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Land managers talk estate tax reform and herbicide bans

Land Values: The folks who manage land have a lot at stake in two new bills in Springfield, which would change estate taxes and herbicide use.

Michael Lauher

April 8, 2024

3 Min Read
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Holly Spangler

If you ever had the privilege of wearing a blue corduroy jacket, you may remember a trip to Springfield, Ill., back in your high school FFA days for Ag Legislative Day, usually held in March.

Although I never wore corduroy blue, I did have the chance to accompany Nick Suess, Field Level Agriculture, and Eric Schumacher, First Mid Ag Services, to this year’s event, where we met with our legislative representatives from our own districts.

You may be thinking, well that’s fine and dandy, but how does this concern me?

Every year, like the way Barnum and Bailey of old would come to town, legislators bring a slew of new legislation to Springfield. If you intend to pass your farm to the next generation, operate using glyphosate or 2,4-D, or if you’re not especially keen on adopting California emission standards here in Illinois, then having your voice heard in Springfield is probably important.

The Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers is made up of ag land professionals throughout the state. For almost 100 years, we’ve represented farmland owners and sought to advocate for their interests.

Suess, along with Spencer Smith, who works for Hertz, are co-chairs of ISPFMRA’s Government and Policy Committee and spearhead the effort for farmland owners to be heard in Springfield.

“I think an important part of our role, representing landowners, is keeping legislators informed on the impact proposed legislation would have on farmers and landowners,” Suess says. Much like their constituents, legislators run the gamut on how much they know about agriculture in Illinois. Some are farmers themselves, and others just know there is an ocean of green on their way to the Statehouse. All want to know how bills they vote on will impact the people they represent.

Here are a couple of bills we discussed while in Springfield:

Family Farm Preservation Act. Anybody who has followed what farmland values have done in the recent past knows that Illinois estate tax law has become archaic, if not draconian, in its treatment of farmland heirs.

With most of estate value tied up in land or equipment, many heirs lack cash needed to pay the tax and are faced with selling a family legacy upon the death of their loved one.

This bill (H.B. 4600 and S.B. 2921) proposes reform for the Illinois estate tax. Currently, the threshold is at $4 million and taxes the entire estate. The new bill would:

  • Raise the amount to $6 million.

  • Make it an exemption, not a threshold, so only dollars over $6 million are taxed.

  • Tie the $6 million to inflation.

  • Allow for unused exemption amounts to be transferred to surviving spouses and update special use valuation for estate tax purposes.

Glyphosate and 2-4,D ban. Why would a landowner care about banning herbicides, as this bill (H.B. 4344 and H.B. 4956) seeks to do?

“Just as farming is an ecosystem, the broader process of farming is itself its own ecosystem, with everyone working interdependently,” Suess explains. “We all must work together to be as productive as possible. What hurts farmers will in turn hurt landowners, and vice versa.”

Limiting or restricting the use of safe herbicides that are effective and inexpensive tools that help control resistance hurts everyone. Farm managers know that anything that hurts a farmer’s bottom line hurts the landowner.

Interested in doing more?

In the current climate of polarized politics, it was refreshing to see and experience how political advocacy works at the grassroots level. It may not be for everyone, but if you’re interested in helping your Legislature learn how bills impact farmers in their district, Suess suggests reaching out to your district office. Too often this is an underutilized resource. Find who your legislator is and how to reach them on the Legislator Lookup link. Suess also suggests reaching out to legislators when they attend local events. They’re there to talk to their constituents. It’s their job.

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About the Author(s)

Michael Lauher

Michael Lauher is a farm manager with First Mid Ag Services and is a member of the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. Email questions to [email protected].

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