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Young farmer making his mark - Jason Flowers
  by SAMANTHA TIPLER, Herald and News 4/10/14
  H&N photo by Samantha Tipler. Jason Flowers is on the American Farm Bureau’s national Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

     Jason Flowers was in his senior year of high school when he grew his first crop: about 525 acres of barley. When the sun rose, he could see the golden rays shining into it, a beautiful sight.

   “I was raised to it,” Flowers, now 31, said of farming. “But when I actually started growing my own stuff, it was really cool to plant a crop and to actually watch it grow and know you were responsible for making that happen.”

   Today, Flowers farms alfalfa and grass hay, oats, barley and wheat and raises some cattle in the Lower Klamath Basin. He is a fourthgeneration farmer, a young farmer making his mark on agricultural politics, as well as in his field.  

   This year Flowers was appointed to the Farm Bureau’s national Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee.

   Farming demographic

   Flowers has experience with the bureau, following his father, Bob Flowers, who passed away in January. Flowers has been a board member of the Klamath County Farm Bureau since he was 18 and a member of the county’s young farmers and ranchers committee. Flowers said he isn’t alone as a young farmer. There are three others under the age of 35 on the county board and one under the age of 40.

   Still, young farmers are in a minority in agriculture.

   The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 census of agriculture   listed only 92 principal operators under the age of 25 in Oregon. That compares to 23,925 over the age of 55 in Oregon. The average age of an Oregonian principal operator is 59.6.

   “Somebody’s going to have to feed the world,” Flowers said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of opportunity for young farmers as the older generation starts to retire or pass on. Somebody’s going to be farming that land. For those of us that are involved now, it’s going to be a big opportunity for us.”

   Farming politics

   Flowers already took one trip to Washington, D.C., in February to   speak with legislators about agricultural issues on behalf of the Farm Bureau. He spent three days meeting with congressional leaders and telling them about his concerns.  

   Those concerns include

   Estate tax: The tax when transferring property at death; farming and ranching families often struggle to pay the taxes because the value of the estate may be large, but much of it is tied up in land.

   Getting land to farm: Land is often tied up by larger, older farmers and it’s difficult for young farmers to get their foot in the door.

   Government overregulating: From the Endangered Species Act to the Environmental Protection Agency, layers of government permits and oversight can pose as barriers to   running agricultural operations.

   But Flowers was confident in young farmers and the Farm Bureau’s ability to affect change, especially in politics.

   “The politicians, they’re hungry to talk to young people and see how things are affecting the younger people,” he said. “Whenever they get a chance to talk to us, they’re all ears.”

   When he spoke to legislators in February, he addressed a tax benefit issue with the IRS Section 179; a tax credit for buying property. In the case of farming, it has been used for writing off as much as $500,000 in farm equipment, Flowers said. New rules reduce that amount to $25,000.

   “You can’t buy a pickup truck for $25,000,” he said.  

   Flowers said a 14-year-old combine can be bought for $65,000 to $75,000. A new combine can costs $300,000 to $450,000.

   Without the write-off, farmers may be less likely to buy new equipment. That matters to the rest of the community   because if Flowers buys a combine from a local equipment operator, that operator can hire more staff, and the dollars get recirculated throughout the Klamath Basin community.

   Tax and government regulation changes like that make it difficult for farmers and ranchers to form business plans, he said.

   Farming education

   Part of Flowers’ role on the Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee is to educate the public and politicians about issues the agricultural community faces.  

   Flowers said the Farm Bureau can send staffers, or farmers can bombard lawmakers with emails, but “the most effective way to let them know what you want done is to actually go and meet with them.”

   Flowers said many young farmers just want to farm. He grew up around the Farm Bureau with his father. There he saw the need to get involved.

   At 31, Flowers is reaching the tail end of what the Farm Bureau considers a “young farmer,” anyone under age 35. He decided to get involved at the national level, while he was still a “young farmer.”

   “The demographic of the Farm Bureau is a lot like the demographic of farmers across the state.   That’s the representation of it. There’s a lot of older members in there,” he said. “If people my age didn’t start getting involved that organization would start dying, and we’d have less people fighting for the things that we need.”  

    stipler@heraldandnews.com  ; @TiplerHN


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