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February 26, 2003

Farmers Should Act Now to Retain Agricultural Classification; "Don't Throw Out the Green"

TALLAHASSEE - Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, Florida property appraisers and the state Department of Revenue are asking Florida farmers to make sure that they have filled out, signed and sent in important property tax forms that will allow them to retain their agricultural classification in 2003. The forms should be postmarked by March 3, 2003.

An informal questionnaire of property appraisers in early February indicated that most Florida farmers have complied with a revised state law that requires farmers, ranchers, and growers to fill out and send in an official application. However, officials want to make sure that farmers, ranchers, and growers understand that they must reapply to continue to receive the agricultural classification and resulting tax benefits.

"Now is the time for all Florida farmers, ranchers and growers to review their tax files and make sure they have complied with the law," said Jim Zingale, executive director of the Department of Revenue (DOR). "Under state law, farmers are legally entitled to receive these tax benefits. We are asking that farmers, ranchers, and growers make sure they have submitted this important form."

By having their property classified as agricultural for property tax purposes, farmers receive substantial reductions in their property tax bills. Farmers received blank agricultural classification renewal cards in the mail in early to mid-January from their property appraiser.

Under a previous state law, the agricultural classification application operated by "automatic renewal" in most Florida counties, just as the popular Florida homestead exemption currently does. That is, farmers sent in cards only if they were no longer entitled to receive the agricultural classification.

However, under a 2002 law, farmers who don't fill out and send in their green agricultural-classification cards in early 2003 could be throwing away their tax benefit. Under the new law, farmers must actively certify to property appraisers that they are entitled to the agricultural classification in the 2003 tax year. If they fail to fill out and send in the DR-499C application or an application provided to them by their local property appraiser, the applicant may lose the tax benefit they receive from their agricultural classification.

To help inform farmers about this important requirement, Commissioner Bronson, the Florida property appraisers, and the Revenue Department have reached out to Florida farm organizations, national and state agricultural agencies, local government officials, the Florida news media, and business associations that serve the farming community.

The agencies have sent out news releases, posters, flyers, public service announcements, and direct-mail appeals asking farmers, ranchers, and growers to be sure to fill out the DR-499C form and send it to their property appraiser.

An informal DOR survey of property appraisers showed that some farmers had not returned the required forms by mid-February. Most counties showed return rates of 70 percent or better. But in a few counties, only 30-40 percent of previous recipients had sent in the required form by earlier this month.

About 180,000 farmers with about 250,000 Florida farm properties receive agricultural classifications in a typical year. Overall, the agricultural classifications reduced Florida farmers' property tax bills by an estimated $500 million in 2001, DOR said.

If you received an agricultural classification on land used for agriculture last tax year and you have not yet renewed your application, please fill out and send in your agricultural classification application immediately. For copies of the form, please contact your property appraiser. Information on how to contact your property appraiser is available in the Government Listings (the Blue Pages) of your local telephone directory or by pointing your Internet browser to: http://www.myflorida.com/dor/property/appraisers.html.