Know your farmer; USDA releases 2012 Census of Agriculture

Where does your food come from? Who grows it? How is it grown? If these are questions that interest you, the USDA’s Census of Agriculture has all the data you could want (and, probably, more).

The US Department of Agriculture conducts the Census every five years. On Friday, USDA released data from its 2012 Census of Agriculture.

A small sampling of the data show that nationally, the average farmer is also older with each census taken over the last 30 years. In North Carolina, the average farmer is 58.9 years old.  Nationally and in North Carolina, there are fewer beginning farmers in 2012 than in 2007.

An aging population of farmers, coupled with a decline in the number of beginning farmers raises questions about who will produce our food in the coming years. As young farmers enter the market, they may find it hard to make a living as the amount of capital needed to start a farming operation (e.g. land, fertilizer, seed, plants, livestock, fencing, refrigeration, and a tractor) is large. Beginning farmers may have difficulty accessing markets—national distributors may require a lot of product to do business with a particular farmer and the infrastructure to sell locally or regionally barely exists in most areas of the state. Encouraging people to enter the business of farming will require that they be able to easily access markets for their products.

Efforts to increase the ability of beginning farmers to access markets is one way to encourage new farmers to enter the business. North Carolina could also encourage new people to become farmers with equitable tax policies. Data show that the majority of farms in North Carolina gross less than $10,000 annually from farm products. State-wide, farmers are spending increasing amounts on farm inputs. The state could encourage people to enter the business of farming on a small scale by reducing barriers to entry. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law that allows farms grossing over $10,000 to avoid sales tax for the supplies needed to run a farm, while imposing sales tax on all farms grossing less than $10,000. This tax policy discourages new farmers from investing in the infrastructure they will need to get a new farm going. This policy is particularly short –sighted in the face of our rapidly aging farm population.

The Carolina Farm Stewardship Association is a member-based non-profit that advocates for fair farm and food policies, builds the systems that organic family farms need to thrive, and educates communities about local, organic farming. Check out our work at www.carolinafarmstewards.org.


Show Me The Note

Who owns your mortgage? I’ve asked this question before, http://pulse.ncpolicywatch.org/?author=52, and have been pleased to note that local media are asking it too. Today’s News and Observer picked up an AP article, http://www.newsobserver.com/business/story/1409682.html, describing one woman’s efforts to keep her home by asking the court to require that the foreclosing entity prove they own her debt. The foreclosing entity featured in the story hasn’t been able to provide that proof, so the woman in the story remains in her home for now.

There is a local angle on this story; homeowners in North Carolina are raising this defense in their foreclosure hearings. I encourage local media to continue to shine a spotlight on the glaring problem of note ownership in the North Carolina foreclosure process. Coverage will help homeowners and their attorneys educate the clerks of court and superior court judges who hear foreclosure cases.

Hopefully we’ll see the last of entities with insufficient proof of ownership foreclosing on beleaguered homeowners.


Your Money or Your House

Does the bank foreclosing on your home own your promissory note? This question was once ridiculous, but in the face of securitized debt and asset-backed securities, it is, sadly, very relevant.

Lenders and debt buyers were (and I hope this isn’t news to anyone at this point) greedy and made money hand over fist for a while by selling mortgages and then moving them into loan trusts and then getting investors to buy stock in the trust funds. When the cycle of greed started to lose its spokes, the trust funds started to foreclose in huge numbers.

But the evidence that the trusts own the mortgages is often weak, and is sometimes a sham. The trust’s lawyer shows up a foreclosure hearing with an affidavit from the trust fund. The affidavit says that the trust owns the borrower’s promissory note. That’s it. In this seemingly alternate universe, I could walk into court tomorrow and swear that you owe me $100,000. And the court would allow me to take your home to pay myself. That’s all it takes. That’s all the proof necessary, at least in the clerk’s offices and courtrooms of North Carolina, to take someone’s home.

Now, you might think (if you’ve been sleeping Rip Van Winkle style) that the trust would only foreclose if it knew that it owned the promissory note. But you’d be wrong. Foreclosure proceedings were recently initiated by two DIFFERENT entities against a Florida woman; both entities claim to own the promissory note. There are plenty of local examples as well, but none that I know of have links to press coverage yet.

No entity or person should be permitted to foreclose on a home unless it can prove that the borrower actually owes it money.