Specialized tax breaks for the farming industry

Tax provisions directly affecting farmers in the Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008

The recently enacted “Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008” (the 2008 Farm Act) contains a package of tax changes including specialized tax breaks for the farming industry (along with a crackdown on farm losses) and new and modified credits related to the production of certain fuels, among other things. Here’s a summary of the key tax provisions in the 2008 Farm Act that directly affect farmers:

    • Conservation reserve payments made after 2007 are not subject to self-employment tax if received by an individual who is getting Social Security retirement or disability payments.
    • The favorable tax treatment of capital gain property donated for qualified conservation is extended for two years (through 2009).
    • A new deduction is allowed for endangered species recovery expenses incurred after 2008.
    • A new tax credit is created for the development of cellulosic biofuels, which are biofuels produced from agricultural waste, wood chips, switch grass and other non-food feedstocks. This credit, available for fuel produced after 2008 and through 2012, is a nonrefundable income tax credit for each gallon of qualified cellulosic fuel production of the producer for the tax year. The amount of the credit per gallon is $1.01, except for cellulosic biofuel that is alcohol. For cellulosic biofuel that is alcohol, the $1.01 credit amount is reduced by (1) the credit amount applicable for such alcohol under the alcohol mixture credit in effect at the time cellulosic biofuel is produced, and (2) in the case of cellulosic biofuel that is ethanol, the credit amount for small ethanol producers as in effect at the time the cellulosic biofuel fuel is produced.
    • The 51¢ per-gallon incentive for ethanol is reduced to 45¢ per gallon for calendar year 2009 and thereafter. This reduction is subject to an exception geared to ethanol production.
    • A new tax credit is created for agricultural chemicals security. The new law provides retailers of agricultural products and chemicals and manufacturers, formulators, or distributors of certain pesticides a business tax credit for 30% of costs for the protection of such chemicals or pesticides. Such protection costs include employee security training and background checks, installation of security equipment, and computer network safeguards. The credit has a $2 million annual limit and a per facility limitation of $100,000 (reduced by credits received for the five prior tax years). This credit is effective for expenses paid or incurred after May 22, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2013.
    • Qualifying mutual ditch, reservoir, or irrigation company stock may be eligible for Code Sec. 1031 treatment. This provision is effective for exchanges after May 22, 2008.
    • Temporary assistance to victims of the 2007 Kansas tornado disaster is provided, including increased ability to deduct personal losses, increased business expense deductions, and help for affected businesses that continued to pay their employees after the disaster struck.
    • The amount of farming losses (other than those losses arising because of fire, storm losses, etc.) that a taxpayer may use to reduce other non-farming business income is limited for certain taxpayers. For tax years beginning after 2009, the farming loss of a non-C corporation taxpayer for any tax year in which any applicable subsidies are received will be limited to the greater of (1) $300,000 ($150,000 in the case of a married person filing a separate return), or (2) the taxpayer’s total net farm income for the prior five tax years. Applicable subsidies are (a) any direct or counter-cyclical payments under title I of the Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008 (or any payment elected in lieu of any such payment), or (b) any Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) loan. Total net farm income is an aggregation of all income and loss from farming businesses for the prior five tax years.
    • For tax years beginning after 2007, the farm optional method and nonfarm optional method for computing net earnings from self-employment are modified so that electing taxpayers may pay more in optional self-employment taxes and thus become eligible for Social Security benefits.
    • The CCC is required to always provide IRS and the farmer with information returns showing the amount of market gain the farmer realizes when he or she repays a CCC market assistance loan.

    Limitation on farming losses in the Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008

    The recently enacted “Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008” (the 2008 Farm Act) contains a package of tax incentives to promote conservation investment in farm country. Those incentives are paid for, in part, by a new limitation on farming losses for certain taxpayers. In essence, the new law limits agricultural losses that can be claimed to the greater of $300,000 ($150,000 for a married person filing separately) or the net farm income for the previous five years if the taxpayer receives any 2008 Farm Act commodity payments or Commodity Credit Corporation loans. Here is a closer look at this new limitation.

    Except for passive activity rules in Code Sec. 469, the amount of farming losses that a taxpayer may claim is not limited under pre-2008 Farm Act law. The new provision, which is effective for tax years beginning after December 31, 2009, alters that situation by limiting the amount of farming losses that a taxpayer, other than a C corporation, may use to offset non-farm business income. The limitation amount is the greater of $300,000 ($150,000 in the case of a married person filing a separate return) or the total net farm income the taxpayer has received over the last five years. For example, assume a taxpayer has $300,000 of net farm income and $700,000 of non-farm income in 2010, and $1 million of net farm income in each tax year 2011 to 2014. In 2015, he incurs a $7 million farming loss. Under the new provision, his farming loss in 2015 is limited to the greater of (1) $300,000 or (2) $4.3 million (total net farm income for the prior five tax years). The $4.3 million of the farming loss allowed in 2015 may be carried back to the prior five tax years.

    Losses that are limited in a particular year may be carried forward to subsequent years.
    For partnerships and S corporations, the limit is applied at the partner or shareholder level. Farming losses arising by reason of fire, storm, or other casualty, or by reason of disease or drought, are disregarded for purposes of calculating the new limitation.

    This provision only applies to eligible taxpayers who receive any direct or counter-cyclical payments under title I of the 2008 Farm Act (or any payment elected in lieu of any such payment), or any Commodity Credit Corporation loan. For purposes of this provision, the definition of “farming business” is broadened to include the processing of commodities, without regard to whether such activity is incidental, by a taxpayer otherwise engaged in a farming business with respect to such commodities.

    Agricultural chemicals security tax credit created by the Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008

    The recently enacted “Heartland, Habitat, Harvest, and Horticulture Act of 2008” (the 2008 Farm Act) contains a package of tax incentives to promote conservation investment in farm country. One fairly specialized new incentive addresses the need to safely secure agricultural chemicals. Agricultural chemicals and pesticides purchased for legitimate uses are increasingly vulnerable to theft because of the drug trade and national security threats. Some agricultural businesses may pay tens of thousands of dollars on new measures to secure their storage sites. In recognition of this, the 2008 Farm Act creates a new credit to help agricultural businesses afford the increasing expenses of protecting agricultural chemicals and pesticides.

    The new law provides retailers of agricultural products and chemicals and manufacturers, formulators, or distributors of certain pesticides a business tax credit for 30% of costs for the protection of such chemicals or pesticides. Such protection costs include employee security training and background checks, installation of security equipment, and computer network safeguards. The credit has a $2 million annual limit and a per facility limitation of $100,000 (reduced by credits received for the five prior tax years). This credit is effective for expenses paid or incurred after May 22, 2008, and before Jan. 1, 2013.

    I hope this information is helpful. If you would like more details about this or any other aspect of the new law, please do not hesitate to contact us.