When July rolled around this year and Lee Anderson still had no hay to harvest, he knew this summer's drought would be a tough one.
"Actually, this year turned out to be worse than the last two years - and they were declared disaster years," Mr. Anderson said. "Makes it tough to keep the farmer on the farm and get the young farmer to start farming."
The Grovetown farmer could see some relief if Georgia voters repeal the state property tax on family farm equipment. The referendum was created by the passage of H.B. 1416 this year by the General Assembly and Gov. Roy Barnes.
The referendum, if it passes Nov. 7, would benefit family-owned farms, dairies, ranches and nurseries by exempting equipment such as tractors and combines from property taxes.
Personal vehicles still would be subject to taxation, as would any machinery belonging to corporate agribusiness operations.
The referendum will appear on the ballot as referendum A.
Agriculture is Georgia's largest industry, producing $56 billion annually. The property taxes collected annually on family farm equipment are about $13 million. - about .02 percent of the $6 billion total state property tax revenue.
Standing with his boots in the dirt on his 240-acre farm in Grovetown, Mr. Anderson cocks his head and shifts his weight as he thinks of what that money would mean to family operations.
"Every little bit helps," he said. "That's not a whole lot of money to the government, but it's a whole lot of money to us farmers. The farmer is the one who puts food on the table, a shirt on your back and a roof over your head. We touch everyone's life with all of the basics."
In the case of Columbia County, where Mr. Anderson's farm is located, the total property tax base is $48 million - $8,400 of which comes from property taxes on family farm equipment.
"We're not a real rural county, so it probably won't impact us if it passes," said Kay Allen, Columbia County tax commissioner. "But when one area dries up, the tax burden shifts to another. People don't just quit expanding government."
Surrounding states, such as Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas, do not have a similar property tax. Will Hurst, a political consultant for the Georgia Family Farm Coalition, said eliminating the equipment tax will make Georgia family farmers more competitive.
"When we take our products to markets, the cost of goods and the cost of producing those goods has to be recouped," Mr. Hurst said. "It's costing our state's family farmers more money to produce the same goods because of this tax."
Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3352.
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