Waffle #6: Miller bought Delta land with state agricultural loan

Patti Epler | Oct 1, 2010

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Miller bought a 1,000-acre tract of land near Delta Junction with a $77,400 state loan under a program aimed at promoting the development of Alaska agriculture.

But the land, purchased in 1999, has never been farmed and Miller himself has said it sits “overgrown” and unused.

Miller did not respond to a request for comment about why he bought the land and then never farmed it or used it for other agricultural purposes.

But state officials say that is not a violation of the law or the loan program, and that the program allows for the fact that farming plans often change. Miller would only run afoul of requirements for the loan if he made a non-agricultural operation the primary use of the land, say, turning it into a gravel pit or putting up condos, according to Candy Easley, the state Agricultural Revolving Loan Fund loan manager.

The fund has been in business since 1953, according to information on its website, and is designed to provide loans on farm land, money that has traditionally been hard to get through banks and other conventional lenders. The objective of ARLF, according to the state website, is “to promote the development of agriculture as an industry throughout the State by means of moderate interest rate loans.”

Easley said minutes of the state Board of Agriculture and Conservation, which approved the loan in public session, show Miller and his wife, Kathleen, bought the acreage — known in state records as Delta Tract 12A — in May 1999.

They got an ARLF loan for $77,400 at 8 percent interest for 20 years. The loan was secured by a first deed of trust, that is, the property itself.

In March 2003, when interest rates dropped, the Millers refinanced the property with a $76,500 loan with a 5 percent interest rate, the board’s records show.

“This is not a subsidized program,” said Easley, who has been fielding many calls from reporters about the property and whether Miller receives state subsidies on it. “We are a revolving loan fund.”

The Millers’ Delta Junction property has been wrapped into the controversy surrounding property Miller used to own in Kansas. An outspoken critic of federal funding, Miller obtained $7,235 in federal agriculture subsidies for the Kansas farmland that he owned between 1990 and 1998.

An Alaska blogger incorrectly reported that Miller had taken thousands of dollars in subsidies on the Delta Junction property. The state Democratic Party ran with the misinformation, too, e-mailing press and others.

‘Farming is extremely diverse’

Easley said the Millers have never had any delinquencies in their state payments over 90 days, which would trigger a public record on the loan transaction.

In fact, most of the information pertaining to the ARLF loans is secret. Easley said the loan program operates much like a bank in that loan applicants have to provide personal financial information that is not made public.

For the agricultural loan, however, applicants also have to submit a five-year farm plan, stating what they intend to do with the property. The decision on whether to approve the loan is based in part on that plan.

But, Easley said, the five-year plans are also not public record under state law. “Farming is extremely diverse. Farm plans can go from one end of the spectrum to the other,” she said, noting that beekeeping is as much an agricultural activity as growing a crop.

She also said the loan is not conditioned on the applicant completing the plan. And if a plan changes, the state does not require a new or amended plan. The state also does not inspect the property to see if farming is taking place, she said.

Easley said her office does sometimes get reports from on farm property that is not being used for agricultural purposes. She said most often it is because the land owner is allowing gravel mining on the property. The state Department of Natural Resources lands section has the authority to investigate and take enforcement action, which it often does, she said.

‘Alaskans are smart enough’

At a Wasilla rally last week that included Miller and Gov. Sean Parnell, Miller told Alaska Dispatch that he was young when he took federal farm subsidies for his Kansas land and that it is not pertinent to the issues of this election. Here’s an excerpt from that interview:

I have a farm in Delta. It does not have any federal payments associated with it. I have owned that farm since 1998, I believe. Certainly since I have been in Alaska, I have tried to convert all of my resources out of the state to Alaskan resources, which I have done. I think the last farm we sold in … ’96.

I think that if you suggest that anybody that has received federal payments is excluded from the dialogue on where we are at today as a federal government, then nobody can participate. For crying out loud, in 2008 all of us received stimulus checks, or at least most American taxpayers did. And the rationale that basically the senator is using is saying that those people that have received federal funding are excluded from discussing where we’re at as a nation today. I think Alaskans are tired of that kind of an approach. I think Alaskans … are smart enough to recognize that we have an issue that we have to face right now at the federal level. And then I think that they will appropriately evaluate what’s before them and make a proper decision based upon what they’ve seen in the base, based upon what they know we need to do in the future.

source: Alaska Dispatch