Hello, readers! We hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Understandably, news related to agricultural law seems to have slowed down a little bit over the last few weeks as both the federal and state governments have focused mainly on addressing the unfolding COVID-19 outbreak. That being said, there have been a few notable ag law developments you might be interested in.
Federal government extends the tax deadline. The IRS announced on March 21 that the deadline for filing or paying 2019 federal income taxes will be extended to July 15, 2020.
Ohio Coronavirus Legislation. The Ohio General Assembly quickly passed House Bill 197 on Wednesday March 25, 2020. HB 197 originally just involved changes to tax laws, but amendments were added to address the current situation. Amendments that made it into the final bill include provisions for education—from allowing school districts to use distance learning to make up for instruction time, to waiving state testing. Other important amendments make it easier to receive unemployment, move the state tax filing deadline to July 15, extend absentee voting, allow recently graduated nurses to obtain temporary licenses, etc. Of particular note to those involved in agriculture, HB 197 extends the deadlines to renew licenses issued by state agencies and political subdivisions. If you have a state license that is set to expire, you will have 90 days after the state of emergency is lifted to renew the license. HB 197 is available here. A list of all the amendments related to COVID-19 is available here.
Proposed changes to hunting and fishing permits in Ohio. In non-COVID news, Ohio House Bill 559 was introduced on March 18. HB 559 would allow grandchildren to hunt or fish on their grandparents’ land without obtaining licenses or permits. In addition, the bill would give free hunting and fishing licenses or permits to partially disabled veterans. You can get information on the bill here.
EPA simplifies approach to pesticides and endangered species. Earlier this month, the U.S. EPA released its “revised method” for determining whether pesticides should be registered for use. Under the Endangered Species Act (ESA), federal agencies must consider whether an action (in this case, registration of a pesticide) will negatively impact federally listed endangered species. EPA is authorized to make decisions involving pesticides under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). The revised method consists of a three-step process. First, EPA will consider whether use of the pesticide “may affect” or conversely, have no effect on the listed species. If no effect is found, EPA can register the pesticide. On the other hand, if EPA finds that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, it must examine whether the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” the species. In this second step, if EPA decides that the pesticide may affect the endangered species, but is not “likely to adversely affect” the species, then the agency may register the pesticide with the blessing of the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) or the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). Conversely, if EPA finds that the pesticide is likely to adversely affect the species, it must move on to step three, where it must work with FWS or NMFS to more thoroughly examine whether an adverse effect will “jeopardize” the species’ existence or “destroy or adversely modify its designated critical habitat.” The revised method is meant to simplify, streamline, and add clarity to EPA’s decision-making.
EPA publishes rule on cyazofamid tolerances. Continuing the EPA/pesticide theme, on March 18, EPA released the final rule for tolerances for residues of the fungicide cyazofamid in or on commodities including certain leafy greens, ginseng, and turnips.
Administration backs off RFS. In our last edition of the Ag Law Harvest, we mentioned that the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals had handed a win to biofuels groups by deciding that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017. By granting the waivers, the EPA allowed the refineries to ignore the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and not incorporate biofuels in with their oil-based fuels. The Tenth Circuit decision overturned this action. The Trump administration has long defended EPA’s action, so that’s why it’s so surprising that the administration did not appeal the court’s decision by the March 25 deadline.
Right to Farm statute protects contract hog operation. If you’re a regular reader of the blog, you may recall that many nuisance lawsuits have been filed regarding large hog operations in North Carolina. In Lewis v. Murphy Brown, LLC, plaintiff Paul Lewis, who lives near a farm where some of Murphy Brown’s hogs are raised, sued the company for nuisance and negligence, claiming that the defendant’s hogs made it impossible for him to enjoy the outdoors and caused him to suffer from several health issues. Murphy Brown moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the nuisance claim should be disqualified under North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act, and that the negligence claim should be barred by the statute of limitations. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina made quick work of the negligence claim, agreeing with Murphy Brown that the statute of limitations had passed. North Carolina’s Right to Farm Act requires a plaintiff to show all of the following: that he is the legal possessor of the real property affected by the nuisance, that the real property is located within one-half mile of the source of the activity, and that the action is filed within one year of the establishment of the agricultural operation or within one year of the operation undergoing a fundamental change. Since the operation was established in 1995 and the suit was not brought until 2019, and no fundamental change occurred, the court determined that Lewis’s claim was barred by the Right to Farm Act. Since neither negligence or nuisance was found, the court agreed with Murphy Brown and dismissed the case.
Written by Barry Ward, Production Business Management Leader and OSU Income Tax Schools Director
Soon after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law in December of 2017 it became evident that cooperatives had been granted a significant advantage under the new tax law. Sales to cooperatives would be allowed a Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID) of 20% of gross income and not of net income. Sales to businesses other than cooperatives would be eligible only for the QBID of net income which was a significant disadvantage. Suddenly cooperatives had an advantage that non-cooperative businesses couldn’t match and most of the farm sector scrambled to position themselves to take advantage of this tax advantage. Some farmers directed larger portions of their sales or prospective sales toward cooperatives. Non-cooperative businesses lobbied for a change to this piece of the new tax law while looking for ways to add a cooperative model to their own businesses to stay competitive.
Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 in March of 2018 which eliminated this advantage to cooperatives and replaced it with a new hybrid QBID for sales to cooperatives which offered more tax neutrality between sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives. While this new legislation leveled the playing field between cooperatives and non-cooperatives, it left many questions unanswered; chief among them was how taxpayers should allocate expenses between sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives.
One area that was clarified for calculating the QBID for all businesses including cooperatives was how certain deductions should be handled with respect to the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID).
For purposes of the QBID (IRC §199A), deductions such as the deductible portion of the tax on self-employment income under § 164(f), the self-employed health insurance deduction under § 162(l), and the deduction for contributions to qualified retirement plans under § 404 are considered attributable to a trade or business (including farm businesses) to the extent that the individual’s gross income from the trade or business is taken into account in calculating the allowable deduction, on a proportionate basis.
Under the final regulations, expenses for half the self-employment (SE) tax, self-employed health insurance, and pension contributions must be subtracted from preliminary QBI figure, before any cooperative reductions are made (if applicable).
While final regulations on the new QBID were published on Jan. 18, 2019, there were still many questions left unanswered as to how the deduction would be handled in relation to cooperatives. As the QBID is calculated differently between the income from sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives, taxpayers and tax practitioners were left with uncertainty.
A simplified explanation of the steps used to calculate the QBID under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §199A for income attributable to sales to cooperatives is listed here:
Step 1: First, patrons calculate the 20 percent §199A QBID that would apply if they had sold the commodity to a non-cooperative.
Step 2: The patron must then subtract from that initial §199A deduction amount whichever of the following is smaller:
- 9 percent of the QBI allocable to cooperative sale(s) OR
- 50 percent of W2 wages paid allocable to income from sales to cooperatives
Step 3: Add the “Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD)-like” deduction (if any) passed through to them by the cooperative pursuant to IRC §199A(g)(2)(A). The determination of the amount of this new “DPAD-like” deduction will generally range from 0 to 9 percent of the cooperative's qualified production activities income (QPAI) attributable to that patron's sales.
Parts of the new tax law do offer some simplification. Calculating the QBID isn’t necessarily one of those parts.
The result of all of these calculations is that income attributable to sales to cooperatives may result in an effective net QBID that is:
- Possibly greater than 20% if the farmer taxpayer pays no or few W2 wages and coop passes through all or a large portion of the allocable “DPADlike” deduction
- Approximately equal to 20% if the farmer taxpayer pays enough W2 wages to fully limit their coop sales QBID to 11% and the coop passes through all allocable “DPADlike” deduction
- Possibly less than 20% if farmer taxpayer pays enough W2 wages to fully limit their coop sales QBID to 11% and the coop passes through less than the allocable “DPADlike” deduction
On June 18th, the IRS released proposed regulations under IRC §199A on the patron deduction and the IRC §199A calculations for cooperatives. The proposed regulations provide that when a taxpayer receives both qualified payments from cooperatives and other income from non-cooperatives, the taxpayer must allocate deductions using a “reasonable method based on all the facts and circumstances.” Different reasonable methods may be used for the different items and related deductions. The chosen reasonable method, however, must be consistently applied from one tax year to another and must clearly reflect the income and expenses of the business.
So what “reasonable methods” might be accepted by the IRS? The final regulations (when they are provided) may give us further guidance or we may be left to choose some “reasonable” method in allocating expenses between the two types of income. Acceptable methods may include allocating expenses on a prorated basis by bushel/cwt or by gross sales attributable to cooperatives and non-cooperatives. Producers may also consider tracing costs on a per field basis and tracking sales of those bushels/cwt to either a cooperative or non-cooperative.
Included in the proposed regulations released in June was a set of rules for “safe harbor”. A taxpayer with taxable income under the QBID threshold ($157,500 Single Filer / $315,000 Joint Filer) may ratably apportion business expenses based on the amount of payments from sales to cooperative and non-cooperatives as they relate to total gross receipts. In other words, expenses may be allocated between cooperative and non-cooperative income based on the respective proportions of gross sales that fall to cooperatives and non-cooperatives.
Some questions that haven’t been answered clearly is how certain other income should be allocated between income from cooperatives and non-cooperatives. Tax reform now requires farmers to report gain on traded-in farm equipment. In many cases, farm income will be negative and all of the income for the business will be from trading-in farm equipment. The question is how do we allocate this income (IRC §1245 Gain)? Some commentators contend that none of these gains should be allocated to cooperative income which would eliminate the issue, however, the depreciation deduction taken on the equipment was likely allocated to cooperative income, thus reducing the effect of the 9% of AGI patron reduction. This would suggest that these gains may have to be allocated between cooperative and non-cooperative income.
How should government payments be allocated? If a farmer sells all of their commodities to a cooperative and receive a government payment (i.e. ARC or PLC), should that be treated as cooperative income or not. Hopefully, the final regulations will provide some further clarity on these issues.
The information in this article is the opinion of the author and is intended for educational purposes only. You are encouraged to consult professional tax or legal advice in regards to your facts and circumstances regarding the application of the general tax principles cited in this article.
Here's our gathering of recent agricultural law news you may want to know:
Case highlights value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund. The recent prosecution and guilty plea of a grain handler who withheld $3.22 million in proceeds from grain he sold on behalf of 35 farmers in northern Ohio illustrates the value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund. The farmers had received approximately $2.5 million in reimbursement from the fund, which protects farmers from grain handlers who become insolvent. Though the fund, a farmer is reimbursed 100% for open storage grain in the elevator and 100% of the first $10,000 of a loss for future contracts, delayed price and basis transactions, with 80% reimbursement beyond the first $10,000 of loss. The grain handler, Richard Schwan, must now reimburse the fund and pay additional amounts to the farmers and the state. For more about the Grain Indemnity Fund, read our previous post.
More on North Carolina nuisance lawsuits against hog farms. A jury decision on June 29, 2018 awarded $25.13 million to a couple living next door to a 4,700 head hog farm in North Carolina owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods. The award included $25 million in punitive damages. The apparent reason for the jury’s significant punitive damage award is Smithfield’s failure to finance and utilize new technologies that could reduce the impacts of current anaerobic lagoon and spraying application technologies. This is the second successful verdict in the second of many nuisance lawsuits filed by over 500 neighbors of hog farms owned by Smithfield.
North Carolina legislature reacts to nuisance wins. In response to the first two jury awards against Smithfield, the North Carolina legislature adopted new restrictions on nuisance lawsuits against farm and forestry operations. The legislation requires that a nuisance suit be filed within a year of the establishment of an agricultural or forestry operation or within a year of a “fundamental change” to the operation, which does not include changes in ownership, technology, product or size of the operation. The bill also limits the awarding of punitive damages to operators with criminal convictions or those who’ve received regulatory notices of violation. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the legislature successfully overrode the veto.
Meanwhile, Court upholds Iowa Right-to-Farm law. The Iowa Supreme Court declined a request to declare the Iowa Right-to-Farm law facially unconstitutional for exceeding the state's police power. The court concluded that the Right-to-Farm law, which protects animal feeding operations that are in compliance with applicable laws and utilizing generally acceptable agricultural practices from nuisance lawsuits, falls within the legislature’s police power but could be unconstitutional as applied to a particular situation. However, such a determination requires application of a three part test and extensive fact finding by the court. Read more on Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, LLC here from Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.
IRS reveals the new Form 1040. It's not quite post card size, but the IRS claims that its draft of the revised Form 1040 is about half the size of the current form. The agency unveiled the draft form, which it intends to be shorter, simpler and supplemented with applicable schedules, and is seeking comments from the tax community. The new form, when complete, will replace the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ.
Ohio legislation on the move. A flurry of activity at the Statehouse followed the lengthy re-election of a new House speaker that had stalled legislation this spring. Several bills have now been signed by Governor Kasich and a few bills have passed through one or both houses, as follows:
- Plugging idle and orphan oil and gas wells. A bill we reported on back in January, H.B. 225, was signed into law on June 29, 2018. The new law provides an increase, from 14% to 30%, in funding for plugging unused oil and gas wells. Landowners can report an idle or orphaned well to the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources, who must then inspect the well within 30 days and prioritize how soon the well should be plugged and the land surface be restored. The Chief’s duty to find prior owners and legal interests in the well is limited to records less than 40 years old. The law also includes procedural changes for entering into contracts for restoration or plugging of wells.
- Tax appeals. One provision in H.B. 292 allows a party to appeal a decision of the Board of Tax Appeals directly to the Supreme Court if it concerns a final determination of the Tax Commissioner or a municipal corporation's income tax review board. This reverses a recent change that removed the Supreme Court option for such appeals. The act also removes a provision that allowed a party to file a petition requesting that the Supreme Court take jurisdiction over an appeal from the Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court was authorized to do if the appeal involved a substantial constitutional question or a question of great general or public interest. Governor Kasich signed the legislation on June 14, 2018.
- Hunting and fishing licenses. S.B. 257 creates multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for residents of Ohio and allows the Division of Wildlife to offer licensure “packages” for any combination of licenses, permits, or stamps. The law also establishes the “Lake Erie sport fishing district,” consisting of the Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries. Nonresidents must obtain a $10 special permit to fish in the Lake Erie sport fishing district from January 1 to April 30, with the fees earmarked specifically to benefit Lake Erie. The legislation received the Governor’s signature on June 29, 2018.
- High volume dog breeders. New standards addressing sustenance, housing, veterinarian care, exercise and human interaction for dogs bred for sale in high volumes are in H.B. 506, signed by the Governor on June 29, 2018.
- Dogs on patios. H.B. 263, which we wrote about previously, has passed both the House and Senate. The bill allows retail food establishments and food service operations to permit customers to bring a dog into an outdoor dining area if the dog is vaccinated. The establishment must adopt a policy requiring customers to control their dogs and keep their dogs out of indoor areas. The bill just needs a signature from Governor Kasich to become effective.
- Alfalfa products. H.R. 298 was adopted by the House on June 7, 2018. The resolution recognizes the existence of two alfalfa products, direct dehydrated alfalfa and sun-cured alfalfa, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The resolution further calls on alfalfa processors and suppliers use the defined terms in their labeling. A companion resolution in the Senate remains in committee.
- Township laws. A number of changes affecting township authority are in H.B. 500, which unanimously passed the House on June 27 and was introduced in the Senate on July 5. Of most consequence to agriculture are proposals to broaden township zoning authority over agricultural activities in platted subdivisions and authority for townships to impose fees for zoning appeals.
Decisions announced today by the Ohio Supreme Court will allow landowners to challenge Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) land values established by Ohio’s tax commissioner by appealing the values to the Board of Tax Appeals.
Twin rulings in cases filed by a group of owners of woodland enrolled in CAUV, Adams v. Testa, clarify that when the tax commissioner develops tables that propose CAUV values for different types of farmland, holds a public hearing on the values and adopts the final values by journal entry, the tax commissioner’s actions constitute a “final determination” that a landowner may immediately appeal to the Board of Tax Appeals. The Board of Tax Appeals had argued that the adoption of values is not a final determination and therefore is not one that a landowner may appeal to the Board.
The tax commissioner forwards the CAUV tables to the county auditors, who must use the values for a three year period. An inability to appeal the values when established by the tax commissioner would mean that a landowner must wait until individual CAUV tax values are calculated by the county auditor, who relies upon the tax commissioner’s values to calculate the county values. As a result of today’s decision, landowners may appeal the values as soon as the tax commissioner releases them.
The landowners also claimed that the process and rules for establishing the CAUV values are unreasonable and not legal. However, the Court rejected those claims.
For an excellent summary of the Adams v. Testa cases by Court News Ohio, follow this link.
Grain bins are “business fixtures” that are personal property not subject to real property tax, according to a decision issued today by the Ohio Supreme Court.
The court case arose when the Metamora Elevator Company challenged the Fulton County auditor’s inclusion of grain storage bins in the company’s real property valuation. Metamora filed complaints with the county Board of Revision, arguing that the grain bins are business fixtures that should not be included in the company’s real property assessment. The Board of Revision disagreed with Metamora and the company appealed to the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA).
The Fulton County BTA ruled in favor of the company, determining that grains bins are personal property and should not be taxed as real property. The BTA reduced Metamora’s real property value by nearly $1.1 million, the value of the grain bins. Fulton County requested a review of the BTA decision by the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the case. The issue before the Court was whether the grain bins are “fixtures” or “improvements” that are subject to real property tax or whether they are not subject to real property tax because they are “business fixtures” that qualify as personal property.
Ohio Supreme Court’s reasoning
In its decision authored by Justice O’Donnell, the Supreme Court explained that the legislature amended the Ohio Revised Code in 1992 to clarify the historically “elusive” distinction between real and personal property in Ohio. The court stated that the changes expressed a clear intent to identify fixtures as real property while defining business fixtures as personal property, according to two of th revised sections of Ohio law:
- ORC 5701.02(A), which states that “real property” includes “land itself * * * and, unless otherwise specified in this section or section 5701.03 of the Revised Code, all buildings, structures, improvements, and fixtures of whatever kind on the land.”
- ORC 5701.03(B), which defines “business fixture” as “an item of tangible personal property that has become permanently attached or affixed to the land or to a building, structure, or improvement, and that primarily benefits the business conducted by the occupant on the premises and not the realty. Business fixture includes, but is not limited to, machinery, equipment, signs, storage bins and tanks, whether above or below ground, and broadcasting, transportation, transmission, and distribution systems, whether above or below ground.
“Our analysis need go no further than to apply the expressed intent of the General Assembly to the undisputed facts of this case,” said the Court, and concluded that the legislature clearly intended for the term “business fixture” to include storage bins, and therefore to define storage bins as personal property not subject to real property tax.
The Court rejected the two arguments advanced by the county, that property classification cases depend upon what constitutes an “improvement” under the Ohio Constitution and that it would be unconstitutional for the legislature to classify constitutional “improvements” such as fixtures or structures as personal property simply because the fixtures might be used in business. Because the grain bins related more to the personal business than to the land, based on the definition of “business fixture” in ORC 5701.03, the Court saw no conflict between the personal property classification and the Ohio Constitution.
Implications for agriculture
Fulton County may not be the only county that classifies grain bins as real property for tax purposes. Landowners who own grain bins should review their property tax records and determine whether the real property value includes the value of grain bins located on the parcel. If the property tax does incorporate grain bin values, consult with the county auditor to discuss the situation. Ohio law allows a county auditor to correct "clerical errors" made in the collection of real property taxes, although there is a question of whether inclusion of grain bins in the real property value constitutes a clerical error. Ohio law also provides remedies for taxpayers who have overpaid taxes; landowners should consult with a tax attorney for guidance on these remedies. Note that filing a complaint with the Board of Revision is not an option, as March 30 was the deadline for filing complaints for the current tax year.
The case of Metamora Elevator Co. v. Fulton Cty. Bd. of Revision, Slip Opinion No. 2015-Ohio-2807 is available on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website, here.