Bipartisan bill aims to amend estate tax code to conserve America’s farms and ranches

A proposal to change the estate tax code to keep more farms and ranches intact is back after U.S. Sen. Mark Udall reintroduced a bipartisan bill last week that never materialized in 2010.

The American Family Farm and Ranchland Protection Act is designed to help families stave off the pressure of selling, dividing or developing their farms and ranches when bequeathing them to the next generation. As the law is currently written, if a conservation easement is placed on a property 40 percent of the value of the land can be exempted from the taxable estate. The amount is capped at $500,000. But under Udall’s proposal, the exclusion rate would rise to 50 percent of the total value of the land and cap it at $5 million, providing tax relief should families designate it for agricultural and conservation use.

A ranch near Old Snowmass. (Photo by Troy Hooper)
“Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are the custodians of our rural and natural heritage, but outdated exemptions in estate tax law are sometimes forcing the loss of valuable agricultural lands,” Udall, D-Colo., said in a press release. “My bill would make a simple fix to our tax code to help make it more consistent and fair, while encouraging more robust conservation of our open spaces.  More important, it will encourage families to permanently protect the natural value of their lands through conservation easements so that they can be handed down to the next generation.”

Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, is a co-sponsor along with Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Al Franken, D-Minn., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., Benjamin Cardin, D-Md., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

“Some of Colorado’s most important wildlife habitats, watersheds and prairies are held by private farmers and ranchers, and we should make sure we give them the tools they need to protect these natural treasures for generations to come,” Bennet said. “This bill would provide estate tax relief for family farms in Colorado and provide necessary incentives to encourage these landowners to protect their lands through conservation easements.”

The senators say the bill has broad public support, including that from the American Farm Bureau, U.S. Cattlemens Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Land Trust Alliance and the Nature Conservancy.

The American Family Farm and Ranchland Protection Act was first introduced on July 22, 2010, and referred to the Committee on Finance, but it never made it out of committee. When the session ended at the end of the year, the bill basically died on a vine and had to be reintroduced this year.

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