Kansas farmers will have their eyes on Washington as they gather in Manhattan.
The Kansas Farm Bureau is holding its annual meeting Tuesday and Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn.
An opening-day summit took place Monday.
The issue on the minds of many farmers is the status of the U.S. farm bill. The 2008 farm bill expired Sept. 30, and a new farm bill hasn’t passed Congress.
At the end of the month, the dairy industry would be impacted as dairy subsidies expire Dec. 31 unless a new bill is passed.
Bureau board member Jeff Grossenbacher, whose district includes Pottawatomie County, said farmers need the crop insurance that a farm bill provides.
“Without that revenue insurance and safety net, many farmers in Kansas wouldn’t be able to put out a crop because their bankers wouldn’t loan them any money,” he said.
Mick Rausch, a voting delegate from Sedgwick County, said he utilized crop insurance in recent years because of a drought.
“It protects me in case of a total crop failure,” he said. “The last two years when we had the drought, I basically harvested nothing as far as crops.”
Rausch said the insurance still didn’t protect him from going into the red as he lost money from milking cows.
He said he is currently switching from a dairy operation to a beef operation because of the money loss.
“Crop insurance doesn’t take the place of a crop,” he said. “It’s a safety net.”
Grossenbacher said farmers plan eight to 10 months in advance for planting in the spring, which is difficult to do under these circumstances.
“It’s hard to plan for the future, because we’re already ordering seed and putting on fertilizer for next year’s crops,” he said.
Farmers also have an interest in school finance due to the tax component.
The Kansas Supreme Court is currently considering an inadequate funding lawsuit from school districts.
The court is deciding whether to uphold a lower court’s decision that required the state to increase its base aid per pupil from $3,838 to $4,492.
If upheld, the state would have to increase funding by at least $440 million.
Rausch said the lawsuit would likely cause property taxes to go up, and he didn’t know what exemptions might be eliminated to provide funding.
“It can make a big difference on whether I’m profitable one year, and I’m not profitable the next,” he said.
Grossenbacher said the main funding for schools is property tax.
“Guess who owns the most property?” he asked.
Grossenbacher said taxes are an issue as the state moves away from its traditional “three-legged stool” approach with property, sales and income taxes.
Gov. Sam Brownback signed a tax reform law in 2012 that is focused on reducing individual income taxes and eliminating income taxes for some small businesses.
Grossenbacher said farmers have a lot of property but not necessarily the ability to pay a lot in taxes.
“If you put more reliance on property taxes, that harms agriculture,” he said.
Rausch said the property taxes have already gone up.
“All the municipalities are hurting for money, and they’re trying to squeeze every dollar they can out of whatever tax revenue they can get,” he said.
Rausch said he also expected the state’s corporate farming law to be among the big topics of interest at this week’s meeting.
The involvement of corporations in farming is limited by state law.
Eight other states have laws that prohibit or limit corporate farming: Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin.
State agriculture leaders and Brownback, a former state agriculture secretary, pushed for the law’s repeal during the 2013 session, but no action took place at that time.
Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt questioned the constitutionality of certain provisions in the law in a January letter to state agriculture secretary Dale Rodman.
Rausch gave his support for getting rid of restrictions.
“I think we need to change the corporate farm law to allow them to come in and compete,” he said. “They’d also provide opportunities for the state if they did.”