Friday, March 24, 2017

Almond Not-Joy

How much do you know about almond trees?

I know they are water-intensive and they come from California. I am uncertain whether they can be used for furniture. I presume they make good firewood.

So what would be a tax angle to this topic?

Growing almond trees.


Which gets us to farm taxation.

Farmers want (usually) to be cash-basis. This means that they report revenue when they receive cash and deduct expenses when they pay cash. It makes for relatively easy accounting, as one can almost get to a tax return from adding together 12 bank statements.

Then there are those issues.

I will give you one:

You buy a tractor-trailer load of seed and fertilizer late in December. Can you deduct it?

The issue here is whether you have incidental or nonincidental supplies. Incidental supplies (think printer paper to an accountant’s office) is deductible when purchased. Nonincidental supplies (think refilling an underground fuel tank of a trucking company) might be deductible only when used and not before.

Spend some big bucks on that fuel and the trucking company is keenly concerned about the answer.

Likewise, spend big bucks on seed and feed and the farmer is also keen on the answer.

Farmers have some nice tax bennies in the Code, and a large one is being able (in many cases) to use the cash basis of accounting. The Code furthermore allows farmers to deduct that year-end seed-and-feed (with some limitations) when purchased.

Nice.

That covers a lot of tax territory for row crops (that is: one growing season).

Let’s go next to orchards. Apples. Pears.

Almonds.

What new issue do we have here?

For one, orchards take years to become productive. There is no crop in the early years.

Is there any difference in the tax treatment?

Yep. It’s a sneaky one, too.

Let us talk about “uniform capitalization.” We have touched on this topic before, but never concerning almond trees. I am pretty sure about that.

The idea here is that the tax Code wants one to capitalize (that is, not immediately deduct) certain costs associated with inventory, self-produced assets any certain other specialized categories.

Almond trees are sort-of, kind-of “self-produced.”

Here is the fearsome tax beast in its canopied jungle home:

26 U.S. Code § 263A - Capitalization and inclusion in inventory costs of certain expenses

            (a) Nondeductibility of certain direct and indirect costs
(1) In general In the case of any property to which this section applies, any costs described in paragraph (2)—
(A) in the case of property which is inventory in the hands of the taxpayer, shall be included in inventory costs, and
(B) in the case of any other property, shall be capitalized.

I would argue that almond trees are “other property” per (a)(1)(B) above.

(2) Allocable costs The costs described in this paragraph with respect to any property are—
(A) the direct costs of such property, and
(B) such property’s proper share of those indirect costs (including taxes) part or all of which are allocable to such property.

Any cost which (but for this subsection) could not be taken into account in computing taxable income for any taxable year shall not be treated as a cost described in this paragraph.

The (B) above worries me. If this applies, then we have to “capitalize” real estate taxes on those trees.

Let’s look further at the definition of “property”:

(b)Property to which section applies Except as otherwise provided in this section, this section shall apply to—
(1) Property produced by taxpayer
Real or tangible personal property produced by the taxpayer.
(2) Property acquired for resale
(A) In general
Real or personal property described in section 1221(a)(1) which is acquired by the taxpayer for resale.

OK, I am getting worried. That (b)(1) sounds a lot like the almond trees. They are being “produced” (I guess) while they are growing and nonproductive.

Is there an out?

Here is something:

            (d)Exception for farming businesses
(1) Section not to apply to certain property
(A)In general This section shall not apply to any of the following which is produced by the taxpayer in a farming business:
(i) Any animal.
(ii) Any plant which has a preproductive period of 2 years or less.

I am zeroing-in on (d)(1)(A)(ii).

What is the growing (“preproductive”) period for almond trees?

Google says more than 2 years.

We are hosed.

We have to capitalize real estate taxes. 
COMMENT: Folks, that means “not deduct.” It gets expensive fast.

You know what else gets pulled-in via the gravitational pull of Sec 263A(a)(2)(B) above?

Interest.

We better not have any bank debt.

Arrggghhh! We have bank debt, meaning we have interest. We are going to have to capitalize that too.

The way this is going the only thing we are going to be able to deduct is the postage for the envelope in which we are sending a big check to the IRS.

We began the discussion by talking about how the cash basis of accounting lets farmers deduct stuff when they pay for them. Then we marched through the Code to find another section that tells us that we cannot deduct what we could deduct only a moment before.
COMMENT: I have heard a common lament over my years in practice: when to stop researching? There is no hard answer, but this case is an example of why tax practitioners fear and ask the question.
Our case this time was Wasco Real Properties I, LLC et al v Commissioner, for the home gamers.

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