March 22, 2017

The following bills are priorities of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation for the 2017/2018 Legislative Session

HD3032 – An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms – Representative Hogan

SB 1584 – An Act to establish estate tax valuation for farms – Senator O’Connor-Ives

  • Massachusetts has an Estate Tax that is levied when the value of an inherited estate exceeds $1 million. The estate tax is based on the “highest and best use” of the land – typically the development value, rather than the agricultural value.
  • This has proven a challenge for many farmers inheriting farmland, who want to continue to farm the land rather than develop it. Often, they do not have cash on hand to pay the estate tax and are forced to sell some or all the land to do so. This is contrary to the intent of several state laws and programs intended to preserve farmland.
  • This bill would exempt farmland from the estate tax so long as it remains in agriculture for at least 10 years. If the land is developed within 10 years, back-taxes would need to be paid as well as an elevated capital gains tax.

HB 458 – An Act to Promote and Strengthen Agricultural Preservation – Representative Orrall

  • This bill would delete a very broad and vaguely worded provision of the statute governing the administration of the Agricultural Preservation Restriction program. As currently worded, the law essentially giving the Department broad authority to prohibit activities which are “detrimental to agricultural use”.
  • This provision has been responsible for significant conflict and misunderstanding in the administration of the APR program.
  • Farm Bureau would support replacement language which:
    • More accurately describes what detrimental activities may be, or how to determine if an activity is detrimental.
    • Identify an open public process by which such a provision is applied in each situation.

HB 181 – An Act relative to updating the plumbing code in order to accommodate agricultural uses – Representative Mirra

  • While the state building code contains provisions for agricultural buildings, the State Plumbing Code does not put them into the category of commercial buildings. Many farmers and farm organizations believe that the broad requirements for commercial buildings are not sufficiently tailored to the needs and activities of farms, resulting in inappropriate requirements, and often unnecessary costs.
  • The bill creates a Committee of representatives of the public health, plumbing and agricultural communities – from both the public and private sector. They are tasked with making recommendations to the State Plumbing Code specific to agriculture.

HB 441 – An Act to promote the care and well-being of livestock – Representative Kulik

  • Creates a Board within the Department of Agricultural Resources consisting of farmers, local humane organizations, veterinary organizations and relevant state agencies.
  • The Board will be charged with ensuring livestock is treated humanely, and will be given the ability to create relevant regulations, guidance, etc.
  • The bill is intended to ensure that future policy regarding the humane treatment of livestock is based on science and broad consensus, rather than emotion.

HB 2715 – An Act Establishing an Agricultural Tourism Study Commission – Representative Kulik

  • Agritourism is a growing business in Massachusetts. Weddings, charity races and other activities have become increasingly popular events on farms. This helps make farms more financially viable both through direct income, and by helping to market farm goods to visitors.
  • However, activities associated with agritourism are different than with traditional agriculture. Agritourism has sometimes led to conflicts with neighbors, local zoning, health regulations, etc. At the same time, many existing state laws and programs designed to support and protect agriculture do not account for agricultural tourism activities.
  • This bill creates a Commission to explore how to appropriately support and expand this growing sector of the agricultural economy. The Commission is comprised of farmers and representatives of MA Department of Agricultural Resources, MA Office of Tourism, MA Department of Public Health and the MA Municipal Association.

HB 2616 – An Act relative to the Dairy Farm Tax Credit – Representative Kulik

  • Dairy farming in New England is challenging financially, with the cost of producing milk sometimes exceed the price paid to dairy farmers. The price is dictated by federal pricing programs.
  • Under Massachusetts law, dairy farmers are allowed a refundable tax credit for periods of time when the cost of production exceed the price of milk.
  • The law currently limits the total amount allocated annually toward the credit to $4 million. This bill would increase the limit to $8 million