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Soil Productivity Report Raises More Questions Than it Answers

Soil Productivity Report Raises More Questions Than it Answers

Farm group wants your input on findings before moving forward.

Three weeks ago Katrina Hall thought the saga of the Department of Local Government and Finance using changes in soil productivity indexes to raise farmland values was nearing a close. The head of legislative services for Indiana Farm Bureau, based on what she was hearing at the time, didn't expect major changes in the report that would come from Purdue to DLGF, and then to a tax board committee.

"Unfortunately, that's not what happened," Hall says. "There are many more changes than anyone expected. We've got to take a much closer look at it now."

Soil factors vary? Yields going up in new data is one thing. What concerns observers is that the relative ratings between many soils changed in the preliminary report from DLGF.

DLGF officially unveiled their report at a hearing on Nov. 13. Hall was present at the meeting to testify on behalf of farmers, and was surprised by the number of changes that the report recommends. The productivity values for some soils would stay the same. They would actually go down for a few dozen soils. But for the vast majority of soils in Indiana, the values would go up, sometimes by as much as 30%.

If that stands, while nobody is saying it out loud, the obvious conclusion is that property tax bills would likely go up on a majority of bare farmland. Hall says Farm Bureau isn't ready to let that happen until they get more information and input from key groups. Perhaps the most important group is farmers themselves.

"Farmers know more about their soils than anyone else, and we told the Commission that," she says. "We want farmers to look at these values, and let us know what they think."

To make that happen, Farm Bureau is posting information from the report county by county on its Website. Visit www.infarmbureau.org. If the data isn't up yet, it will be soon.

There will also be a place for farmers to respond with comments to Farm Bureau, Hall notes.

It's important to note that this is completely separate from anything related to the formula that determines bare farmland value based on price and yield, Hall says. As it stands now that formula continues to function as it is. Changes in soil productivity would be factored in in addition to whatever increase the formula would bring about.

The second point is that legislation will be needed to address the soil productivity index situation in the 2014 session since the bill passed in 2013 simply delayed implementation and ordered a study. Hall says they are still in the process of determining what that legislation should look like. One option would be to delay implementation again until the science behind the changes can be sorted out.

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