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The Agricultural Classification (Greenbelt) 101

As an agriculture agent, one question I get a lot is “How do I apply for the ag exemption?” Clients who ask this are typically referring to granting their property Agricultural Classification, more commonly referred to as “Greenbelt.” Agricultural classification is not technically a property tax exemption, but it can help to lower the overall tax you pay on your property.

The State of Florida requires that property is being used for a “bona fide agricultural purpose” to be eligible for agricultural classification. The actual laws pertaining to this can be found in both the Florida Statutes (193.461) and the Florida Administrative Code (12D-5). However, the laws are intentionally open-ended about what constitutes a “bona fide agricultural purpose” and the power to determine if your land will receive agricultural classification ultimately resides with your County Property Appraiser’s Office.

“Bona Fide”

So what is the Property Appraiser looking for when determining the bona fides of your operation? The Florida Administrative Code gives us some clues, including a blessedly coherent definition:

12D-5.001 Agricultural Classification, Definitions.
(1) For the purposes of Section 193.461, F.S.(NOTE: That's the Florida law that established the ag classification), agricultural purposes does not include the wholesaling, retailing or processing of farm products, such as by a canning factory.
(2) Good faith commercial agricultural use of property is defined as the pursuit of an agricultural activity for a reasonable profit or at least upon a reasonable expectation of meeting investment cost and realizing a reasonable profit. The profit or reasonable expectation thereof must be viewed from the standpoint of the fee owner and measured in light of his investment.

Basically, properties that receive the Agricultural Classification are ones where the land is clearly being managed for the express purpose of making money through agriculture. Whether it’s a field of strawberries, a greenhouse nursery, or a plot of planted pines, the important thing is the plants are an investment that is being actively managed with the intent to make a profit.

The Florida Administrative Code gives further guidelines to Property Appraisers. It tells them what information they can use to determine if a parcel of land qualifies for agricultural classification. These guidelines include, but are not limited to:

  • Expert opinions
  • The landowner’s occupation or business (however, this can’t be considered over and above the actual use of the property)
  • If the land on the property is suitable for agriculture (i.e. nobody is going to grant you Greenbelt if you say you want to grow hay in a canyon)
  • How likely you are to be able to, in a reasonable time, grow a crop that is capable of being sold and sell it
  • Other factors including, but not limited to, zoning, the character of the surrounding area (urban vs rural), the agricultural experience of the applicant, amount of harvest for each crop, existing agricultural equipment/buildings and their condition.

There are a few things that Property Appraisers are not allowed to factor into their decision. For example, they may not deny agricultural classification just because you have a home within the agricultural area, nor may the agricultural classification disqualify the land for homestead exemption.

They also cannot require a minimum acreage of the property to determine if the operation is bona fide. This makes sense because different agribusinesses require different acreages to make a profit. An acre of hay is unlikely to generate a profit, but an acre of greenhouse tomatoes has a terrific chance. Though they can’t assign a blanket minimum acreage (e.g. “No parcels under 5 acres may be considered”), they can take acreage into account when assessing if the acreage you are attempting to classify is reasonable with respect to what you intend to do with it.

I’m a bona fide operation. What now?

If you believe you are eligible to receive agricultural classification, you have until March 1st each year to submit your application. The land must have been in agricultural use since at least January 1st of the same year you apply. Since agricultural classification does not change hands during a land sale, growers who have purchased existing farmland will also need to apply.

Your first step should be to contact your County Property Appraiser’s Office. Each county office will have its own guidelines and requirements and will also have the necessary forms. Many have this information on their websites. If you are a new farmer, it’s a good idea to have a business plan in place to help answer questions such as how you intend to sell your product. If you’ve never planned an agricultural business before, the UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Website has a wealth of information to get you started.

Helpful Links

Sumter County Property Appraiser’s Office – http://www.sumterpa.com/
Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office – https://www.pascopa.com/
Hernando County Property Appraiser’s Office – https://www.hernandopa-fl.us/pawebsite/
Florida Statutes referring to the Agricultural Classification – http://www.leg.state.fl.us/statutes/index.cfm?App_mode=Display_Statute&URL=0100-0199/0193/Sections/0193.461.html
Florida Administrative Code section referring to the Agricultural Classification – https://www.flrules.org/gateway/ChapterHome.asp?Chapter=12D-5
UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Website – https://smallfarm.ifas.ufl.edu/

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