Chapter 61A - Agricultural / Horticultural Land
The agricultural/horticultural land classification program is designed to encourage the preservation of the commonwealth's valuable farmland and promote active agricultural and horticultural land use. It offers significant property tax benefits to owners willing to make a long-term commitment to farming. In exchange for these benefits, the town is given the right to recover some of the tax benefits afforded the owner and an option to purchase the property should the land be sold or used for any purpose other than to continue raising farm products.
Property must be at least five acres under the same ownership and be "actively devoted" to agricultural or horticultural use in order to qualify for and retain classification. An equal amount of contiguous non-productive land may also qualify.
The land is used for agricultural purposes if it is used primarily and directly to raise or grow the following for sale in the regular course of business:
- Animals include but are not limited to dairy cattle, poultry, sheep, swine, horses, ponies, mules, goats, bees, and fur-bearing animals.
- Fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, and other foods for human consumption, feed for animals, tobacco, flowers, sod, trees, nurseries, and greenhouse products.
- Forest products under a forest management plan approved by the State Forester.
For the land to be considered "actively devoted" to farm use, it must have been farmed for the two fiscal years prior to the year of classification and must have produced a certain amount of sales. The minimum gross sales requirement is $500 for the first five acres of productive land. The amount is increased by $5 for each additional acre of productive land being classified unless the additional acreage is woodland or wetland. In that case, the amount is increased by only $0.50 for each additional acre. The minimum gross sales requirement for land being used to cultivate or raise a farm product, that takes more than one season to produce its first harvest, is satisfied if the land is used in a manner intended to produce those sales within the product development period set by the Farmland Valuation Advisory Commission.
The property owner must submit a written application to the Board of Assessors by October 1 of the year before the start of the fiscal year for which taxation as classified land is sought. The owner must file a separate application by October 1 each for classification of the land to continue into the next fiscal year. The land cannot be classified as agricultural/horticultural for a fiscal year if the owner does not comply with all application deadlines and procedures.
Under Chapter 61A, the owner still pays annual property tax. However, the tax is based on the commercial rate applied to the value in use of the agricultural land, rather than its fair market value. The value in use is established annually by the Farmland Valuation Advisory Commission.