By Michele F. Mihaljevich
INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana Farm Bureau (INFB) officials had the opportunity to discuss their 2023 legislative priorities – rural viability, energy, taxes and food security – with lawmakers during the state General Assembly’s Organization Day in November.
“We had some great conversations with legislators and overall, the reception was very positive,” said Andy Tauer, INFB executive director of public policy. “We were able to have conversations with a lot of legislators, starting or continuing to build relationships. But the devil is in the details with these things. This will be a long session. It’s a budget year. I’m very optimistic we will get some wins for our members.”
Organization Day was Nov. 22.
INFB’s potential legislative priorities started at the county level. Recommendations were considered by a resolutions committee before delegates met in August to discuss them. The farm bureau’s board of directors later released the list of top priorities for the 2023 legislative session, which begins in January.
“With this year being a budget session, it’s important that we prioritize the areas that really impact our members since we know they won’t be easy asks,” Randy Kron, INFB president, said in a release. “Our members put a lot of time and effort into identifying the industry’s biggest needs and crafting them into the organization’s policy positions for the coming year.”
A key to rural viability is the continued expansion of broadband, Tauer said. “We’ve made progress but continue to see pockets in the state where there’s still work to do,” he noted. Funding for more expansion will be one of the requests INFB expects to make, Tauer added.
The expansion of broadband is an important step in dealing with challenges facing rural communities, such as improving rural public health and increasing workforce development, he said.
Farm Bureau staff will be watching several issues related to energy, Tauer said, including statewide siting of wind and solar projects, and subsurface property rights. The organization supports siting decisions being made at the local – and not the state – level, he said.
During the 2022 legislative session, INFB said it worked to stop a subsurface carbon sequestration pilot program that would have denied notification and compensation to landowners for the use of their pore space, a violation of their property rights. Under the program, carbon would have been captured and stored 4,000-6,000 feet underground, Tauer noted. Companies that want to store carbon beneath the surface should compensate the landowners, he pointed out. Tauer said it’s possible the subject will come up again during the 2023 session.
As for taxes, Tauer said there’s been speculation residential property taxes could go up significantly next year. As a result, farm bureau said it is concerned legislators will try to shift some of the tax burden from homes to farms as a way to relieve homeowners’ property taxes.
INFB said it will also support budget requests from state agencies such as the Indiana State Department of Agriculture, Indiana Board of Animal Health and Purdue University Extension.
Food security is a new priority area for INFB, Tauer said. “We think about how people view food security in this inflationary period, but we also think about how we can create an environment to keep farmers farming.”
Urban and suburban sprawl, and federal rules on greenhouse gas emissions, are just two challenges farmers face, the organization said.
INFB, along with the American Farm Bureau Federation, is also working on priorities for the 2023 farm bill. INFB has named the commodity, conservation and nutrition titles as its priorities.
For the commodity title, INFB said it supports additional, new base acres under certain circumstances. “Many small tracts of land are coming back into production that previously were pasture, tobacco, hay or used for other purposes, and are now getting planted to a program crop,” farm bureau noted.
Under the conservation title, the organization said it recommends that any climate change initiatives proposed in the farm bill not be a prerequisite for any other USDA conservation or crop insurance program.
And for the nutrition title, INFB said, “while the farm bill is commonly thought of as a piece of agricultural legislation, the nutrition title of the bill is just as important and beneficial to farmers and ranchers and should be included.”
Tauer said U.S. legislators will have come together to create a new farm bill. “In the next Congress, the Democrats will control the Senate and the Republicans will have a thin majority in the House, so whatever passes will have to be bipartisan. Striking a balance is going to be a challenge. This has been one piece of legislation where we’ve always found a bipartisan solution and I’m very optimistic they will come to an agreement.”