Minnesota: Tax loophole leads to farmers clearcutting all their forests

Larry and Wanda Thoreson once grew alfalfa on their 135 acres just
northeast of Zimmerman. Then Larry decided to plant trees, lots of
trees, figuring the land would be more appealing to developers that
way. “We’re on fixed incomes now and we looked at this land as our
retirement, our nest egg,” said Larry Thoreson, 67. “We had some trees
coming up that we were really happy with.” But now, Thoreson is
clearing his four parcels of land as quickly as possible, turning much
of it back into farmland, cutting down the trees he adores.

He says he
can’t afford to keep the trees because of new twists to the Green
Acres Program — a program that was supposed to ease the pressure of
property taxes for farmers, but which has literally changed the
landscape of farms throughout Minnesota. With nonproductive acres
susceptible to taxes far higher than taxes placed on tillable soil,
and with a Jan. 2 deadline for declaring property that can be used for
agriculture production, farmers are scrambling for solutions as they
clear land they never thought they’d again farm. Legislators took
action to change the law this spring after a February report by
Legislative Auditor James Nobles revealed that developers were reaping
huge tax breaks from the Green Acres program. But some officials say
the changes have brought unwanted consternation for farmers and
officials who are trying to answer to them. “When the Green Acres
program was created 40 years ago, this is not what the state of
Minnesota intended,” said Thom Petersen, director of government
relations for the Minnesota Farmers Union. “I’m sick when I hear that
farmers — strong conservationists — are clearing their land because
they don’t know what else they can do.

Posted via email from Deane’s posterous

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