5.   Soil and Water Conservation Expenses

Introduction

If you are in the business of farming, you can choose to deduct certain expenses for:

  • Soil or water conservation,

  • Prevention of erosion of land used in farming, or

  • Endangered species recovery.

Otherwise, these are capital expenses that must be added to the basis of the land. (See chapter 6 for information on determining basis.) Conservation expenses for land in a foreign country do not qualify for this special treatment.

The deduction for conservation expenses cannot be more than 25% of your gross income from farming. See 25% Limit on Deduction , later.

Although some expenses are not deductible as soil and water conservation expenses, they may be deductible as ordinary and necessary farm expenses. These include interest and taxes, the cost of periodically clearing brush from productive land, the regular removal of sediment from a drainage ditch, and expenses paid or incurred primarily to produce an agricultural crop that may also conserve soil.

You must include in income most government payments for approved conservation practices. However, you can exclude some payments you receive under certain cost-sharing conservation programs. For more information, see Agricultural Program Payments in chapter 3.

To get the full deduction to which you are entitled, you should maintain your records to clearly distinguish between your ordinary and necessary farm business expenses and your soil and water conservation expenses.

Topics - This chapter discusses:

  • Business of farming

  • Plan certification

  • Conservation expenses

  • Assessment by conservation district

  • 25% limit on deduction

  • When to deduct or capitalize

  • Sale of a farm

Business of Farming

For purposes of soil and water conservation expenses, you are in the business of farming if you cultivate, operate, or manage a farm for profit, either as an owner or a tenant. You are not in the business of farming if you cultivate or operate a farm for recreation or pleasure, rather than for profit. You are not farming if you are engaged only in forestry or the growing of timber.

Farm defined.   A farm includes livestock, dairy, poultry, fish, fruit, and truck farms. It also includes plantations, ranches, ranges, and orchards. A fish farm is an area where fish and other marine animals are grown or raised and artificially fed, protected, etc. It does not include an area where they are merely caught or harvested. A plant nursery is a farm for purposes of deducting soil and water conservation expenses.

Farm rental.   If you own a farm and receive farm rental payments based on farm production, either in cash or crop shares, you are in the business of farming. If you get cash rental for a farm you own that is not used in farm production, you cannot deduct soil and water conservation expenses for that farm.

  If you receive a fixed rental payment that is not based on farm production, you are in the business of farming only if you materially participate in operating or managing the farm.

Example.

You own a farm in Iowa and live in California. You rent the farm for $175 in cash per acre and do not materially participate in producing or managing production of the crops grown on the farm. You cannot deduct your soil conservation expenses for this farm. You must capitalize the expenses and add them to the basis of the land. 

  For more information, see Material participation for landlords under Landlord Participation in Farming in chapter 12.

Plan Certification

You can deduct soil and water conservation expenses only if they are consistent with a plan approved by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) of the Department of Agriculture. If no such plan exists, the expenses must be consistent with a soil conservation plan of a comparable state agency. Keep a copy of the plan with your books and records to support your deductions.

Conservation plan.   A conservation plan includes the farming conservation practices approved for the area where your farmland is located. There are three types of approved plans.
  • NRCS individual site plans. These plans are issued individually to farmers who request assistance from NRCS to develop a conservation plan designed specifically for their farmland.

  • NRCS county plans. These plans include a listing of farm conservation practices approved for the county where the farmland is located. You can deduct expenses for conservation practices not included on the NRCS county plans only if the practice is a part of an individual site plan.

  • Comparable state agency plans. These plans are approved by state agencies and can be approved individual site plans or county plans.

  A list of NRCS conservation programs is available at www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs. Individual site plans can be obtained from NRCS offices and the comparable state agencies.

Conservation Expenses

You can deduct conservation expenses only for land you or your tenant are using, or have used in the past, for farming. These expenses include, but are not limited to, the following.

  1. The treatment or movement of earth, such as:

    1. Leveling,

    2. Conditioning,

    3. Grading,

    4. Terracing,

    5. Contour furrowing, and

    6. Restoration of soil fertility.

  2. The construction, control, and protection of:

    1. Diversion channels,

    2. Drainage ditches,

    3. Irrigation ditches,

    4. Earthen dams, and

    5. Watercourses, outlets, and ponds.

  3. The eradication of brush.

  4. The planting of windbreaks.

You cannot deduct expenses to drain or fill wetlands, or to prepare land for center pivot irrigation systems, as soil and water conservation expenses. These expenses are added to the basis of the land.

If you choose to deduct soil and water conservation expenses, you cannot exclude from gross income any cost-sharing payments you receive for those expenses. See chapter 3 for information about payments eligible for the cost-sharing exclusion.

New farm or farmland.   If you acquire a new farm or new farmland from someone who was using it in farming immediately before you acquired the land, soil and water conservation expenses you incur on it will be treated as made on land used in farming at the time the expenses were paid or incurred. You can deduct soil and water conservation expenses for this land if your use of it is substantially a continuation of its use in farming. The new farming activity does not have to be the same as the old farming activity. For example, if you buy land that was used for grazing cattle and then prepare it for use as an apple orchard, you can deduct your conservation expenses.

Land not used for farming.   If your conservation expenses benefit both land that does not qualify as land used for farming and land that does qualify, you must allocate the expenses between the two types of land. For example, if the expenses benefit 200 acres of your land, but only 120 acres of this land are used for farming, then you can deduct 60% (120 ÷ 200) of the expenses. You can use another method to allocate these expenses if you can clearly show that your method is more reasonable.

Depreciable conservation assets.   You generally cannot deduct your expenses for depreciable conservation assets. However, you can deduct certain amounts you pay or incur for an assessment for depreciable property that a soil and water conservation or drainage district levies against your farm. See Assessment for Depreciable Property , later.

  You must capitalize expenses to buy, build, install, or improve depreciable structures or facilities. These expenses include those for materials, supplies, wages, fuel, hauling, and moving dirt when making structures such as tanks, reservoirs, pipes, culverts, canals, dams, wells, or pumps composed of masonry, concrete, tile, metal, or wood. You recover your capital investment through annual allowances for depreciation.

  You can deduct soil and water conservation expenses for nondepreciable earthen items. Nondepreciable earthen items include certain dams, ponds, and terraces described under Property Having a Determinable Useful Life in chapter 7.

Water well.   You cannot deduct the cost of drilling a water well for irrigation and other agricultural purposes as a soil and water conservation expense. It is a capital expense. You recover your cost through depreciation. You also must capitalize your cost for drilling a test hole. If the test hole produces no water and you continue drilling, the cost of the test hole is added to the cost of the producing well. You can recover the total cost through depreciation deductions.

  If a test hole, dry hole, or dried-up well (resulting from prolonged lack of rain, for instance) is abandoned, you can deduct your unrecovered cost in the year of abandonment. Abandonment means that all economic benefits from the well are terminated. For example, filling or sealing a well excavation or casing so that all economic benefits from the well are terminated constitutes an abandonment.

Endangered species recovery expenses.   If you are in the business of farming and meet other specific requirements, you can choose to deduct the conservation expenses discussed earlier as endangered species recovery expenses. Otherwise, these are capital expenses that must be added to the basis of the land.

  The expenses must be paid or incurred for the purpose of achieving site-specific management actions recommended in a recovery plan approved under section 4(f) of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. See Internal Revenue Code section 175 for more information.

Assessment by Conservation District

In some localities, a soil or water conservation or drainage district incurs expenses for soil or water conservation and levies an assessment against the farmers who benefit from the expenses. You can deduct as a conservation expense amounts you pay or incur for the part of an assessment that:

  • Covers expenses you could deduct if you had paid them directly, or

  • Covers expenses for depreciable property used in the district's business.

Assessment for Depreciable Property

You generally can deduct as a conservation expense amounts you pay or incur for the part of a conservation or drainage district assessment that covers expenses for depreciable property. This includes items such as pumps, locks, concrete structures (including dams and weir gates), draglines, and similar equipment. The depreciable property must be used in the district's soil and water conservation activities. However, the following limits apply to these assessments.

  • The total assessment limit.

  • The yearly assessment limit.

After you apply these limits, the amount you can deduct is added to your other conservation expenses for the year. The total for these expenses is then subject to the 25% of gross income from farming limit on the deduction, discussed later. See Table 5-1 for a brief summary of these limits.

Table 5-1. Limits on Deducting an Assessment by a Conservation District for Depreciable Property

Total Limit on Deduction for Assessment for Depreciable Property Yearly Limit on Deduction for Assessment for Depreciable Property Yearly Limit for All Conservation Expenses
10% of: $500 + 10% of: 25% of:
Total assessment against all members of the district for the property. Your deductible share of the cost to the district for the property. Your gross income from farming.
  • No one taxpayer can deduct more than 10% of the total assessment.

  • Any amount over 10% is a capital expense and is added to the basis of your land.

  • If an assessment is paid in installments, each payment must be prorated between the conservation expense and the capital expense.

  • If the amount you pay or incur for any year is more than the limit, you can deduct for that year only 10% of your deductible share of the cost.

  • You can deduct the remainder in equal amounts over the next 9 tax years.

  • Limit for all conservation expenses, including assessments for depreciable property.

  • Amounts greater than 25% can be carried to the following year and added to that year's expenses. The total is then subject to the 25% of gross income from farming limit in that year.

To ensure your deduction is within the deduction limits, keep records to show the following.

  • The total assessment against all members of the district for the depreciable property.

  • Your deductible share of the cost to the district for the depreciable property.

  • Your gross income from farming.

Total assessment limit.   You cannot deduct more than 10% of the total amount assessed to all members of the conservation or drainage district for the depreciable property. This applies whether you pay the assessment in one payment or in installments. If your assessment is more than 10% of the total amount assessed, both the following rules apply.
  • The amount over 10% is a capital expense and is added to the basis of your land.

  • If the assessment is paid in installments, each payment must be prorated between the conservation expense and the capital expense.

Yearly assessment limit.   The maximum amount you can deduct in any one year is the total of 10% of your deductible share of the cost as explained earlier, plus $500. If the amount you pay or incur is equal to or less than the maximum amount, you can deduct it in the year it is paid or incurred. If the amount you pay or incur is more, you can deduct in that year only 10% of your deductible share of the cost. You can deduct the remainder in equal amounts over the next 9 tax years. Your total conservation expense deduction for each year is also subject to the 25% of gross income from farming limit on the deduction, discussed later.

Example 1.

This year, the soil conservation district levies and you pay an assessment of $2,400 against your farm. Of the assessment, $1,500 is for digging drainage ditches. You can deduct this part as a soil or conservation expense as if you had paid it directly. The remaining $900 is for depreciable equipment to be used in the district's irrigation activities. The total amount assessed by the district against all its members for the depreciable equipment is $7,000.

The total amount you can deduct for the depreciable equipment is limited to 10% of the total amount assessed by the district against all its members for depreciable equipment, or $700. The $200 excess ($900 − $700) is a capital expense you must add to the basis of your farm.

To figure the maximum amount you can deduct for the depreciable equipment this year, multiply your deductible share of the total assessment ($700) by 10%. Add $500 to the result for a total of $570. Your deductible share, $700, is greater than the maximum amount deductible in one year, so you can deduct only $70 of the amount you paid or incurred for depreciable property this year (10% of $700). You can deduct the balance at the rate of $70 a year over the next 9 years.

You add $70 to the $1,500 portion of the assessment for drainage ditches. You can deduct $1,570 of the $2,400 assessment as a soil and water conservation expense this year, subject to the 25% of gross income from farming limit on the deduction, discussed later.

Example 2.

Assume the same facts in Example 1 except that $1,850 of the $2,400 assessment is for digging drainage ditches and $550 is for depreciable equipment. The total amount assessed by the district against all its members for depreciable equipment is $5,500. The total amount you can deduct for the depreciable equipment is limited to 10% of this amount, or $550.

The maximum amount you can deduct this year for the depreciable equipment is $555 (10% of your deductible share of the total assessment, $55, plus $500). Since your deductible share is less than the maximum amount deductible in one year, you can deduct the entire $550 this year. You can deduct the entire assessment, $2,400, as a soil and water conservation expense this year, subject to the 25% of gross income from farming limit on the deduction, discussed below.

Sale or other disposal of land during 9-year period.   If you dispose of the land during the 9-year period for deducting conservation expenses subject to the yearly limit, any amounts you have not yet deducted because of this limit are added to the basis of the property.

Death of farmer during 9-year period.   If a farmer dies during the 9-year period, any remaining amounts not yet deducted are deducted in the year of death.

25% Limit on Deduction

The total deduction for conservation expenses in any tax year is limited to 25% of your gross income from farming for the year.

Gross income from farming.   Gross income from farming is the income you derive in the business of farming from the production of crops, fish, fruits, other agricultural products, or livestock. Gains from sales of draft, breeding, or dairy livestock are included. Gains from sales of assets such as farm machinery, or from the disposition of land, are not included.

Carryover of deduction.   If your deductible conservation expenses in any year are more than 25% of your gross income from farming for that year, you can carry the unused deduction over to later years. However, the deduction in any later year is limited to 25% of the gross income from farming for that year as well.

Example.

In 2013, you have gross income of $32,000 from two farms. During the year, you incurred $10,000 of deductible soil and water conservation expenses for one of the farms. However, your deduction is limited to 25% of $32,000, or $8,000. The $2,000 excess ($10,000 − $8,000) is carried over to 2014 and added to deductible soil and water conservation expenses made in that year. The total of the 2013 carryover plus 2014 expenses is deductible in 2014, subject to the limit of 25% of your gross income from farming in 2014. Any expenses over the limit in that year are carried to 2015 and later years.

Net operating loss.   The deduction for soil and water conservation expenses, after applying the 25% limit, is included when figuring a net operating loss (NOL) for the year. If the NOL is carried to another year, the soil and water conservation deduction included in the NOL is not subject to the 25% limit in the year to which it is carried.

When to Deduct or Capitalize

If you choose to deduct soil and water conservation expenses, you must deduct the total allowable amount on your tax return for the first year you pay or incur these expenses. If you do not choose to deduct the expenses, you must capitalize them.

Change of method.   If you want to change your method for the treatment of soil and water conservation expenses, or you want to treat the expenses for a particular project or a single farm in a different manner, you must get the approval of the IRS. To get this approval, submit a written request by the due date of your return for the first tax year you want the new method to apply. You or your authorized representative must sign the request.

  The request must include the following information.
  • Your name and address.

  • The first tax year the method or change of method is to apply.

  • Whether the method or change of method applies to all your soil and water conservation expenses or only to those for a particular project or farm. If the method or change of method does not apply to all your expenses, identify the project or farm to which the expenses apply.

  • The total expenses you paid or incurred in the first tax year the method or change of method is to apply.

  • A statement that you will account separately in your books for the expenses to which this method or change of method relates.

Send your request to the following  
address.

 
Department of the Treasury 
Internal Revenue Service Center 
Cincinnati, OH 45999

 
For more information, see Change in  
Accounting Method
in chapter 2.

Sale of a Farm

If you sell your farm, you cannot adjust the basis of the land at the time of the sale for any unused carryover of soil and water conservation expenses (except for deductions of assessments for depreciable property, discussed earlier). However, if you acquire another farm and return to the business of farming, you can start taking deductions again for the unused carryovers.

Gain on sale of farmland.   If you held the land 5 years or less before you sold it, gain on the sale of the land is treated as ordinary income up to the amount you previously deducted for soil and water conservation expenses. If you held the land less than 10 but more than 5 years, the gain is treated as ordinary income up to a specified percentage of the previous deductions. See Section 1252 property under Other Gains in chapter 9.


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