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Home » From the Commissioner

Farmland in Current Use

New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food (June 25, 2011)

We get occasional calls from landowners with questions about the state’s Current Use property taxation program. Current Use Assessment provides a property-tax incentive to all qualifying landowners who agree to maintain their land in an undeveloped condition. This assessment is based on the capacity of the land to produce income in its current use in agriculture or forestry, or as unmanaged open space.

When land in Current Use is converted to a developed use, the Land Use Change Tax (LUCT) is assessed as a penalty, at 10% of fair-market value. Municipalities have the option of voting to allocate a portion or all LUCT proceeds to a conservation fund for the purpose of permanently protecting open lands.

 In 2009 half of the state’s land base was enrolled in Current Use. The percentage by county ranged from a low of 33% in more urbanized Rockingham County to a high of 68% in Sullivan County. Just under half of the total Current Use acreage received the 20% reduction in assessment rate for allowing year-round public access for passive recreation like hunting, fishing, hiking or crosscountry skiing. But the variation between counties is dramatic, with Rockingham at just 22% compared to Coos, where owners of 80% of Current Use acres claimed the 20% recreation adjustment.

Farmland accounted for less than seven percent of total Current Use acreage in the state. But Rockingham County’s farmland share of total Current Use acres was highest, at 13%, while just over 3% of more forested Coos County’s Current Use acres were in agricultural land.

One topic for questions is the minimum parcel size eligible for Current Use. A 10-acre or larger tract of farmland, forestland, unproductive land, or any combination of these undeveloped land types, is eligible for Current Use Assessment. However, exceptions to the 10-acre minimum are made for tracts of undeveloped land of any size if actively devoted to the growing of agricultural or horticultural crops with an annual gross income from the sale of crops of at least $2,500 (see Current Use Board rules Cub 304.02), for certified tree farms of any size, or for tracts of unimproved wetland of any size.

Questions also arise over the use of the Soil Potential Index (SPI) by assessing officials to determine where within the farmland assessment range a property should be assessed. That range, currently $25-425, is based on income over costs of producing the typical New Hampshire forage crops of corn and hay. The SPI is a scientific assessment of the land’s productive capability as determined by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Landowners can obtain the SPI for their property from their County Conservation District office for a minimal fee.

Town assessing officials may use their own discretion to assign a valuation within the farmland assessment range—unless the landowner provides the town with an SPI. Current Use law RSA 79-A:5 I requires selectmen or assessing officials to use the SPI to determine the value of farmland within the ranges established by the Current Use Board when the owner has provided it. In many cases, landowners find that using the SPI results in lower assessment rates for farmland.

The rules of the Current Use Board (Cub 304.04) spell out landowner options for providing either a single SPI for an entire tract of contiguous parcels of farmland, or a separate SPI for each parcel. This rule also specifies how the SPI is used to calculate the assessment rate for a parcel of farmland. For more information visit the Department of Revenue Administration website www.nh.gov/revenue/ or call the Property Appraisal Division 603-271-2687. SPACE, the advocacy organization for Current Use and conservation of working lands and open space, provides information and assistance through newsletters, an informative website at www.nhspace.org, and by phone 603-224-3306.

Lorraine Merrill, Commissioner, New Hampshire Dept of Agriculture, Markets & Food

Column reprinted from: Weekly Market Bulletin, v. 90, No. 17 Wed., 22, 2011

 

 
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