It is the declared policy of the State of Florida to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural lands for the production of food and other agricultural products and as valued natural and ecological resources for clean air sheds, wildlife habitat and other benefits of green space, including aesthetic purposes.
The Legislature also declared Florida’s economic and environmental future is enhanced by a tax policy which encourages sustainable agricultural use of its lands and discourages pressures to otherwise develop the land in indiscriminate manners, which brings conflicting land uses into juxtaposition, urban sprawl and creates higher costs for public services.
The intent of the Greenbelt Law is to provide a means by which agricultural land may be protected and enhanced as a viable segment of the state’s economy and as an economic and environmental resource of major importance.
Spreading suburban development drives up land values, which in turn drives up the farmer’s property taxes, making agriculture economically unviable and forcing the farmer to sell the land to developers, causing the further spread of development and the loss of irreplaceable natural resources and open space.
Recognizing this self-perpetuating cycle, the Florida Legislature enacted the Greenbelt Law to help preserve farmland and slow down the rate of development. This law established agriculture as a separate class of property to be taxed on the agricultural value of the land instead of on its value for development. This benefits society as a whole, since rampant development causes over-crowded schools, more traffic on the roads and strains local government’s ability to keep pace with the demands for these and other services such as police, fire, water and sanitation. Since horses, cows and nursery plants don’t go to school, drive on the roads or call the police, farms make minimal use of these services and, more importantly, farmland provides scenic, open green space which serves as water catchment areas, clean air sheds and wildlife habitat.
Farmers pay full taxes on their houses and yards the same as every taxpayer. Only the farmland can receive the agricultural classification and, even with the agricultural classification on the land, farms contribute more in property taxes than they cost the government in services.
The Broward County Property Appraiser’s office is required by law to classify all property within the County as either agricultural or non-agricultural. In the past, Broward County had a landscape of vast cattle ranches and citrus groves interspersed with smaller farms of all types. With the advent of air conditioning came more and more people to share the benefits of this tropical climate the population continues to grow. This growth has forever changed the face of Broward County and, to be sustainable, agriculture has had to adapt to the change and evolve. Traditional forms of agriculture requiring hundreds of acres of land to be profitable are no longer viable in Broward County. Replacing the old types of conventional agriculture is a new type of farming can thrive on far smaller parcels of land and in a suburban setting, agriculture relies on a nearby metropolitan population for its client base. Landscape nurseries and horse farms are the two primary forms of modern agriculture. They provide desired agricultural services directly to the community and continue to conserve our open spaces and environmental resources into the future.
QUALIFYING FOR AGRICULTURAL CLASSIFICATION
For land to be granted agricultural classification, the use of the land must be primarily for bona fide commercial agriculture.
First and most important, the “use” of the land must be for “agricultural purposes.” The Greenbelt Law defines “agricultural purposes” as including but “not limited to; horticulture; floriculture; viticulture; forestry; dairy; livestock; poultry; bee; pisciculture, when the land is used principally for the production of tropical fish; aquaculture; sod farming; and all forms of farm products and farm production.” While this list is broad and inclusive in its general terms and does not necessarily exclude categories not specifically listed, the Courts have ruled, for example, horses are livestock, therefore using the land to keep livestock, whether breeding, boarding, training or for other commercial purposes is agriculture, but the term livestock does not include greyhound dogs, therefore use of the land for raising or training dogs for racing is not an agricultural use.
Second, agricultural use must be the “primary” activity which takes place on the land. If the owner’s residence is on the land, the area of the house and grounds will be excluded from the agricultural classification, although it is still eligible for homestead exemption. On the remainder of the land, the agricultural use must be the most significant activity and not merely an incidental use.
Third, the agricultural use must be “commercial,” which the Courts have defined as meaning done with a profit motive or intent to make a profit. The Courts have also ruled it is not necessary to have the expectation of meeting the investment costs of the land and realizing a profit overall to be “commercial”. However, it is not enough to grow fruit or vegetables for your own use or keep a pet cow or only your own horses for pleasure or sport. While the “commercial” requirement is not as strict as the IRS business standards, you should be trying to make money from the agricultural use of your land.
Fourth, the agricultural use must be “bona fide.” Again, the Courts have ruled this means good faith - real, actual and genuine and not a sham or deception. For example, if you apply for agricultural classification for a horse boarding farm, you should be actually boarding other people’s horses on your land. If you apply as a nursery, then you should be growing and selling plants on your land, not using the land to store equipment for a lawn mowing business.
The Department of Revenue has provided a suggested list of “other factors”, to which the Property Appraiser is not limited but may also consider:
Florida Administrative Code Rule 12D-5.004:
The Property Appraiser is not required to consider each and every one of these factors, but also cannot single out one, particular factor as the sole criterion for determining whether or not the property should be granted the agricultural classification. No one factor, by itself, is determinative. The Courts have ruled, for example, it is not required the owner be a farmer or the agricultural use is a permitted use under the local zoning regulations. Nor can the size of the property, alone, can be the deciding factor. Although a purchase price of three or more times the agricultural value of the land creates a presumption the land is not to be used primarily for agriculture, once the property owner demonstrates the land is being used for bona fide commercial agriculture, the purchase price is no longer important.
The Courts have stressed the “use” of the land as of January 1st of the year in question is the guidepost in classifying the land and “agricultural use” is now and has always been the test.
However, the Property Appraiser is required to reclassify the following lands as non-agricultural when:
NEW APPLICATIONS FOR AGRICULTURAL CLASSIFICATION
If you believe your property, as of January 1 of the current tax year, meets the criteria for the agricultural classification, you must file an initial application with the Broward County Property Appraiser’s office by March 1 of the year. However, if you fail to file an application by March 1, you may file an agricultural application and a petition with the value adjustment board no later than the annual TRIM Notice appeal deadline (mid-September). You may write to the office or call 954.357.7471 for the form, or you may obtain the form online by clicking here.
When you submit your application, please attach as much additional information as possible to show the use of your land is primarily for bona fide, commercial agriculture. Utilize the factors listed above for guidance as to what documentation would assist us in making a correct determination. Such additional information, if not already provided, may be requested by the Property Appraiser as is reasonably required in making this determination. Any financial information submitted will be strictly private and confidential.
If you are a new purchaser of property previously granted the agricultural classification, you must submit a new application if you wish the property to continue to receive the agricultural classification.
We will carefully review your application and any additional information provided and will physically inspect your property. We will notify you by mail, postmarked by July 1st, as to the status of your request.
RENEWALS OF AGRICULTURAL CLASSIFICATION
Land previously granted the agricultural classification will be automatically renewed in subsequent years, providing the agricultural use of the land has not been abandoned or discontinued, the land has not been diverted to a nonagricultural use, the ownership has not changed, or the land has not been zoned to a non-agricultural use at the request of the owner. The automatic renewal is subject to routine property inspections for verification purposes, but you do not need to file an initial application form or burdensome paperwork again.
However, if you have changed from one agricultural use to a different agricultural use, you should notify us promptly so the agricultural value of your property may be changed accordingly. You must also notify the Property Appraiser’s office if you have sold your property or discontinued the agricultural use.
LATE FILING AND RESOLVING DISAGREEMENTS
If you missed the March 1 filing date deadline, you may file an agricultural application and a petition with the value adjustment board no later than the annual TRIM Notice appeal deadline (mid-September). The absolute deadline to late file for an agricultural classification for 2020 is September 18, 2020 (the same date as the annual deadline to file a valuation challenge to the VAB). You can read more about the VAB process by clicking here. The VAB will notify you directly of your hearing date. Agricultural hearings are usually scheduled in late summer or early fall.
If you believe the Property Appraiser’s decision regarding your application or renewal for agricultural classification is incorrect, you may contact our office at 954.357.7471 for further discussion and review. You may also contact the Value Adjustment Board and file a petition for a hearing and independent review. A petition must be filed within 30 days of the notice from the Property Appraiser’s office regarding the status of your application or renewal for agricultural classification.