The Maryland Farm Bureau, as “the voice of Maryland agriculture,” advocates for fair policies that apply to agriculture.
With increasing urbanization, most of the public is far removed from where their food is produced, and as the urban population increases, so do urban legislators. Representatives of the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland tend to come from rural backgrounds and understand farming, but 90 percent of Maryland legislators are from urban counties. “It’s our job to educate them,” said Wayne Stafford, Maryland Farm Bureau president.
One major focus right now is the proposal to eliminate “stepped-up basis” when calculating capital gains tax. Stepped-up basis is a process that allows a farmer to pay capital gains taxes only on a property’s increase in value since the time that land was inherited, instead of paying the full increase in value since it was purchased by a deceased relative. In addition, the tax on the new stepped-up value is deferred until property is sold by the surviving family member. Maryland Farm Bureau is working with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) and other state Farm Bureaus to prevent the change.
Stafford explained, “There are farms that have been in the family for generations. If you can’t find the value of the farm when originally purchased, the IRS will use zero, and you have to pay the difference between the value when you inherit and the original cost. Many farmers who inherit their family farm would have to sell it to pay the taxes.”
Land preservation and getting ag education into schools are other top issues for Maryland Farm Bureau.
In January 2020, AFBF members saw a major victory when the Navigable Waters Protection Rule was finalized, defining “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) and providing clear exclusions for many water features that traditionally had not been regular lated. Farm Bureau members generated tens of thousands of contacts with congressional lawmakers and administration officials in an effort to repeal the 2015 WOTUS rule. AFBF said then, “Protecting America’s water and our ability to work and care for the land has always been our top priority.”
Stafford said, “The Farm Bureau has always been a grassroots organization. Maryland Farm Bureau is only administering policy that’s been set by members. We can’t change that, and we don’t want to. Membership is based on families. No matter how small or how big your farm is, there’s only one vote per family member- ship. That’s why Farm Bureau has been so successful, all the way up to AFBF. It’s delegates from each state who dictate what AFBF does.
“That’s what was really bad about COVID-19. Last year we had to have our annual meetings, both Maryland and AFBF, virtually. We missed the personal conversations and getting to know people. It was like being on an island.”
There was some good that came out of the pandemic, Stafford admitted. COVID-19 pushed the organization into new methods of communication, and members learned they could get together for a board meeting in the blink of an eye. Maryland’s geography makes it a challenging state to traverse. “It seems no matter where you travel, you have to go on a beltway,” Stafford said. “But those delegates from Washington, Garrett and Allegany counties seldom miss a meeting.”
Stafford has been a Farm Bureau member since the mid-1970s, starting with the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, ultimately serving as its vice chairman. His wife, Sandy, served as secretary/treasurer of the Cecil County Farm Bureau for 16 years.
His father, Carl Stafford, was also very involved. The Staffords moved to Cecil County in 1963, when I-95 split their Delaware farm in two. When milk prices dropped 17 years ago, they converted from dairy to raising beef cattle in addition to growing grain crops and hay.
“As the unified voice for Maryland agriculture, our members find value in our lobbying efforts and Farm Bureau programs and workshops. We work every day to promote and protect the rural landscape and natural resources of the Old Line State.”
Stafford wants to see increased membership from the equine and horticultural industries, on-farm breweries, wineries and agritourism, as well as ag professionals and “friends of agriculture.”
Membership benefits include dis- counts on farm insurance, travel and vehicle needs, industrial and business products and several services. An Action Center posts legislation of interest that is being considered, and information on how to deal with coronavirus challenges and how to reopen in a safe and responsible way.
For more information, contact the office at 410-922-3426 or visit www.mdfarmbureau.com.