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Some say Green Acres not the place to be

ST. PAUL -- A 2008 law change threatens farmland across the state - from the Twin Cities suburbs to land bordering lakes and rivers -- farmers Wednesday told a Minnesota House committee.

The new law penalizes farmers who want to sell farmland for other uses, the farmers said. The law could backfire and convince many landowners to get rid of some of their property, farmers added, or to turn sensitive land into cropland that would get a better tax break.

The change means farmers no longer have as much of a financial incentive to keep land in farms, the committee heard, especially marginal land such as sloughs and other non-cropland property. However, witnesses said that even what looks like unused land is vital for the health of farmland.

The so-called Green Acres law gives farmers a lower property tax rate when land is used for crops, with the theory that it allows them to keep using the land for farming. In some cases, farmland sells for $3,000 an acre while the same land used for commercial or residential development could sell for $40,000, with similarly large differences in property taxes for the two uses.

Committee Chairman Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said he expects something to pass this session. However, he added, resistance is strong to overturn all changes made last year.

Juhnke added that several witnesses Wednesday showed there is a strong link between cropland and adjacent land that could appear to be non-productive.

Tim Power, who has a south Washington County shade tree farm, said that state law does not treat his operation as a farm, but it should. If so, his property taxes could be lower.

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said farmers such as Power "are good stewards of the land."

Davis works for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Daily Globe.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.