The landscape of Florida has seen rapid change over the last several decades, and none has been more drastic that the urbanization and development of Florida’s farms and agricultural areas. With increased development comes higher property values and increased property taxes. In an effort to assist farmers and agricultural landowners, the Florida Legislature passed bills that became known as the Greenbelt Laws, providing a property tax break for agricultural lands.
Current laws allow for an agricultural tax classification for bona fide, commercial, agricultural use of land. Over the years, Florida courts have been called on to determine the balance between the tax benefit provided to agricultural landowners and the need for cities and counties to accurately assess non-agricultural lands and collect the taxes for municipal services. Today, it is not uncommon for a county and a landowner to disagree regarding the bona fide nature of a use, or the extent of that use on the property. For example, a property appraiser may deny the classification on a property because he feels that there are too few cows grazing on the land, or not enough has been done to properly care for the land.
So what can a landowner do to ensure that his or her agricultural classification is granted?
- Know the commercially-accepted practices for the type of agriculture you are engaged in. For example, if all cattle ranchers mow and seed their pastures annually, following these practices may support the contention that a property should be granted the classification.
- Ensure that there is documentation regarding the improvements or activities that are part of the agricultural operation, including any lease agreements. Some owners hire professional property managers to ensure that the agricultural use is managed properly.
- Communicate with the property appraiser’s office before a determination regarding the classification is made can be beneficial, as well, so that a property owner may provide additional documentation or information that will be persuasive.
Ultimately, if a property owner cannot convince the local property appraiser that a property should receive an agricultural classification – and a drastically lowered tax bill – the owner must seek appeal to the Value Adjustment Board. This appeal process generally hinges on the evidence and testimony related to the agricultural use, making it even more important to keep documentation regarding activities and expenditures related to the agricultural use.