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Volume 7 - Opinions of Counsel SBEA No. 107

Opinions of Counsel index

Agricultural exemption (qualified lands requirement) (woodland products - conifer trees) - Agriculture & Markets Law, § 301:

Conifer trees may be considered “woodland products” and land on which such trees are grown is thus eligible for an agricultural value assessment.

Fifty acres of a larger tract of land is planted with approximately 40,000 conifer trees of selected species, which range in age from 5 to 20 years. An unspecified portion of these fifty acres is operated as a “seed orchard”, the primary purpose being to produce cones from which conifer seed is extracted. The extracted seed is then used in connection with a nursery, or sold to other nurseries or to anyone who wishes to purchase it, presumably for the purpose of growing conifer seedlings. We are asked if the land used as a “seed orchard” may be eligible to receive an agricultural value assessment.

Certain “land used in agricultural production” is eligible to receive an agricultural value assessment which may result in a partial exemption from real property taxation (Agriculture and Markets Law, Art. 25AA, §§ 301(3), 305(1)(a), 306(1)). The phrase “land used in agricultural production” is defined in subdivision 3 of section 301 as “Not less than ten acres of land used in the preceding two years for the production for sale of crops, livestock and livestock products of an average gross sales value of ten thousand dollars or more . . .”. “Crops, livestock and livestock products” are divided into six nonexclusive categories in subdivision 4 of section 301.

It seems apparent that conifer cones do not fall within the general category of “crops, livestock and livestock products”. An examination of the sub-categories in subdivision 4 quickly eliminates certain of these, since conifer cones are plainly not field crops (¶ (a)), vegetables (¶ (c)) or livestock and livestock products (¶ (e)). Thus, we need only consider paragraphs (b), (d), (f) of subdivision 4, which include fruits, horticultural specialties, and woodland products, respectively.

First, we believe that a conifer cone is not a “fruit” as that term is used in paragraph (b), although, if broadly defined, “fruit” may include a conifer cone (see, Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, Second Edition, Unabridged (1958) which defines the word “fruit” in several ways, including the following: “In general, any product of fertilization with its modified envelopes or appendages . . .”). We reach this conclusion because the “fruits” listed in paragraph (b) are limited to those varieties that are commonly raised for human consumption.

Paragraph (d) includes “horticultural specialties” and, more specifically, “nursery stock”. Although neither of these terms is defined in the Agricultural Districts Law, the dictionary (see, Webster’s, supra) defines “nursery stock” as “young plants grown in a nursery”. A conifer cone is not a young growing plant and research has failed to disclose any instance in which the term “nursery stock”, as ordinarily used, has been defined to include a conifer cone. Since “words of ordinary import used in a statute are to be given their usual and commonly understood meaning, unless it is plain from the statute that a different meaning is intended” (McKinney’s Cons. Laws of N.Y., Annot., Book 1, Statutes, § 232 (1971)), we conclude that the term “nursery stock” as used in the statute would not include a conifer cone.

Paragraph (f) includes “woodland products” within the definition of “crops, livestock and livestock products”. Since land used to produce conifer cones is apt to be covered with relatively mature trees, it would not be inconsistent to construe the term “woodland products” to include conifer cones. In addition, it appears that the production of conifer seeds for the purpose of extracting seed is generally regarded as a silvicultural activity (see, David Martyn Smith, The Practice of Silviculture, New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1962, pp. 237-311). Accordingly, it is our opinion that a conifer cone may be considered a “woodland product” as that term is used in section 301 of the Agriculture and Markets Law.

July 14, 1981