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January 5, 2006

Farm Bureau to ask legislators to ‘think about farmers’

RICHMOND—Virginia Farm Bureau Federation leaders have been busy planning for this winter’s General Assembly, and they will urge legislators to “Stop and think about farmers.”

This year the hot-button issue for farmers is reforming Virginia’s eminent domain laws. Eminent domain is the right of a government entity, utility or other authority to condemn a private citizen’s property in order to make it available for a public use. The condemning authority is required to offer monetary compensation to the landowner for the condemned property, but disputes often arise regarding the land’s true value.

“We want the General Assembly to stop and think about farmers,” said Martha Moore, VFBF director of governmental relations. “We want them to stop taking our property, and to stop and think about the budget impacts with regards to agriculture.”

Moore noted that farmers’ concerns over eminent domain have intensified since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a local government can condemn private property for use by a developer to generate higher tax revenue. That ruling came in Connecticut, in the now-infamous Kelo v. City of New London case.

“While the property in Connecticut did not involve a farm, the implications are still the same,” Moore explained. “You could take someone’s farm and sell it to someone else for another use to try and get higher tax revenue.”

Joe Waldo, a Norfolk-based attorney who specializes in eminent domain cases, said farmers are right to be concerned. Even though Virginia politicians say a case like Kelo couldn’t happen here, he pointed out that agencies often feel farmland is cheap and owners shouldn’t be paid much for it.

“Families have worked generations for it, lifetimes for it,” Waldo said of the commonwealth’s farmland. “People have sweated for their land. And Virginia, especially, of all our states—remember our history—is the state where Thomas Jefferson said `I will not sign the constitution until we have a Bill of Rights which includes the protection of private property.’”

Moore said another issue Farm Bureau will focus on during the legislative session is increased funding for protecting the environment through Best Management Practices for farmers. Millions of dollars are needed to help farmers reduce agriculture’s impact on the Chesapeake Bay and other waterways.

Contact Moore at 804-290-1013 or martha.moore@vafb.com.

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