Lawmakers and groups trying to slow the loss of farmland to development have had little success changing the laws on the federal estate tax. But they are off to an early start in 2013 to try again—this time aiming to ride the congressional debate on comprehensive tax reform. Rep. Bishop launches the first related legislation, introducing a bill (H.R. 47) to exempt farms and conservation lands from estate taxes as long as they remain in those uses. Without an exemption, farms are more vulnerable to development because the law requires them to be valued at “highest and best use” for estate tax purposes, Bishop's spokesman tells BNA. The issue isn't new to agriculture; farm and conservation groups have complained for years that in areas with development pressures, a farm family's most realistic option is to sell the property in order to raise enough money to pay the estate tax—and to sell it for continued farming does not raise enough cash to meet the bills. But exempting farms specifically has not gained much traction on Capitol Hill.
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