Illinois farmers lobby on Capitol Hill for ag priorities

More than 30 farmers discuss tax reform, labor and other IFB priorities with members of state's congressional delegation.

Becky Nielsen, who farms in LaSalle, Marshall and Putnam counties, called on federal lawmakers last week to help pass tax reform that will protect the future of her family farm.

With Nielsen and her brother poised to take over the family’s corn and soybean operation in the next six to eight years, repealing the estate tax and maintaining the tax deduction for interest remain critical.

“We are in a tight market where our input costs are high, but our markets are leaning lower,” she told FarmWeek. “Large additional expenses that we can’t deduct will hinder my success in growing and maintaining my operation.”

Nielsen joined more than 30 other Illinois farmers in Washington, D.C., during Illinois Farm Bureau’s Leaders to Washington trip. The group called attention to the need for tax and regulatory reform and maintaining farm bill funding, among other Farm Bureau priorities.

Related: Tax-reform bill remains in the works. Click here to get a sneak peek at what it might hold for ag.

During the three-day trip, the group met with about a dozen members of Illinois’ congressional delegation or their staff. They also met with Sens. Tammy Duckworth, D-Hoffman Estates, and Dick Durbin, D-Springfield. Leaders also voiced Kinzingerconcerns about the National Agricultural Statistical Service surveys with officials from USDA.

David Haase, who farms with his brother in Iroquois County, encouraged lawmakers to maintain cash-based accounting. 

“If I was forced to use accrual-based accounting standards, I likely would be forced to market my crops in a time of year when prices are lower,” he said. “Farming is tough enough right now with low corn and soybean prices. I need Congress to act now on a tax reform package to make sure there’s a future for my family farm.”

Wayne Sirles, a commercial fruit and vegetable grower from Alto Pass, pleaded for lawmakers to make it easier to hire and keep farm workers.

“I’m afraid it’s going to end with me,” said Sirles, who represents the fifth generation of his family’s farm.

Sirles, president of Rendleman Orchards, grows apples, peaches, zucchini, yellow squash, pumpkins and green beans. All the products, except green beans, are hand-picked. At peak season, he employees 80 people.

“It’s a struggle every year to find enough help to harvest my crops,” he said. “I have a very, very wonderful Hispanic workforce. A lot of them are getting older as I am. There’s really not anyone else coming along who wants to do that type of work.”

He requested lawmakers support a guest worker program. The government H2A program he uses is expensive and can open farmers up to potential lawsuits and audits by the Department of Labor (DOL), Sirles said. He also suggested the Agriculture Department oversee the programs instead of DOL.

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