Best Management Practices & the Ag Classification: A Look at Citrus Farms
Here at Groves Law we get a lot of calls from folks we’ve lovingly named the ‘casual’ farmer. You buy property with a residence on it and just enough land to feel like you should do something with it. You’ve got a green thumb. Or perhaps you’re a bovine whisperer. Either way, you have enough property for a small farming operation, one that just might qualify you for reduced property taxes thanks to Fla. Stat. 193.461 and the ag tax classification (also known as the Greenbelt Exemption).
Unfortunately for the casual farmer, many counties have changed their ways since the Greenbelt Exemption became known as the ‘rent-a-cow’ provision—essentially offering a significant tax break to landowners doing very little at all (i.e., providing grass to cattle someone else tends). These days, counties have created lengthy supplements (see Leon, Martin) and guidelines (Volusia, Manatee) to fight certain bad practices that have caused issue over the years.
Some view these hoops as obstructive, infringing on a property owner’s ability to make money and use their land as they wish. We here at Groves law agree that these safeguards restrict the more ‘casual’ ag operation, but the unfortunate reality of life in Florida is that certain ag industries have been devastated by a lack of standard practices–an approach that has done more harm than good. The citrus industry, as a prime example, helps explain why landowners now face a bit more scrutiny before their bona fide farm will be approved –and we’re here to guide you through it.
Citrus Greening & Protecting the Industry
Citrus greening is now infamous in Florida. The disease has caused billions in economic losses statewide and continues to disrupt national supply chains. Spread by the Asian citrus psyllid, this small insect can carry a bacteria that makes the fruit unsuitable for humans after it feeds on the plant’s leaves and stems.
And it’s not exactly an easy disease to control. The biggest issue, and part of why casual farmers have been discouraged from growing citrus, is that detection of the disease takes a bit of legwork, including constant scouting for yellowing and discoloration, and lab testing. More uncared for citrus means more bugs, establishing in larger areas at a faster rate. In part because of these issues, Florida is currently under quarantine by the USDA, as updated in Federal Order DA-2022-31. That means allowing citrus produced in Florida to leave state lines can be a federal offense.
The importance of this industry to the state and nationally prompted Florida to create Chapter 601, the Citrus Code. It requires all citrus producers who do not sell directly to consumers to become licensed as a Citrus Dealer and hold bond. Chapter 20 of the Florida Administrative Code is the rule counterpart to the Citrus Code, outlining recordkeeping requirements, advertising restrictions, and “methods to determine compliance” (which lists scientific guidance for the state’s inspection of citrus quality).
The Casual Farmer & Best Management Practices
Which brings us back to average homeowner who likes oranges and wants to grow a few for profit. It’s not impossible to get the ag classification for citrus, but the state’s interest in this industry means your local property appraiser wants to see you appropriately licensed and familiar with these standards. Those looking to fly under the radar will likely do more harm than good to the industry as a whole.
To do it right, start by taking a look at the various guidelines promulgated by the Florida Department of Agriculture (FDACS), the University of Florida, and statewide citrus associations.
The Best Management Practices, or BMPs, are put out by FDACS and are primarily related to water control. You can find the Citrus BMP Manual here. Familiarizing yourself with the BMPS allows you to enroll in the FDACS BMP program, proof of which should be filed with your greenbelt application. It’s a great indicator to the property appraiser that you’re a serious commercial operation.
There are also Good Agricultural Practices, or GAPs, which deal with food quality and safety. You can read about them here, put out by the Florida Citrus Packers. UF also has a “Production Guide” specific to citrus greening. Including this information in a business plan submitted with your application will go a long way. Citrus growers that qualify for the Citrus Dealer license should make sure the license is issued before they apply for the Greenbelt Exemption as well.
This article focuses specifically on citrus farms and why it may not be the best idea to purchase an old orange grove in the hopes of getting the Greenbelt Exemption. However, growers of avocados and timber farms also have particular hoops to jump through for these state-protected industries. Keep in mind too that many existing ag operations in Florida likely have BMPs, and you can see the full list here. Regardless of the industry you want to be a part of, it’s always a good idea to incorporate this information into your greenbelt application, and implement these practices as best you can. Even the casual farmer can help the ag economy thrive, and we’re here to help you along the way.
Questions about Citrus Farms? Let’s chat. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a consultation.
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