Land Use Assessment is very important to farmers in Virginia. Most, if not all, states have some type of tax valuation system that taxes agriculture and forestry acreage at its use value instead of it highest market value. As county governments have looked for more revenue the past few years, Land Use has come up on the agenda at several county board of supervisors meetings for possible changes or elimination. In central Virginia, discussions took place in Cumberland and Fluvanna counties. Thankfully, Farm Bureau led the charge in not only defending Land Use Assessment, but proactively promoting the program as a valuable tool for county governments to balance rural and non-rural needs and finances.
This summer, I attended the two State Land Evaluation Advisory Council (SLEAC) meetings where the new use values were proposed and discussed. After listening to the discussions, it became quite evident to me how valuable the agriculture census data is to the development of the values. While I always knew that this data was incorporated in the calculations and the development of a composite farm; the changing demographics and consolidation in agriculture are making it a little more challenging. More direct marketing such as apples sold as fresh eating apples verses those sold for processing has made the horticulture value determination more difficult. There are other factors incorporated into the values such as soil types and land rental rates; but the yield, acreage, and price data is very important.
I know through my experience and networking with farmers around the state, that they value the numbers reported by SLEAC as the most unbiased and scientifically based numbers; and that they encourage their county commissioners of revenue to use the SLEAC numbers. With that being said, agriculture producers need to be thorough and diligent in the data that they report to USDA National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS). Dave Knopf at USDA-NASS helped me better understand the reports and surveys. The Ag Census is conducted every five years and that is mandatory for farmers to complete. They also send an annual survey that aims to capture yields and acreages on crops and livestock and is not as extensive as the 5 year Ag Census. This survey is voluntary. However, I encourage you to complete it as accurately as possible and return it to USDA because the more data that can be incorporated into the Land Use values, the more integrity those values will have. Mr. Knopf advised that the surveys are mailed in January and the deadline for reporting is typically in May. This time frame should work well since that is around tax time, and you have all of your year-end information together.
As for the values, they didn’t change much from last year. The state average was an increase of $23/acre. There were 21 counties/cities that had a decreased value from the previous year, 57 with an increase and 19 with no change. Pasture has now been included in the calculations for 7 years and is being Olympic averaged, which means the high and low years are thrown out and the other 5 years are averaged. If you are interested in learning more about the Land Use Assessment program; they have a very informative website. It is http://www.usevalue.agecon.vt.edu/ So next time you get a USDA census or survey, just remember that your Land Use value for your county depends on the data that you report. I hope everyone gets some rain soon.
Until next time,