Farmers Say Relief is Needed to Save Family Farms
June 09, 2005 — By Daisy Nguyen, Associated
LOS ANGELES —
Edwin Camp has spent most of his life working on the
family farm, tending potatoes, carrots and grapes in
California's fertile Central Valley -- famously
known as "America's salad bowl."
But in recent years, he has logged less time in the
fields and more days politicking against what he
calls stringent labor and environmental laws
threatening family farms.
More and more California farmers like Camp are
lobbying for relief from economic pressures,
including taxes and fuel costs, they say are forcing
many to downsize or quit farming altogether.
"We're just getting hammered," said Camp, 49,
manager of D.M. Camp & Sons farm, near Bakersfield.
"We need to get involved with people we're not
traditionally involved with."
California is losing about 1,000 farms a year,
according to a 2003 U.S. Department of Agriculture
survey, the latest figures available.
In 1950, the state had 144,000 farms. Two years ago,
the number had dropped to about 78,000, with more
than 95 percent operated by families, the agency
Farmers say the decline has hurt national farm
production. In June 2004, the United States imported
more food than it exported, marking the first year
since 1986 in which agricultural trade showed a
monthly deficit, the USDA said.
"We've reached a breaking point where you have a lot
of families going out of business and leaving the
state and more farmland is taken out of production,"
said George Gomes, administrator of the California
Farm Bureau Federation, which launched its
"Protecting California Family Farms" campaign last
Farmers are pushing for tax breaks and other
incentives on a number of issues, including estate
taxes, workers' compensation rates and water and
During a recent trip to Washington, D.C., a group of
farmers met with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to
press for relief from the federal estate tax.
Howard Gantman, Feinstein's spokesman, said the
senator has been "exploring ways in which there
could be additional relief provided to help ensure
that family farms are not jeopardized because of the
When his grandfather died 10 years ago, Grant
Chaffin's family inherited 3,000 acres of alfalfa,
cotton and wheat in southeastern California. At the
time, tax laws required anyone inheriting property
worth $600,000 or more to pay 55 percent of the
value in estate tax, he said.
"We had to take a 30-year mortgage on some of the
land in order to pay our estate tax obligation,"
said Chaffin, 38. "It further tightens the very
small margin we have in this business to make a
Chaffin's farm in the Coachella Valley is five miles
from the California-Arizona border. The location is
a constant reminder of the difference that
regulations can make.
"They're growing the same products across the
(Colorado) river in Arizona," Chaffin said. "They
pay lower fuel, material, health insurance and
workers compensation insurance costs. And yet we
compete against each other for the same consumer."
Source: Associated Press