Tax Consequences to Drought

photo of paper and calculatorIt's been a few years since we've had to deal with the drought related tax laws, but with the recent drought conditions across the Midwest, it's a good time to review them.

Livestock Deferrals

One Year Deferral

A one-year deferral is available for all types of livestock (draft, dairy breeding & feeding) if you qualify for the following:

  • You are a cash basis farmer or rancher
  • Your normal business practice would be to sell the livestock in the following year
  • The livestock was sold due to drought conditions. (see the What Constitutes a Drought section below)

What's your "normal business practice"? If you "normally" sell your calf crop in January, but are forced to sell at weaning in 2012, you can elect to recognize the gain on your 2013 tax return. This is an election that must be filed with your 2012 tax return and a calculation to determine your normal sale amount based on a three year average must be made.

Four Year Deferral

Draft, Dairy & Breeding livestock have a second option. If you have to sell a draft, dairy or breeding animal, you have 4 years to replace the animal and defer the gain. The gain from the sale of the animal will reduce the basis of the replacement animal, much like trading a piece of equipment. If the drought continues beyond 4 years, you can extend the replacement period to one year after the drought ends.

You also have the option, after 4 years to replace the animals with other assets that can be used in your farming business, if it is still not feasible to replace the animals. Real property (specifically land) is excluded from this option, but you can use the proceeds of the livestock sale to purchase a tractor and defer the gain on the sale of the livestock. You must wait until the end of the four year period to use this option. Until that time you can only replace livestock with livestock of the same purpose. For example, you can only replace beef with beef and dairy with dairy.

Much like the one year deferral, you must determine the normal number of animals you would have sold in the year. For example, if you normally cull 10 cows per year and due to the drought, you have sold 25, you can defer the proceeds from the extra 15.

What Constitutes a Drought?

You must be able to prove that the drought did in fact cause the livestock to be sold. If your county or one that borders you has been declared a Federal Disaster Area, you have sufficient cause to use the elections. Other things to use as proof are the release of CRP for grazing or haying.

Other Considerations

Before you decide to go ahead with the deferral, there are several things you should consider. It may not be in your best interest to use either of these elections in 2012.

  1. If you don't intend on replacing the breeding animals, or fail to get them replaced, the gain must be recognized in the year of sale. This means if you don't replace them, you will have to amend your 2012 tax return to report the income. If your tax plan for the year does not include that income, you may end up paying a higher rate than if you had planned to include the income in the first place.
  2. Raised breeding livestock animals are subject to preferred capital gains rates of 0% or 15% at this time, depending on your regular income tax bracket. If you defer the income and replace them within the four year period, your basis in the new animals becomes significantly lower. This basis is the amount that you would be able to depreciate, which offsets self-employment as well as income taxes.

    For example: You have 25 head of raised cows to sell at $1,200 per head. Since they are raised, they have no basis and a gain of $30,000 would be realized. If you recognize that gain in 2012, your tax would be $1,500 (assuming 0% Federal and 5% State).

    If you then purchased animals back in 2 years for the same $30,000, you would have depreciation spread over 5 years (or be eligible for Section 179 Expense Election) that would offset $30,000 of income and self-employment taxes of $10,590 (assuming 15% Federal Income tax, 5% State Income Tax and 15.3% Self-Employment Taxes).

    By recognizing the gain today and having the basis in the future, you would save $9,090 in taxes over the time period.

    If instead of recognizing the gain, you take the election to defer the $30,000 gain, you pay no tax in 2012. You also will have $0 basis (and therefore $0 depreciation) when you replace the animals since you will take the $30,000 purchase price minus the $30,000 gain deferred.
  3. The drought may have a negative effect on all your income in 2012 and the gain on the sale of the livestock may be needed this year to avoid showing a loss on the tax return.

What about Crops?

Crop Insurance due to any conditions works in a similar manner to the one-year deferral for livestock. If you are a cash basis farmer, normally sell your crop in the following year, and receive payment for a crop loss, you may elect to defer that income to the following year.

There are a few caution areas:

  • You must be careful with crop insurance payments from revenue loss as the tax law is very specific that only losses from crop damage can be deferred into the year following production.
  • If crop insurance proceeds are received in the year following production, they cannot be deferred another year. For example, if you received the crop insurance payment in January of 2013 for 2012 crop damage, you cannot elect to tax it in 2014.
  • The crop insurance election is an all or none deal. You must elect to defer all eligible proceeds or none, from all crops grown in that year. Even if your normal business practice is to sell your beans in the fall and your corn the following year, if you received crop insurance for both crops, it has to be treated the same way.


As in any tax situation, each case is unique and the circumstances surrounding each year is unique. The important thing to remember is that options exist and that the election doesn't have to be made until the return is filed. Please contact your tax preparer to discuss how the elections will affect your tax return.

Tina Barrett
Executive Director
Nebraska Farm Business, Inc.
(402) 464-6324 - Phone - Email