JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Adam Wolf quickly checked off a list of his costs per acre.

Corn seed is $80-90 per acre, fertilizer about $140. Equipment maintenance costs and diesel fuel can average $50 per acre, and crop insurance averages another $25.

In other words, the cost per acre grows quickly for the Barton County farmer.

On top of that, he said, his average property tax for the land he farms is about $3 an acre. He's also got property taxes on his equipment.

That's why he welcomed news last week out of Jefferson City, where lawmakers passed a resolution that would block tax increases proposed by the Missouri State Tax Commission for top farmland in the state.

Wolf farms 320 acres of his own and rents another 600 acres. A fourth-generation farmer, he has deep roots in the area. His dad's farm is a half-mile away, and his grandfather's farm is a mile away.

But it can be a tough way of life.

"Profits are looking to be down about 40 percent this year. That's how much the price of corn has dropped," he said.

Wolf, who has four children, also noted that "any dollar that doesn't go into my operation is another dollar off my child's plate."

Commission proposal

Every two years, the Missouri State Tax Commission releases a study reassessing agricultural land, based on average productivity and costs over a 15-year period, said Commissioner Randy Holman. Agricultural land is broken down into eight soil grades. This year, the commission proposed to increase taxes on soil grades 1-4, which is mostly land for row crops, Holman said. Most grazing land would not have been included in the tax hike.

"(The study) does not necessarily reflect what has happened recently, such as flooding, droughts, spikes in fuel, fertilizers, seeds, etc.," Holman said. "That is why the recommendation by the State Tax Commission goes before the Legislature so that it can make a determination if present factors as well as some future forecasts make the timing of an increase inadvisable at this time."

About 35 percent of Missouri's 37 million acres of farmland are in the top four grades, including nearly 700,000 acres in far Southwest Missouri, including Jasper and Newton counties, according to the tax commission.

All of the ground Wolf uses to grow his corn, soybeans and wheat would have been affected because they are top grade.

According to Holman, the top grade of agricultural land would have been taxed on average about another 36 cents per acre, meaning Wolf would have paid hundreds of dollars more in property taxes.

Holman said that the increase would have brought in an additional $2 million statewide. The taxes would have been put to use like most property taxes: to fund area schools, fire districts and so on.

"As small as this sounds, it has an effect on a farmer’s bottom line," said Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar. Last year, he looked into running for Missouri governor, but instead chose to file for lieutenant governor.

"Agriculture's a tough arena," he said after the vote, pointing out that the average farmer is getting older and many families are selling off their farms rather than continuing to grow food.

"It's very difficult for a young man, a young woman to get in that arena anymore just because of the cost of it. But the demands are not going to go away," he said.

During floor debate in the House, some Democrats said the state couldn't afford to divert more money away from schools. K-12 education is underfunded by about $463 million at the state level, based on a 2005 law that rewrote the state's school funding formula.

Overwhelming support

But the resolution had overwhelming support. The Senate voted 29-2 on Thursday to reject it, following the House's earlier 133-24 vote. The resolution does not need the governor's signature to take effect.

Senate and House members have been working both sides of the political divide to prevent the increase in agricultural land values. Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho and House Agriculture Committee chairman, successfully pushed his concurrent resolution through both chambers.

Reiboldt said last week that this isn't the time to raise taxes on farmers.

He added that the General Assembly approved the commission's tax increase proposal from 2014, which went into effect at the end of 2015. The tax hike was a 5 percent increase on all eight soil grades, affecting landowners from all areas of the state.

The Missouri Cattlemen's Association and the American Soybean Association both testified in favor of voting down the tax hike.

On Tuesday, members of the Missouri Corn Growers Association kicked off their boots and put on their suits to lobby in favor of the resolution blocking the tax increase. Vice President Kyle Kirby, who owns a 4,000-acre farm in Liberal, said the average age of Missouri farmers is 56 and that young farmers, such as the 35-year-old Wolf, could see the additional costs as another disincentive to stay in the business.

Wolf said his income depends on the weather, which has been at the extremes in the last couple of years, and other factors outside his control, such as commodity prices. He has had a couple of good years recently, until corn prices dropped, but he noted that before that, Missouri farmers had to overcome one of the worst droughts they had ever faced.

Despite the uncertainty, Wolf said he is a farmer because he wanted his kids to grow up the way he did: with high moral values and a way of life that instilled a work ethic. Though he works 14-hour days, he always has his kids nearby or riding up with him in his tractor.

"It's a daily grind," Wolf said. "It's a good thing I love what I do."

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