BY ERIN M. HENKEL
Farmland ownership, forestry issues and reduced acreage requirements for agricultural land use and farm credit were key focus points of county Farm Bureau delegates at Illinois Farm Bureau’s Annual Meeting.
Delegates approved 23 policy submittals from August through November, and approved five policy changes from the floor, highlighting the grassroots legislative process that governs IFB’s policy agenda.
“This is a great opportunity for our organization, all of our members get together, the grassroots process that we go through to set our policy is unique,” said Kevin Semlow, IFB executive director of governmental affairs and commodities. “Our members stood up and they made some pretty big decisions today.”
Those big decisions included passing a resolution adding new language to policy about farmland ownership. The submittal from White County Farm Bureau adds new language stating IFB opposes the purchase of American farmland by foreign entities considered national security threats.
Clinton County delegates, who proposed a similar policy at the July Resolutions meeting, added an amendment to the submittal that would restrict ownership from all foreign entities.
There was passionate debate on the floor with a delegate from Champaign County expressing concerns over the policy’s potential impact on research companies, such as those near University of Illinois. Delegates from Ogle County expressed concerns about foreign owned packing facilities.
Janet McCabe, Cook County Farm Bureau president who chaired the State and Local Government Subcommittee, responded to floor discussion by explaining the committee’s reasoning for not originally including all foreign ownership. She said the committee felt strongly about private property rights and did not want to restrict a willing seller from a willing buyer. McCabe also discussed companies that are owned by foreign entities and required to conduct seed research in each region.
The amendment to include all foreign ownership passed the delegate floor.
Delegates advanced a fall proposal made by Lee County, which supports reducing the required acreage to be enrolled in an agricultural area. Current state statute requires at least 350 acres of contiguous land for populations under 600,000 and 100 acres for denser populations over 600,000.
The policy adds language to existing IFB policy supporting farmland preservation. Delegates emphasized enrollment in ag areas is a voluntary commitment and would still need to be approved by a local county board.
“It is a voluntary program, and the county would still have approval, so by us saying we would be for a lower amount going in, we’re for it but it would be up to the county to decide,” McCabe said previously.
Delegates added language to IFB’s forestry policy supporting active forest management on privately-owned forests and woodlands, the planting of trees on land unable to meet conservation requirements to help control soil erosion, ongoing research monitoring and education regarding forest health and repeal of the state’s 4% tax on timber sales.
The proposal came from Brad Petersburg in Jo Daviess County, who is a member of the Illinois Forestry Association and a strong supporter of good forest management. Petersburg helped work on the Forestry Development Act in the 1980s.
There were concerns raised from the delegate floor that repealing organizational support for the tax would send a message of farmers being unsupportive of conservation efforts. However, delegates were informed that while the original purpose of the tax was to help facilitate forest management, in recent years the tax revenue has instead funded Illinois Department of Natural Resources operations.
“My message to everybody is that I strongly support forest management,” Petersburg said in an interview after the submittal was approved. “The funds are no longer being used to support good forest management; they are being used to support IDNR’s operating costs.”
The new language supports repealing the Timber Tax and opposes any funds generated going to anything besides forest management.
Delegates passed a submittal changing language in IFB’s farm credit policy. Introduced to improve the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Loan program, the new language supports improvements in all USDA loan programs.
The policy was supported by Young Leader Chair Jenna Severs of Vermilion County, who was passionate during fall Resolutions about the programs’ impact for farmers just getting started. Severs also drew attention to the lack of clear guidelines for when USDA can “graduate” or revoke eligibility to receive a loan.
Delegates passed a new policy presented by Cook County involving food waste and resource recovery. The policy supports ways to turn non-consumed food into a resource through composting and it supports reducing the regulatory constraints for on-farm materials, urban food scraps and processing facilities.
Two submittals from Lee County addressing rural healthcare were approved, changing IFB policy to support all specialties, not just family physicians, as well as supporting capital investment into rural and “tweener” hospitals. These are hospitals with more than 25 beds, making them too large to be considered a Critical Access Hospital but with fewer than 275 beds, the threshold for being considered a rural referral center.
This story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.