Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet once again cosponsored a bipartisan bill to help rural families avoid the pressure to sell, break up or develop their property, keeping farms and ranches intact and family-owned when changing hands from one generation to the next. The American Family Farm and Ranchland Protection Act, which was introduced by Senators Mark Udall (D-CO) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) would help families permanently protect their lands for agricultural and conservation use by improving the estate tax code to incentivize permanently conserving the land under easement.
A conservation easement is a voluntary agreement that permanently limits certain development activities 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 exempted 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. The 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.
"Some of Colorado's most important wildlife habitats, watersheds and prairies are held by private farmers and ranchers, and we should make sure we give them the tools they need to protect these natural treasures for generations to come," said Bennet. "This bill would provide estate tax relief for family farms in Colorado and provide necessary incentives to encourage these landowners to protect their lands through conservation easements."
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.