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Bills to repeal estate tax would help farmers transition their legacy

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Farm groups are calling on Congress to remove barriers to farm ownership. Bills aimed at eliminating the estate tax were introduced in the Senate and House this week.  The Death Tax Repeal Act was introduced by U.S. Sen. John Thune of South Dakota and U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop (D-GA) and Jason Smith (R-MO). 

Thune and 25 cosponsors introduced SB 617, and Bishop and Smith introduced HR 1712, with 121 cosponsors. Both bills would allow for a complete repeal of the estate tax, which, according to American Farm Bureau Federation  analysis, threatens more than 74,000 family farms across the country and nearly half of all farmland.

“Farmers and ranchers already face unpredictable challenges beyond our control yet persevere to protect our nation’s supply of food, fiber and renewable fuel. The tax code should encourage farm business growth, not add to uncertainty,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “Eliminating the estate tax removes another barrier to entry for sons and daughters or other beginning farmers to carry-on our agricultural legacy and make farming more accessible to all.”

If the estate tax is not eliminated, instead of spending money to improve their operations, farmers and ranchers, along with all small businesses, will be forced to continue to divert resources to pay for estate planning to account for a shifting and unpredictable tax code.

The 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act temporarily doubles the estate tax exemption to $11 million per person indexed for inflation through 2025. However, without congressional action, the estate tax exemption will revert to $5.5 million per person in 2026, putting even more farms and ranches at risk.

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said, “The estate tax disproportionately harms cattle producers because with few options to pay off tax liabilities, many farm and ranch families are forced to make tough choices at the time of death — and in worst case scenarios, must sell off land to meet their federal tax burden,” said NCBA President Jerry Bohn.

An estimated 2,000 acres of agricultural land is paved over, fragmented, or converted to uses that compromise agriculture each day in the United States. With more than 40 percent of farmland expected to transition in the next two decades, Congress must prioritize policies that support land transfers to the next generation of farmers and ranchers. Most farm estate values can be attributed to non-liquid assets such as the fair market value of land, livestock, and equipment.

“As small business owners, environmental stewards, and the economic backbone of rural communities across the country, U.S. cattle producers understand and appreciate the role of taxes in maintaining and improving our nation. However, they also believe that the most effective tax code is an equitable one. For this reason, NCBA ardently supports the Death Tax Repeal Act of 2021,” Bohn said. 

“The last thing grieving Americans need is to be punished for their family’s hard work in building successful farms, ranches, and small businesses that feed the world and drive our economy,” said Smith. “Repealing the death tax is a necessary step towards ensuring the future for family-owned farms and small businesses for generations to come and helps them carry on their family’s legacy.”

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