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How silvopasture practices can serve you

Kelli Boylen for Progressive Forage Published on 01 June 2017
Grazing cattle

Silvopasture practices may require a little research, but they could help you get a break on your property taxes.

Diane Mayerfeld of University of Wisconsin Extension and the Center for Integrated Agricultural Systems, explains, “Most states tax agricultural land at a reduced rate, some states tax forestland at a reduced rate and some states offer tax breaks for forestland that is under a special management program.

Because land in silvopasture is both agricultural land and managed as forest, tax assessors may not know how to classify it and may put it into whatever category is taxed at the higher rate. If landowners take the time to work with their local tax assessors, they may find that in some cases, land in silvopasture could qualify for a more favorable classification or assessment.”

Silvopasturing is defined as “a system that intentionally integrates trees, livestock and forage production on the same site and manages for all three parts of the system.” Silvopastures (“silvo” is Latin for forest) could be trees planted in open pasture, oak savannas or even thinning existing woods and planting forages. “It is not simply cows in woods,” she says.

Mayerfeld says benefits of silvopasturing can include supplemental forages, brush management, increasing returns by growing trees and raising livestock in the same space, shade and shelter for animals, and in some cases, you may be able to get a tax break.

According to USDA National Agroforestry Center, “Well-managed silvopastures employ agronomic principles, typically including introduced or native pasture grasses, fertilization and nitrogen-fixing legumes, and rotational grazing systems that employ short grazing periods which maximize vegetative plant growth and harvest.”

Doing a little research online might be a good place to start.

Mayerfeld says if a landowner does an internet search for “[state name] property tax classification,” they will likely find a document or web page that lists the property tax classifications. “Some states will provide classifications for both real and personal property; in that case, real property refers to land and buildings, and personal property refers to significant other property, such as vehicles, machinery, etc.,” she says.

Reviewing your notice of assessment is also a good idea, says Jef Muelver, owner of Summit Assessments, located in Wisconsin. And if you don’t know the breakdown of your land classifications, ask.

Mayerfeld agrees. “Before calling an assessor, the landowner should figure out how the property as a whole, and the land in silvopasture, is currently classified and assessed. In most cases, it would be helpful to know how many acres are in silvopasture, but before collecting a lot of information about other details, the landowner should probably ask the assessor what information is used when determining how to classify the property.”

“Anyone with questions or concerns about silvopasture or ag land assessment should talk with your local assessor. He or she will be making the decision on the classification of those parcels, and information from the landowner is valuable in that process,” Muelver says.

He adds, “We [assessors] rely heavily on input from the land and livestock owners. It sometimes takes contact and conversation to make classifications correctly.”

In order to be classified as agricultural, the land usually has to be used for the production of animals or animal products and needs to be an income generator for the landowner. Hobby farms usually do not qualify.

Many state Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offices list silvopasture as a practice that provides program payment for eligible producers. Muelver says working with your local NRCS office may be to your advantage.

“There are programs in which parcels can be enrolled that may predetermine its eligibility for use-value assessment in Wisconsin and some other states. There are other conservation programs that may exclude parcels from the benefit of use-value assessment.

A legitimate farming operation will have documentation that clearly shows how the operation functions. That documentation is both the farmer’s and the assessor’s friend in helping to determine its correct classification,” he says.

Although silvopastures are very management-intensive, the benefits can be many. The Agroforestry Center at University of Missouri says the payback can include shade for livestock, shorter timber rotations because of competition control and forage fertilization, greater availability of cool-season forage plants throughout the summer, greater plant uptake efficiencies and diversification of income.

If it is not done properly, it can result in soil erosion and compaction, spread of nuisance plants and damage to trees.

If you are considering silvopasture, talking with a forester is often a good idea.  end mark

PHOTO: Landowners could receive many benefits from silvopasture practices, including brush management, shade and shelter for animals, and tax benefits. Photo by Lynn Jaynes.

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer from Waterville, Iowa