Skip universal navigation

New York State Universal header

Skip to main content

Volume 11 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 13

Opinions of Counsel index

Agricultural exemption (agricultural production requirement) (conversion) (Federal Wetlands Reserve Program) - Agriculture and Markets Law, §§ 305, 306; Real Property Tax Law, § 481:

Parcels participating in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program do not qualify as “land used in agricultural production” and are no longer eligible for agricultural assessments. Where such parcels previously received agricultural assessments, such participation does not constitute a conversion of the use of the property.

We have received an inquiry concerning two parcels which previously received agricultural assessments (Agriculture and Markets Law, Art. 25-AA; Real Property Tax Law, §481) and are now being considered for participation in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (16 U.S.C. §3837 et seq.). The purpose of the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program is “to assist owners of eligible lands in restoring and protecting wetlands” (16 U.S.C. §3837(a)). Property owners who participate in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program must execute a “Warranty Easement Deed” to the federal government that prohibits the use of the land for commercial farming for a minimum period of 30 years. {1}

A title search has revealed that as recently as 1992 the landowner filed a “Commitment of Land to Continued Agricultural Production” for both parcels. It is our understanding that the two parcels, which apparently were located outside agricultural districts when the commitments were executed, are now located within an agricultural district (i.e., the district boundaries have been altered pursuant to Agriculture and Markets Law, §303). It is our further understanding that the two parcels are not currently “used in agricultural production,” do not now receive agricultural assessments, and have not received agricultural assessments for more than seven years (see, Agriculture and Markets Law, Art. 25-AA).

The question is whether the commitments to continued agricultural production are still in effect, and if they are, what effect the commitments have on the eligibility of the two parcels to participate in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program.

In our opinion, the commitments to continued agricultural production no longer have legal significance. {2}  Failing to continue to keep land in agricultural production has the potential of resulting in additional real property tax liability only if the conversion to a non-agricultural use occurs within a time period specified in Article 25-AA. Since the two parcels are now located within an agricultural district, the relevant time period is five years from the “last year in which the land benefited from an agricultural assessment...” (Agriculture and Markets Law, §305(1)(d)(i)). If the two parcels had remained outside agricultural districts, the relevant time period would have been “eight years from the time an agricultural assessment was last received...” (Agriculture and Markets Law, §306(2)(a)(i)). Both time periods have expired - the two parcels have not received agricultural assessments for at least eight years.

Even if the statutory time period had not expired, however, in our opinion, the owner of the two parcels still would not have committed a conversion to a non-agricultural use by participating in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program. A conversion to a non-agricultural use is defined by Agriculture and Markets Law, section 301(8), as “an outward or affirmative act changing the use of agricultural land and shall not mean the nonuse or idling of such land” (see, 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 36). Our understanding is that the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program does not convert land to a non-agricultural use because the program maintains the easement area in an idle, natural state.

The two parcels, however, will not qualify as “land used in agricultural production” eligible for an agricultural assessment during the period they participate in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program. Land which is removed from crop production may qualify as “land used in agricultural production” eligible for an agricultural assessment when the land is “set aside through participation in a federal conservation program ... established for the purposes of replenishing highly erodible land which has been depleted by continuous tilling or reducing national surpluses of agricultural commodities...” (Agriculture and Markets Law, §301(4)(e); 10 Op.Counsel SBRPS No. 57). Unlike the Federal Conservation Reserve Program (16 U.S.C. §3831 et seq.) covered by Agriculture and Markets Law, §301(4)(e)), the primary purpose of the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program is not to encourage the present or future use of the reserved land for agricultural production. Terminating the nexus to agricultural use by participation in the Federal Wetlands Reserve Program renders the property ineligible for an agricultural assessment.

June 18, 2001


{1}   A sample “Warranty Easement Deed” enclosed with the inquiry provides that the federal government “may authorize ... at its discretion, the use of the easement area for compatible economic uses, including, but not limited to, managed timber harvest, periodic haying, or grazing.” It also provides that “[c]ompatible use authorizations will only be made if such use is consistent with the long-term protection and enhancement of the wetland and other natural values of the easement area.”

{2}   Prior to its amendment by L.1994, c.680, §7, Agriculture and Markets Law, §306(1) provided that the owner of “land used in agricultural production” located outside an agricultural district, who wanted his land to qualify for an agricultural assessment, had to “make a commitment ... to use such land exclusively for agricultural production for the next succeeding eight years.” The commitment had to be filed “annually with the county clerk of the county or counties in which such land is located, on or before taxable status date...” (Agriculture and Markets Law, §306(1), prior to amendment by L.1994, c.680, §7). After chapter 680 was enacted, a formal “Commitment of Land to Continued Agricultural Production” no longer served a legal purpose. Chapter 680 provided “mandate relief” by “eliminating the duplicative formal commitment process that farmers whose land is located outside agricultural districts must now follow in order to obtain favorable agricultural value assessments” (Executive Memorandum, McKinney’s Session Laws of 1994 at 3006).

Updated: