Individuals, family partnerships and family corporations own over 98 percent of our nation’s over two million farms and ranches. America values these family-owned farms and ranches because of the food, fiber, and fuel they produce, the contribution that agriculture makes to job creation and the economy, and the open space that farming and ranching protects. Yet, our nation’s estate tax policy can be in direct conflict with the desire to preserve and protect our nation’s family-owned farms and ranches.
Farm Bureau believes that tax laws must protect, not harm the family farms that grow America’s food and fiber, often for rates of return that are already minuscule compared to almost any other investment they could make. What is needed are tax policies that do not punish capital-intensive businesses like farms and ranches, and that do not hinder sons and daughters from following the agricultural legacy of their parents.
The value of family-owned farms and ranches is usually tied to illiquid assets such as land, buildings and equipment. With a majority, 82%, of farm assets in illiquid farm real estate, producers have few options when it comes to generating cash to pay the estate tax. When estate taxes on an agricultural business exceed cash and other liquid assets, surviving family partners may be forced to sell land, buildings or equipment needed to keep their businesses running. This not only can cripple a farm or ranch operation, but also hurts the rural communities and businesses that agriculture supports.
Almost all farmers and ranchers have benefited greatly from congressional action that increased the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person/ $22 million per couple (indexed for inflation), provided portability between spouses, and continued the stepped-up basis. Instead of being burdened with the cost of life insurance and estate planning, farmers are able to upgrade buildings and purchase equipment and livestock to help improve their small business. And more importantly, they have been able to continue farming when a family member dies without having to sell land, livestock or equipment to pay the tax.
While the new higher exemption levels set by the Tax Cut and Jobs Act protect the vast majority of our nation’s farms and ranches from the devastating consequences of estate taxes, the exemption levels expire after 2025 when they will return to $5.5 million per person/$11 million per couple. Farm Bureau supports making the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act estate exemption permanent as a step toward permanent repeal.