering legislation, we must realize that well-established provisions in the tax code allow farmers and ranchers the ability to secure affordable land to start or expand their operations, facilitate successful transfers of the “family business” to future generations, and are critical to ensuring the success of family-owned agricultural businesses.

The continued success of the agricultural industry is vital because of the economic impact farms and ranches have on our state and national economy, contributing more than $21.4 billion to Nebraska’s economy in 2019 and 5.8% of the U.S. total. Federal tax policy that facilitates generational transfer and allows the next generations of farmers and ranchers to continue building on the successes of today’s farmers and ranchers is vital for the agricultural industry across the nation. Rural America needs sound tax policy because the future of family-owned farms and ranches in Nebraska depend on it.

Written by: William H. Rhea III, Nebraska Cattlemen President

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