GENE LUCHT Lee Agri-Media
CARROLL, Iowa — Kristine Tidgren is specific about her job.
“We don’t give advice. We call it education,” she says of her work as executive director of the Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation at Iowa State University.
Tidgren and his colleagues look at some of the top legal issues facing farmers, then do extensive research on the most important of those issues.
“We do deep dives in those areas,” she says.
Once they have done this research, they talk to farmers, tax lawyers, accountants and legislators, explaining what the law says and what it means and what the possible consequences of taking various actions might be. . Sometimes that means telling farmers or tax professionals about a new form to fill out or a new court order. Other times, it may mean informing legislators of possible unintended consequences of proposed legislation.
As is often the case, none of this is what Tidgren set out to do for a living. In retrospect, however, it seems that was always what she was working towards.
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“I grew up on a farm in west-central Iowa,” she says.
After graduating from high school, she went to the state of Iowa, where she majored in journalism and psychology.
“I really had no idea what I wanted to do,” she says now. She loved math but didn’t want to specialize in it.
When she graduated, she got a job at Electronic Data Systems in Texas, where she worked in the data world. Eventually, she decided to go to law school at the University of Texas. After law school, she worked for a law firm in Kansas City, but by then she and her husband were starting a family, and litigation didn’t fit in with a stable family life. They moved back to Iowa, settling in Carroll, and she worked for Lexus-Nexus, a legal data company. In 2013, she came to ISU to work at CALT and eventually became Director.
There were, of course, challenges. She and her husband have six children, so family and school activities have become a priority. And she also suffered major medical trauma along the way.
“I was in church,” she says of the day she started having problems. She started having severe pain in her side and suspected appendicitis. But then she noticed a numb feeling in one leg and that feeling started spreading.
Soon she was in the hospital fighting to regain control of her body. The doctors called it a stroke. It was really a herniated disc that was cutting off blood flow and causing other problems. Ultimately, this left her facing intensive therapy and some physical limitations.
“I was grateful for the type of job I had because I could keep working,” she says. “And the fact that I’m a person of faith helped.”
And so she recovered. She continued to work. Eventually, it became the essential source of information on taxation and agricultural law that it is today.
This work has not always been easy. The last few years brought a new federal tax law in 2017 that changed the way many farmers and tax professionals worked. The Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit raised all sorts of legal issues. The COVID-19 pandemic and the relief programs adopted in response have raised other tax issues. The idea of building carbon pipelines across the state raises more issues.
And today, the debate over federal and state tax policy is fluid, giving Tidgren and his staff plenty to ponder and research. Even proposals such as Iowa not to tax rental income raise a host of questions and legal issues about how to help young farmers.
“There are so many different things going on,” she says. “We try to help people understand what their legal rights are.”
In many cases, this effort is aimed at educating professionals so that they can then help farmers. These ideas are often included in the many tax schools and seminars that CALT holds in Iowa and Wisconsin.
But at the end of a long day dealing with incredibly complex tax issues, Tidgren knows she can relax on the drive back to Carroll and spend some time with her family in rural Iowa, a short distance from the farm where she grew up dreaming. of what was happening outside his small town.