Last week, Mark Udall reintroduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to help rural families avoid the pressure to sell, break up or develop their property, keeping farms and ranches intact and in the family when handing it down to the next generation. The American Family Farm and Ranchland Protection Act would help families permanently protect their lands for agricultural and conservation use by changing the estate tax code to incentivize permanently conserving the land under easement.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that permanently limits certain development on the land while allowing farming and ranching to continue. Under current law, if a property is placed in a conservation easement, 40 percent of the value of the land can be exempted from the taxable estate, but the amount is capped at $500,000 -- despite rising land prices. For example, if an estate included a property in a conservation easement worth $2 million, $500,000 could be exempted from the taxable estate, but if the property were worth $1 million, only $400,000 could be exempted. Udall's bill would raise the exclusion rate to 50 percent of the total value and cap it to $5 million, giving families tax relief when they choose to preserve portions of their lands for agricultural and conservation use.
"Colorado's farmers and ranchers are the custodians of our rural and natural heritage, but outdated exemptions in estate tax law are sometimes forcing the loss of valuable agricultural lands," Udall said. "My bill would make a simple fix to our tax code to help make it more consistent and fair, while encouraging more robust conservation of our open spaces. More important, it will encourage families to permanently protect the natural value of their lands through conservation easements so that they can be handed down to the next generation."
The bill has broad local support, including from the American Farm Bureau, U.S. Cattlemen Association, Defenders of Wildlife, Land Trust Alliance, and the Nature Conservancy. Udall introduced similar legislation last year.