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Opinion: Missouri agricultural incentives in need of extension

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Growing up, I remember my mom working at our local clothing factory in the late 1980s making smocks and aprons. The farm economy was especially tough, and since my brother, sister and I were all in school, it was a good opportunity. Back then, it was pretty common to have factories in small towns.

Our rural communities have seen considerable change since then and, frankly, the need for investment is great.

A little-known commission within the Missouri Department of Agriculture is making a big impact across our state. The Missouri Agricultural and Small Business Development Authority issues targeted tax credits and grants for investments in specific types of businesses. Since 2000, MASBDA estimates its tax credit programs have generated $247 million in direct and indirect benefits to our state. Several of the most valuable credits are set to expire this year and need to be extended.

Some of the most valuable of MASBDA's tax credits are the new generation cooperative incentive, the agricultural product utilization contributor program and the meat processing facility investment program. These credits support local jobs by spurring investment in value-added processing facilities. This helps keep more of the benefits of Missouri agriculture in our local communities.

The largest of these programs is the new generation cooperative incentive, which helps investors draw in private investment for value-added processing. To date, $63 million in tax incentives have generated over $501 million in private investment. MASBDA has issued credits to projects in at least 103 counties throughout Missouri, reaching every corner of the state.

MASBDA’s programs have helped rural Missouri in many ways, like getting ethanol plants off the ground, helping small butchers and meat processors and expanding farmer cooperatives. At a time when consumers are looking more and more to buy local, especially when it comes to their food, farmers and small businesses can use these tools to serve their communities.

Of course, tax credit programs should be carefully watched to ensure they are accomplishing their goals and not being abused. Placing a sunset date on the program ensures it will receive a thorough review after a few years. If elected officials find that a tax credit is doing its job and adding value to our communities, they can vote to extend the sunset.

Five of these rural-focused tax credit programs are scheduled to expire on Dec. 31, including those listed above. Fortunately, some leaders in the state legislature are working to renew them. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, Rep. Rick Francis, R-Perryville, and Rep. Greg Sharpe, R-Ewing, have introduced legislation to extend these tax credits an additional six years, through the end of 2027.

By looking at how these tax credits have been managed, it is clear MASBDA has done so wisely. The programs have proven themselves to work, and they help rural Missouri. This strong record has led legislators to broadly support extending these successful programs. Rep. Francis’ bill, HR 948, recently passed the state House of Representatives by a broad margin of 124-27.

Missouri has found a proven and effective way to leverage state investments in agriculture and small business. It is refreshing to see a governmental program that works as intended and generates far more money than it invests. The legislature should complete the job of extending MASBDA’s programs so they can continue helping our rural economy grow.

Garrett Hawkins, a farmer from Appleton City, is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau. He can be reached at garrett.hawkins@mofb.com.

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Jeff Munzinger

Let's hope these incentives are not just another way to pass along breaks to farm cooperatives, which already enjoy favored tax status over for-profit businesses. Many of Missouri's co-ops have become corporate behemoths, and gotten into financial trouble as a result of poor business decisions. The most notable example is Farmland Industries, which grew to a $12 billion company and collapsed. Their Farmland brand of pork is now owned by a Chinese company, and farmer-members lost an estimated $700 million in equity when things fell apart in 2003. MFA almost imploded in the late 1970s, but survived in a smaller form.

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