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Volume 10 - Opinions of Counsel SBRPS No. 111

Opinions of Counsel index

Agricultural exemption (scope) (agricultural amusement center); (qualified lands requirement) (corn maze) - Agriculture and Markets Law, §§ 300, 301; Real Property Tax Law, § 481:

Portions of a farm used for marketing farm products or an agricultural amusement center do not qualify for an agricultural assessment. Portions used as a corn maze may qualify provided the corn is eventually harvested and marketed in the same manner as other crops.

Our opinion has been requested concerning the Agricultural Districts Law (Agriculture and Markets Law, Art. 25-AA; Real Property Tax Law, § 481). The facts are that a large farm has been receiving agricultural assessments on its property for a number of years, but, given some changes in use of portions of the property, the assessor questions the continued exemption eligibility of those portions. For instance, a farm market stand has been built and since enlarged for the retailing of farm products, some of which are not produced on the farm in question. A three acre playground with a hay bale maze as well as a pet-feeding area has also been set aside for children. A four acre corn maze has also been constructed. An admission charge (comparable to local prices for motion picture theater tickets) has been established for touring the maze. At the end of the growing season, however, the corn in the maze area is harvested and sold.

The purpose of Article 25-AA is:

to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of [the State’s] agricultural land for production of food and other agricultural products. It is also the declared policy of the state to conserve and protect agricultural lands as valued natural and ecological resources which provide needed open spaces for clean air sheds, as well as for aesthetic purposes (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 300).

Consistent with such avowed legislative intent, “land used in agricultural production,” which is the property that primarily benefits from the program, is defined as:

not less than ten acres of land used as a single operation in the preceding two years for the production for sale of crops, livestock or livestock products of an average gross sales value of ten thousand dollars or more. . . . Land used in agricultural production shall not include land or portions thereof used for processing or retail merchandising of such crops, livestock or livestock products (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 301(4)).

Based on this definition, it seems clear that the farm market retail area and playground do not qualify for the exemption. Indeed, in 3 Op.Counsel SBEA No. 97, we expressed the opinion that land used for recreational purposes, which is not being used for agricultural production, does not qualify for an agricultural assessment.

The maze area itself presents a novel question in that it does support growing crops and at the same time is used for recreational purposes. Certainly, it is most unlikely that the draftsmen of section 300 quoted above ever contemplated an agricultural amusement center. The automobile and pedestrian traffic attendant to public amusement activities seems antithetical to the stated legislative intent. Yet, corn and hay fit within the statutory definition of “crops, livestock and livestock products” (Agriculture and Markets Law, § 301(2)), corn being specifically mentioned as a “field crop” in paragraph (a) thereof. While we are advised by those with expertise in farming that good agricultural practice would not generally welcome the perambulations of tourists through growing crops, if the corn within the maze is indeed harvested and sold, {1} the corn field would appear to qualify for the exemption. The hay, on the other hand, is presumably grown elsewhere and simply arranged in the children’s playground area, an area which, as discussed above, does not appear to qualify for the exemption.

July 25, 2000

{1}  We defer to public health and agricultural officials as to the marketability (and edibility) of such farm products.