Eric Mortenson’s article, “For sale: When Oregon farm and ranch land changes hands,” asks two important questions: Who are our future agricultural landowners, and what will they do with the land?
It has never been more urgent to answer these questions, since land is already rapidly changing hands.
According to new research, Oregon’s farmers and ranchers have never been older — 59.6 years on average — resulting in 64 percent of agricultural land changing hands during the next 20 years.
Beginning farmers and ranchers face increasing difficulty filling their predecessors’ shoes. Land prices are escalating, due to increased competition from lifestyle owners who enjoy the view but not the work, investment entities and development speculators. And regulatory compliance costs further shrink our profit margins. Oregon’s expensive estate tax also jeopardizes livelihoods by forcing some families to sell off parcels of land.
To address these issues, a group of diverse organizations spent a year researching and developing the Oregon Agricultural Heritage Program, House Bill 3249. This legislation offers voluntary, flexible tools to help farmers and ranchers pass their land to the next generation and prevent future regulation.
HB 3249 would authorize an impact study of Oregon’s estate tax on agricultural businesses, support succession planning workshops and fund conservation management plans. These plans are a proactive way for landowners to prevent environmental emergencies and avoid subsequent regulatory fallout, like the listing of a species as endangered or threatened.
Funding for permanent working lands easements and temporary covenants would also increase. Landowners would still own and farm their land but receive compensation for voluntarily agreeing to forgo certain development rights to protect the land from being subdivided. These tools aren’t for everyone, but the funds and protection they provide are a lifesaver for some.
Providing $190,000 for the first two years creates lasting benefits for the state’s economy, rural communities, and natural resources.
We urge the Oregon legislature to support this bill. Oregon’s farmers, ranchers and agricultural lands cannot wait another legislative session.
Berries Northwest LLC
St. Paul, Ore.