Killing Farmers With 'Protection'The Jan. 17 issue of The...

LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

February 07, 1993

Killing Farmers With 'Protection'

The Jan. 17 issue of The Sun has prompted me to make one final effort to derail what appears to be a "done deed": the passage of a misguided effort to preserve "agricultural land."

The specific article, "Farmers back revision of plan to protect land," quoting County Councilman Robert S. Wagner, R-District E, was so in line with my thinking that it seemed worth a final effort. I am therefore repeating a letter which is essentially the same as one I delivered to the Harford County Council.

An article in the Jan. 10 issue of The Sun, regarding a "property transfer tax to save farmland," prompted the following observations:

* This is a legislative act of desperation, just the latest in a series of failed actions since 1977. Had the previous restrictions worked, Planning and Zoning would be resting on its laurels and this proposed action would not be deemed necessary.

Farmland has continued to disappear because farming as a whole is not a profitable investment. Thus, farmers have had to sell pieces of land to stay in business -- usually for homesites. The alternative to selling small non-critical tracts -- liquidating the farm entirely -- is even less conducive to preserving farmland because other struggling farmers can ill afford to invest in more unprofitable land and gun-shy bankers will not loan money on such a risky venture as farming.

The county and state restrictions are real burdens to the farmer (or buyer) and only serve to devalue the property, thus necessitating the sale of more, not less, agricultural land.

* The article quotes Stoney Fraley (chief of comprehensive planning for the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning): "But the way the council drafted the language of the referendum, it identified the property transfer tax as the funding mechanism. The voters were 3-to-1 in favor of the referendum. To me, that's a mandate."

Not to me, a farmer. Farmers are roughly 3 percent of the population; therefore, politically impotent. It's like saying, "Let's fight," with the farmers outnumbered 97-3.

Then there was the deception of equating "land preservation" with "agricultural preservation." In our area, there were many signs, "Vote for Agricultural Preservation." Unfortunately, the voters are more likely to get open spaces such as woods or golf courses than they are to preserve farms.

* "If a farmer doesn't want to be involved with anything in the Rural Plan, it doesn't affect him," Mr. Fraley said. And earlier in the article: Farmers would be paid in annual tax-free increments for 20 years, receiving a principal payment at the end of that

period.

Spoken like a person who doesn't work in a competitive arena.

If a fellow farmer is 50 years old and decides to take the tax-free payments for 20 years, and I at 74 years, with active cancer, compete in farming (and I do farm), how can anyone say that his guaranteed tax-free subsidy does not effect my free-market competitive position?

These objections to the "new rural plan" illustrate the reasons for some farmers' continued opposition. From the county's efforts to saddle farmers with restrictions, it seems apparent that the county thinks it must protect itself from some imagined destructive practices of farmers. . . .

It should be obvious that farmers are not going to do anything to damage their property, their major investment, except in desperation and that desperation is most likely to be caused by the threat of failure. . . . The answer then to gentler farming -- improved practices and access to capital -- all depend on making a profit. The key to a profit lies very slightly with the farmer, but mainly with the government: The Fed (interest rates), Treasury (foreign exchange rates), on trade agreements, on subsidies (domestic and foreign), on environmental restrictions

(or lack of, for foreign producers), etc.

Obviously, county Planning and Zoning or the state can do little about these problems nor can the farmer. Therefore, the county and state should quit trying to "save" agricultural land with nit-picking restrictions. If the county and state want to control developers, fine. But stop the charade of preserving agricultural land with legislation that in reality interferes with the market forces of farming.

. . . Other U.S. producers have been driven to bankruptcy by these same government actions and have solved the problem by moving production to a foreign country.

Unfortunately, farmers don't have this option.

Two further changes should be made: Building rights should be based on county population, thereby becoming a renewable resource as long as population grows. And there should be a full-time advocate for farmers.

It is totally inefficient for each farmer to expend an enormous amount of effort fighting the same detrimental rules. Since farming is the largest industry in Harford County, it deserves to be protected (from the Trojan Horse of government).

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