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Improve soil health to save on taxes?

Improve soil health to save on taxes?
Idea of giving property tax credit to farmers who improve soil health is still alive; Farmer, conservation leader believes this incentive would boost conservation

Property tax on farmland is a lightning rod in Indiana. The 2015 legislature took enough action to stop the bleeding, but it may take a total overhaul at some point to get property taxes on farmland back in line with property taxes paid by non-farmers.

Related: Know which cover crops you can plant late and which you can't

When that happens, Mike Starkey, Brownsburg, personally believes that legislators should consider a property tax credit for farmers who use no-till, cover crops and other conservation practices to help improve soil health and reduce soil erosion.

Believes in conservation: Mike Starkey says that if farmers received a property tax credit for no-till and cover crops, landlords who own the land they farm would also benefit.

If that happened, he believes it would go a long way toward encouraging more farmers to take a harder look at no-till, cover crops and conservation practices in general.

Starkey is also currently president of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts. He says a bill that proposed such a system was introduced into the legislature last year. However, it did not receive a hearing and died in committee.

He is aware of no plans for such a bill to be introduced this year. However, he hasn't given up on the idea.

"What we need to do is educate our legislators about why it is so important to use these practices to take care of our soil resource and protect water quality in Indiana," he says.

Starkey is dedicated to helping do that, even if it is one legislator at a time, over the next several months.

We believe the idea has merit. Congress said as much at the national level by approving the conservation soil stewardship program which rewards farmers who use these practices.

Other states' attempts >>


Follow other states' attempts?
Other attempts in other states have been tried, but have proven costly. Maryland actually pays farmers to grow cover crops. However, the state has spent a sizable chunk of money on the program and while cover crops have sprung up around the state, some farmers accept he money, but don't learn the ins and outs of growing cover crops successfully.

Tying property tax credit to achieving success with these practices seems more natural. If Hoosiers are truly interested in improving water quality and improving the soil resource base for the future, this approach seems to have merit.

It also has challenges, both politically and in terms of feasibility. First, many of you still prefer to till soils, and in some cases you can till soils with minimal erosion. Obviously, it's harder to get support for a program which benefits only a part of the people who have the property tax problems.

The answer to this one might be education, not only of legislators, but of farmers. If there was a tangible incentive to try no-till or cover crops, like a lower property tax bill, would it be enough to get people who don 't do it now to try it? Starkey, for one, believes it would.

The other challenge, pointed out by legislators, is how to determine who qualifies for the credit and who doesn't qualify. Would it be based solely on practices with no regard to whether cover corps grew, for example, or as to whether soil was really saved? Who would verify it? How would the information get to the treasurer in the courthouse who is responsible for property tax bills?

Related: Perfect proportions optimize nitrogen from cover crops

Indiana's soil conservation partners already do conservation tillage transects to determine what is on the ground in various parts of the county. The Natural Resources Conservation Service has strict definitions as to what constitutes conservation tillage, and what doesn't. It would take effort to overcome this obstacle, but it wouldn't seem to be insurmountable.

Is this an idea ahead of its time, or has it's time come? Our best guess is that it's time is coming. If Indiana is serious about water quality and reducing soil erosion, this idea is worth a good, hard look.

Thinking about a cover crop? Start with developing a plan. Download the FREE Cover Crops: Best Management Practices report today, and get the information you need to tailor a cover crop program to your needs.

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