By John Schlageck, Kansas Farm Bureau
Agriculture in Kansas has always been about people – farmers and ranchers who share the same vocation, although perhaps different commodity interests and sometimes with a slightly different political bent.
Dedicated members of various farm organizations have always come together under the common bond of unity and spoken with strength on behalf of their ag industry while maintaining their independent farm and ranch lifestyle.
Farm organizations, including Farm Bureau, epitomize this. Steeped in a tradition of strong, active leadership, this group of agricultural advocacy volunteers has made this organization a dynamic voice for agriculture year after year.
Members number nearly 40,000 active farmers and ranchers, who live in different parts of the state, with different farming practices and different backgrounds. Such diversification is a real asset when looking at issues impacting agriculture from many points of view.
One farmer or rancher may be a student of policy, while another may be strong in conservation and still another may look at how their farm organization can make inroads for them as producers. The strength of such advocacy organizations lies in their ability to take people with areas of expertise, reach consensus and speak as one voice.
Farmers and ranchers take ownership in their individual organizations. These groups of leaders are intent on developing and promoting the most profitable and permanent system of agriculture. They’re also focused on maintaining the most wholesome and satisfactory living conditions in their county. They believe in the highest ideals of community and rural life. They’re dedicated to a citizenship that remains active in local, state and national affairs.
With such a rich heritage comes the expectation that these farmers and ranchers, from St. Francis to Baxter Springs, will take care of the business of farming and ranching and any and all concerns in the policy arena in our state’s capitol.
Some key areas of concern during the 2012 session will be taxes, school finance and water.
In the tax arena, the Governor is expected to introduce proposals to reduce the current three state income tax brackets to two and substantially lower the rate; reduce the corporate income tax rate; maintain statewide sales taxes at its current level and possibly eliminate some sales tax exemptions.
Kansas farmers and ranchers support a fair and simpler tax policy, but it should not come at the expense of property owners paying higher property taxes.
Related to school finance, elements of a new K-12 funding formula include but are not limited to reduction of equalized state supports from 20 mills to 15; eliminating the cap on Local Option Budgets; and an equalized, local-option sales tax pool.
Farmers and ranchers who belong to Farm Bureau oppose increasing the LOB without voter approval. They also support weightings and favor minimal reliance on the property tax to fund schools.
Water will also be at the forefront among farmers during the 2012 session. Farmer members of Farm Bureau support the concept of water flex accounts to provide water right holders greater flexibility in water utilization and profitability. At the same time they would like to protect the source of supply and respect existing water rights.
Farmers continue to support voluntary, incentive-based, stakeholder-driven management plans in over-appropriated areas.
These proposals can provide immediate, much-needed help to drought-stricken Kansas areas. They can also lead to long-term policy improvements that will help manage a dwindling natural and economic resource while protecting property rights.
And while all farmers and ranchers remain busy with their own lives, families and community, they also understand the importance of political involvement. They know politics has a lot to do with preserving their way of life.
John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.