Well I am down to my second to last article to write as MCFB President. As I am writing this article it seems more like spring outside. We need to keep praying for rain since we have a long way to go to meet our needs for the year. With the dry weather I hope everyone was able to catch up on their winter work. I want to bring to everyone’s attention to the America’s Farmers Grow Rural Education Fund by Bayer. They sent flyer out a few weeks ago regarding $15,000 in grants to improve STEM education. If you received a flyer, please fill it out and you could win $15,000 for the school of your choice.
January was a busy board meeting at MCFB. Besides our normal board business, we had lengthy discussion on two important policies. The first one involved general obligation bonds or GO bonds. GO bonds are commonly used to finance schools, libraries, jails and other large capital projects. The agency issuing a GO bond is authorized to levy an ad valorem property tax at the rate necessary to repay the principal and interest of the bonds. All general obligation bonds must be approved by a 2/3rd majority vote. A GO bond is an add tax on the value of everything on your tax roll.
GO bonds place a disporationally large burden on agriculture. Besides being taxed on our land value, we are paying toward all the equipment owned and any facilities you have on your operation. This could include your dairy barn or almond processing facility. For these reasons, MCFB policy was passed to oppose general obligation bonds as they put our farming community at risk. We advise those seeking general obligation bonds to review other means of facilitation. We would like to see taxes of these measures be placed on the community in an equitable manner. Our board understands communities use bonds to pay for much needed projects, but feel GO bonds are being subsidized by the ag community. As our policy states, we want to work with agencies who feel a bond is necessary to find a format where the burden of paying is placed equally amongst all members of the community who are benefiting!
Another issue we have with GO bonds is there are no limits on how many can be placed on your tax roll. I know I will have two more to vote on in the November election within my district. With no limit on the amount of GO bonds a taxpayer has to pay, our board thought it was best to oppose all GO bonds. We didn’t feel it was right to pick and choose which GO bonds the board liked the best. MCFB staff has been working hard to try to educate public agencies we work with about the effects GO bonds have on the ag community. We hope by working with the agencies as the bond language is being written, we can come up with a solution that is equitable for everyone. One example of this could be a residence bond instead of a GO bond, equally spreading the cost amongst the community.
The second major policy change the board took was on industrial hemp. In 2017, our board took a policy position against the cultivation of marijuana and industrial hemp. At the time both were a Schedule I drugs as defined by the United States Controlled Substances Act. Being a Schedule 1 drug means it’s federally illegal to grow in the US no matter what the state laws are. The 2018 Farm Bill reclassified industrial hemp and it is now legal to grow. One issue still being worked on is the State of California must have a hemp plan in place and approved by the federal government for production to be legal. Because of this, Merced County Board of Supervisors put a moratorium on growing industrial hemp for 2019 with the goal of having an ordinance in place to legally grow hemp in 2020. The ordinance passed in the fall of 2019.
For these reasons our board felt it was appropriate to change our policy to reflect the laws applying to industry hemp. After a long discussion the board felt the language would best fit for MCFB members. The language states “MCFB recognizes the lawful cultivation, processing and sale of hemp in the County. We understand that this is a nascent industry that is currently undergoing change. In response, we encourage the County, in its regulation, to be adaptable to these changes, but always rooted in state and federal compliance. We will treat hemp as all other agricultural commodities, but recognize that hemp has unique needs and impacts that may require distinct attention. Therefore, we reserve the right to engage on issues where hemp cultivation may negatively impact our other agricultural products and our shared communities.”
Our board understands there are many questions people have as industrial hemp is being grown in Merced County. Some questions included are: How will hemp be tested for THC levels and who is going to be handling the test? Will growing hemp have an adverse effect on other crops being grown nearby? Will growing hemp bring more crime to the area? These are questions which will need to be answered over time and an MCFB policy change will help give our staff the ability and guidance to advocate on behalf of MCFB members. We understand industrial hemp is legal to grow after the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill and this allows us to be able to advocate for our members who chose to legally grow hemp, but also be able to voice concerns on what affects this new industry can have on the rest of agriculture!
Our board feels these are two important policies changes which will help our membership moving forward. As with any policy change there are pros and cons to each position and our board spent the majority of our meeting discussing them. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to me. We always appreciate our members input!