National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) CEO Dana Peterson joined leaders of other major agricultural organizations recently in calling for Congress to quickly pass meaningful estate tax reform that addresses the needs of farm families.

Leaders from groups representing producers of wheat, corn, soybeans, cotton, beef, pork and milk, as well as the heads of the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union, spoke to reporters at the National Press Club in Washington and by phone and Internet video around the country.

They described the devastating business challenges that await family farm operations if the tax, which doesn’t affect individuals who die in 2010, is allowed to return in 2011, hitting estates of more than $1 million with a tax of up to 55%. Peterson told reporters that if not addressed by Congress in the lame duck session, future estate tax liabilities would not only drain family businesses of funds that might otherwise be reinvested, but could also force families to sell off their business assets, including the very land used to grow the nation’s wheat crop.

 “Farmers hold their equity in the land; their whole mentality is with the land,” she said. “So, when families have to sell land to pay a tax, it literally tears away their roots.” She also told reporters that the uncertain tax liability, combined with the current state of our economy, makes it difficult for family-owned wheat operations to make sound business decisions for the next generation of farmers.

 “Multigenerational families are the foundation of agricultural communities, including my own home county in Kansas,” she said. “It makes no sense to penalize the families that run 96% of our nation’s farms with an onerous and unpredictable tax. The future of America’s wheat producers that our grower-members work so hard to secure will be in jeopardy if Congress does not pass estate tax reform.”

The NAWG Board of Directors has standing policy that supports raising the estate tax exemption to no less than $5 million per person and reducing the top rate to no more than 35%, priorities similar to those of many other groups speaking at the news conference. NAWG also supports policy to index the exemption to inflation; provide for spousal transfers; and include a stepped-up basis to adjust the value of property for inflation at death.