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“U-Pick” or Don’t — Navigating Florida’s Growing Agritourism Trend

Florida’s commercial economy has shifted focus in recent years to unite its two largest industries, tourism and agriculture. Agritourism, otherwise known as ecotourism, promotes low impact travel across Florida and has come to enjoy certain protections and incentives (a limited liability statute and tax exemptions, to name a few). Explaining U- Pick Farms A popular agritourism activity is a “u-pick” farm, where private landowners or commercial retailers invite the public to, as its name suggests, grab whatever they have to offer, whether blueberries, rosemary or sunflowers.  While developing a “u-pick” farm can be a quick revenue boost with long term sustainability, where you are and what you want to do can present a unique set of challenges. For example, while larger family farms already have the know-how to easily develop crop and transition parts of the land to “u-pick” spaces, opening your home up to the public may actually qualify a “nuisance” (despite Florida’s Right to Farm Act), and farmers can be forced to pay their neighbors when parking or waste overflow issues develop. Zoning Matters for Your U-Pick Moreover, while local authorities are limited in how much they can restrict agrotourism activities where property is zoned agricultural (per Florida’s agritourism statute), “substantial offsite impact” can be regulated by county and city ordinances. Plus, in order to enjoy the limited liability statute noted above, the property must be zoned agricultural and maintain very specific signage wherever customers are. It also goes without saying (but we will), that local zoning and health authorities have a say in parking and ADA compliance, handwash sinks and public restrooms. Which is why commercial retailers or restaurants with those build-outs already in place might consider adding a “u-pick” element to their existing space. Particularly since “u-pick” activities are likely considered lower impact than what they’re currently zoned for, rendering a variance unnecessary. Still, allowing customers to pick their own flowers, herbs or produce in a brewery or home goods store isn’t exactly written into the land use plan. Moreover, some cities have peculiar ordinances regulating “gardens” and the like in commercial spaces.  Still, in quickly urbanizing communities with a focus on low-impact development, agriculturally zoned land may abut commercial districts where tourists are already flocking (check-out all these AR-zoned areas near downtown Mount Dora here) and present a lucrative ecotourism opportunity just off the beaten path. Beginners Beware “Beginner” farmers beware, however–if you’re looking to make some cash quick, be sure to skip the berries or fruit trees and opt for some pumpkins, herbs or annual flowers (hand-picked bouquet, anyone?). Moreover, give some thought to the extra clean-up and care you’ll need to devote to your brood with all that pulling and picking. Investing in some friendly signage to let folks know what to pull and when may save you a lot of heartache. Want to Start A U-Pick Farm? Ultimately, no matter where you are in Florida, state and local authorities (and potentially the Feds), will be involved. But as Florida continues to embrace its producers and these direct to consumer movements, it may be worth the effort, wherever your space and however “u-pick.”  Consulting an agribusiness attorney can help you figure out how to comply with state and local reuglations. Questions about your U-Pick farm? Let’s chat. Contact us at contact@groveslaw.ag to schedule a consultation.

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Go “Green” and Save Some Green: Florida’s Agricultural Exemption

In the late 1950s, when suburbia began upending the value of farm land and agribusiness, the State of Florida passed the “Greenbelt” Law, Fla. Stat. 193.461, the answer to a concerted effort to encourage commercial agriculture. A “use-value” exemption, the Greenbelt Law assessed a cattle ranch at the value of its current use, far below its development potential as a condominium or commercial plaza. Property owners have long taken advantage of the Greenbelt law, infamously through “rent-a-cow” type-programs where ill-cared for livestock or the like were placed on the property to significantly reduce tax liability at the initial stages of massive redevelopment. As farm-to-table and other direct-to-consumer movements continue to gain popularity in Florida, however, landowners and lessees should understand how to take advantage of this significant tax break as the legislature intended. Taking Advantage of Florida’s Greenbelt Law It is not enough to buy farm land. In fact, the property doesn’t even have to be zoned for agricultural use. It comes down to whether the local property appraiser thinks the land qualifies for a “bona fide agriculture purpose” under the non-exhaustive factors of Fla. Stat. 193.461(b) (considering, for example, the size of the space being used for agriculture or whether accepted farming practices are in place).  Essentially, is the agricultural use the “most significant activity” and not a “sham or deception.” Hausman v. Rudkin, 268 So. 2d 407, 409 (Fla. 4th DCA 1972). And while the Florida Supreme Court has made clear that the agricultural use does not have to be commercially profitable, there still has to be a legitimate effort to gain income. Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368 (Fla. 1977). In other words, while legitimate agricultural activity needs to take place, parts of the property can be more retailer-focused. Misuse of Florida’s Agricultural Exemption That being said, big developers have maneuvered this exemption well and that’s unlikely to change. Still, some local governments have attempted to crack down on misuse of this law with, you guessed it, county to county variations in the application process. Some counties, for instance, require proof of ownership if a company owns the land, or certain agriculture certificates if the applicant purports to start a nursery or orchard, or raise livestock or horses.  Proving You Qualify For Florida’s Agricultural Tax Exemption Regardless of where you are, the process begins with Florida Department of Revenue form DR-482. March 1st is the application deadline, and your property must already have a “bona fide agriculture purpose” as of January 1st the year you apply (or face another set of paperwork).  Overall, it’s the applicant’s burden to show a legitimate agricultural use. And exactly what qualifies for that continues to change shape (grapes, birds, now weddings, oh my!). But for entrepreneurs entering a consumer market increasingly willing to pay the extra dollar for local product, why not save one while you’re at it? Need help proving you have a legitimate agricultural use? Let’s chat. Contact us to schedule a consultation.

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