Efforts to protect family farms and ranches from being broken up to pay federal estate taxes gained momentum this week, as a bill to defer estate taxes on farm assets was introduced in the U.S. Senate.

The Family Farm Estate Tax Deferral Act of 2010, introduced in the Senate by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would defer estate taxes on farm and ranch assets, as long as the property remains as a family agricultural operation. The bill would also exclude land enrolled in a qualified conservation easement from the estate tax.

The Feinstein measure is similar to one re-introduced in the House of Representatives in May by Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa.

“These bills keep the ‘family’ in family farms, by assuring that family members can pass their farms and ranches to the next generation,” California Farm Bureau President Paul Wenger said. “No issue hits home more personally for family farmers and ranchers.”

When a death occurs in a farming family, the remaining family members often must re-mortgage the farm or sell some or all of it to pay the estate tax, Wenger said, forcing multi-generation farmers to make life-changing decisions.

“This thoughtful reform of federal tax laws will benefit the great majority of farms and ranches,” he said, pointing out that more than 95 percent of California farms are operated by families, individuals, partnerships or family corporations. “And, allowing farms and ranches to stay in family ownership assures the continuity of land stewardship gained through hard-earned knowledge about the land’s soil, water, wildlife habitat and other resources.”

Wenger thanked Sen. Feinstein and Rep. Thompson for their commitment to estate-tax reform. The bills are supported by more than 60 state, regional and national farm and environmental organizations.

“This is a crucial year for estate tax reform,” Wenger said. “If Congress fails to act, estate-tax rates will return to their pre-2001 levels next year. That will cripple farmers’ ability to pass a farm or ranch to the next generation. It’s urgent to solve this problem and we appreciate how congressional leaders from California have taken the lead.”

Source: California Farm Bureau Federation