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The Florida Bar
www.floridabar.org
The Florida Bar Journal
February, 2012 Volume 86, No. 2
A Horse Is a Horse (of Course, of Course) But Is It Agriculture? Whether Ranches Dedicated to Abused, Abandoned, and Aging Horses Qualify for “Agricultural” Classifications Under Florida’s Greenbelt Law

by Michael T. Olexa, Joshua A. Cossey, Katherine Smallwood, and Zach Broome

Page 10

In light of recent special sessions, hiring freezes, lagging real estate markets, and numerous articles on greenbelt abuse,1 local governments need a legal adaptation to help ease the tensions between property owners and property appraisers. Despite tensions over property values, Florida’s population continues to grow steadily, including Florida’s equestrian community. Florida boasts the third largest horse population in the country, surpassed only by California and Texas.2 With an economic impact on gross domestic product of over 6.5 billion dollars, and generating over 72,000 jobs, the Florida equestrian industry is a significant agricultural commodity.3

Florida’s equestrian community is currently experiencing an influx of horse owners, equestrian facilities, and popular demand, all of which generate opposition with those counties that refuse to recognize equestrian property uses as “agricultural.” Subject to the restrictions set forth in F.S. §193.461, otherwise known as the “Greenbelt Law,” only property used primarily for bona fide agricultural purposes shall be classified “agricultural.”4 This article addresses whether the use of property to board, train, and graze abused, abandoned, and aging horses, referred to throughout this paper as “rescue” horses, should fall under the Greenbelt Law’s “agricultural” tax classification. Several points support rescue ranches’ classification as “agricultural.” The use of property for rescue horse ranches is consistent with the purpose of the Greenbelt Law, and the rescue horse ranches provide other benefits and relief to Florida’s communities. While acknowledging the quantitative and qualitative variations in each county’s standards and application process, emphasis is given to substantive criteria and legal precedence of the Greenbelt Law, as applied to rescue horse ranches.5

Historical Background of the Florida Greenbelt Law
In 1959, the Florida Legislature created a separate ad valorem tax classification for agricultural land.6 Effectively converting tax assessments from the traditional fair market appraisals to income valuation derived from the use of the land, the change in property tax assessments was intended to protect and foster the agricultural uses of property.7 Without these agricultural assessments, the traditional fair market value of the land would overwhelm the incentive to continue any agricultural production of critical commodities, such as timber or staple crops.8 If landowners’ taxes are assessed based on a property’s highest and best use, then it makes economic sense for them to convert rural lands into more intensive and profitable uses. Given the economic and environmental benefits of agriculture, the legislature saw the need to moderate tax assessments for agricultural use. As a result, the Greenbelt Law was instituted with the intent of increasing the economic feasibility of agricultural operations through a decrease in property tax assessments.9

The Legislative Intent of the Greenbelt Law Supports the Inclusion of Rescue Ranches
Amended over nine times in the last decade, the Greenbelt Law is one of the most contested statutes of recent time.10 Determining whether the Greenbelt Law applies to rescue horse ranches requires consideration of the intent behind the statute as dictated by the legislature and clarified by Florida courts. The Greenbelt Law manifests the state government’s declared policy for agriculture to remain a viable component of Florida’s economy.11 The 67 counties, as divisions of the state, are required to implement statutory provisions pursuant to the intent of the legislature, as enforced by the courts.12 A strong correlation exists between the intended goals of the Greenbelt Law and the purpose and effects of rescue horse ranches. As one Florida court put it, “The reduced taxation for farmland is based on a legislative determination that agriculture cannot reasonably be expected to withstand the tax burden of the highest and best use to which such land might be put.”13 This principle clearly applies to rescue ranches. These ranches, working to rescue unwanted horses, cannot reasonably be expected to withstand the tax burden placed on the land unless they are given relief under the Greenbelt Law. Rescue ranches must shoulder the cost of food, shelter, and care for horses which lack most of the traditional markers of profit potential, yet they may not receive the preferential tax status given to farms raising, boarding, or breeding wealth-producing horses.

The legislature has stated that preserving agriculture within Florida helps to further several important goals including 1) preserving the landscape and environmental resources of the state; 2) contributing to the increase of tourism; and 3) furthering the economic self-sufficiency of the people of Florida.14 Including rescue horse ranches under the Greenbelt Law furthers these goals because rescue horse ranches produce the same benefits as horse breeding ranches. First, allowing more ranches to survive and preventing more intense development in Florida’s scenic rural lands clearly preserves the landscape and environmental resources of the state. Second, protection for rescue ranches could lead to more tourism for the state. Florida is already the third most populous equine state in the nation. Cultivating the growth and protection of the horse community by showing support for rescue ranches can help increase the state’s prestige in the horse-loving community at large, and such an improvement in reputation could help lead to increased horse-related investment and tourism in the future. Third, the Florida horse industry already generates thousands of jobs and acts as a multibillion dollar boon to the state’s economy.15 Fostering the growth of rescue horse ranches would provide new opportunities for jobs in the already economically productive horse industry.

Several Florida courts have agreed that the intent — not to mention the text — of the Greenbelt Law supports the inclusion of rescue-type activities. In several cases, property appraisers’ decisions to exclude horse-related agricultural operations from inclusion under the Greenbelt Law have been reversed by the courts.16 One example is Markham v. PPI, 843 So. 2d 922 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003), which addressed whether horse boarding could qualify for agricultural status under the Greenbelt Law.17 In Markham, the court determined that the boarding and training of horses constituted a bona fide agricultural purpose under Florida law.18 The property appraiser had concluded that the boarding and training of horses was not an agricultural use since it did not lead to the production of an agricultural product.19 The court disagreed, noting that the definition of “agricultural purposes” included the term “livestock.”20 The court concurred with the Third District’s conclusion that the phrase “‘all forms of farm products and farm production’ contained in section 193.461(5) ‘is not meant to be a limiting phrase but rather a catch-all’ and that the term ‘livestock’ should be given its plain meaning.”21

The Text of the Greenbelt Law Supports Inclusion of Rescue Ranches
The text of the Greenbelt Law, like the intent behind the law, supports the inclusion of rescue horse ranches. The text tends toward broad inclusion rather than narrowness.22 The legislature chose to use inclusive language, such as “includes but is not limited to” and “factors may be taken into consideration.”23 The two following subsections of this article break down the language of the Greenbelt Law into its component parts and analyze the applicability of that language to rescue horse ranches.

The Primary Purpose Requirement — The first criteria for rescue horse ranches to qualify for agricultural status requires that the agricultural use be the “primary” activity that takes place on the land.24 Although the presence of a house on the part of the lands used for agricultural purposes does not itself preclude agricultural classification,25 the area of the house will be excluded from the agricultural classification.26 On the remainder of the land, the agricultural use must be the most significant activity and not merely an incidental use.27 This statutory requirement is often unnecessarily muddled by the consideration of minimum acres, specific commercial unit size, and stocking rate.28 Rescue ranches, however, would likely overcome any type of minimum acres requirement because of the significant space and resources used in housing and caring for multiple horses.

Rescue Horse Ranches Exemplify a “Bona Fide Agricultural Purpose” — The Greenbelt Law also requires that “only lands which are used . . . for bona fide agricultural purposes shall be classified as agricultural.”29 The statute, in a somewhat convoluted attempt to define “bona fide agricultural purposes,” provides three different ways to assist in determinations of bona fide agricultural purposes: 1) a list of factors that tax appraisers may take into consideration when determining whether a bona fide agricultural purpose is present; 2) a nonexhaustive list of examples of agricultural purposes; and 3) an actual definition of a bona fide agricultural purpose.30

The statute allows appraisers to consider several factors when determining whether an agricultural use is bona fide.31 Those factors are 1) the length of time the land has been used in an agricultural manner; 2) whether the agricultural use has been continuous; 3) the purchase price paid; 4) the size,32 as it relates to specific agricultural use; 5) whether an indicated effort has been made to care sufficiently and adequately for the land in accordance with accepted commercial agricultural practices, including, without limitation, fertilizing, liming, tilling, mowing, reforesting, and other accepted agricultural practices; 6) whether the land is under lease and, if so, the effective length, terms, and conditions of the lease; and 7) “such other factors as may from time to time become applicable.”33 None of these optional factors indicate a reason why rescue ranches should be excluded from the exemption. In fact, the language of factor seven makes it clear that property appraisers are to be given a lenient standard in determining the applicability of the exemption.

The Greenbelt Law defines “agricultural purposes” as including but “not limited to, horticulture; floriculture; viticulture; forestry; dairy; livestock; poultry; bee; pisciculture, when the land is used principally for the production of tropical fish; aquaculture; sod farming; and all forms of farm products and farm production.”34 The courts have ruled that horses are livestock, and using the land to keep livestock — whether breeding, boarding, training, or for other commercial purposes — can be classified as agriculture.35

Aside from the factors and examples listed in the Greenbelt Law, the law actually defines a “bona fide agricultural purpose” as a “good faith commercial agricultural use of the land.”36 This language breaks down into two key components: the good faith commercial component and the agricultural use component. The good faith commercial requirement may appear to present a major challenge to the inclusion of admittedly non-profit-oriented horse rescue operations. However, upon closer examination, it is clear the language does not actually exclude rescue ranches from special tax status under the Greenbelt Law. The good faith language simply means that an applicant’s agricultural purpose should be real, actual, and genuine — not a sham or a deception.37

Opponents of Greenbelt classification for rescue ranches may argue that rescue horse ranches could not offer a good faith effort because their profitability would be limited compared to those stables boarding, breeding, and training horses or animals. However, profit does not by itself determine the appropriate classification.38 Under Florida law, it is not necessary to have the expectation of meeting the investment costs of the land and realizing a profit overall to be “commercial.”39 The “commercial” requirement looking to “profit” should not be misconstrued as the same “profit” used by the IRS or Florida Department of Revenue.40 The question then becomes: What threshold exists in the determination of a property’s profitability? The statute does not restrict an agricultural classification to only those parcels that are commercially profitable.41 In Straughn v. K & K Land Management, Inc., 326 So. 2d 421 (Fla. 1976), the court provides a subtle clarification regarding “profitable” and “commercial” in ruling that profit achieved through the use of the land need only suffice to sustain that particular use.42 In that case, the property appraiser had concluded that the dairy did not have a reasonable expectation of meeting investment cost and making a profit, and, therefore, it was not a “good faith commercial operation.” The appraiser was relying on Markham43 and Walden v. Tuten, 347 So. 2d 129 (Fla. 2d DCA 1977), cert. den., 355 So. 2d 518 (Fla.1978), concluding that while the “commercial” factor did not require the dairy to make an actual profit, it did require a reasonable expectation of meeting investment cost and making a profit.44 The court, however, stated that his “reliance upon those cases [was] misplaced.”45 Furthermore, the Florida Supreme Court has gone so far as to say:

Agricultural use is now and has always been the test. “Commercial agricultural use” simply adds another factor, i.e., profit or profit motive, which may be considered by the tax assessor in determining whether or not a claimed agricultural use is bona fide. It does not . . . limit agricultural classification to commercially profitable agricultural operations.46

The second major component of a defined agricultural purpose is the use must be agricultural in nature. An establishment that trains and boards horses has already succeeded in qualifying as agricultural in at least one Florida court.47 In Robbins v. Racetrack Training Ctr., 833 So. 2d 306, 309-10 (Florida 3d DCA 2003), the Third DCA found that a property used for boarding and training horses fell well within a “bona fide” agricultural use.48 The court in Robbins made it clear that the phrase “all forms of farm products and farm production”49 in the Greenbelt statute was not meant to be a limiting phrase on the definition of “agricultural purposes” and that, in fact, no product production is needed under the statute in order to qualify for the agricultural exemption.50 Clearly, it is no stretch to say that rescue ranches constitute a bona fide agricultural endeavor under current Florida law.

Yet some may still question how a refuge for rescue horses could qualify as a bona fide, or “good faith, commercial agricultural use.” At first glance, the boarding and training of rescue horses may strike appraisers as failing to qualify as “commercial” under the “bona fide” requirement of the code. Based on the case law set out above, it should be clear that one need not produce some “farm product” in order to qualify for the exemption. Furthermore, a lack of profit or return on investment costs is not dispositive. An appraiser may still find that there is a bona fide agricultural purpose despite the lack of profit or return on investment costs.

It should be noted that there is the possibility of profit for rescue ranches. One avenue of profitability is caring for horses that are the beneficiaries of an estate. Florida law permits a person to leave an estate for animals.51 In fact, Florida law states “a trustee may maintain separate accounting records [for certain activities, including] raising . . . animals.”52 Similarly, some boarding facilities may open up their ranch for horses left or moved during hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, or other disasters. The Sunshine State Horse Council, for example, provides a searchable database of stables for this exact purpose.53 Even if the rescue ranches were unable to derive any income from opening up their properties in these situations, they would still be helping to perform a vital disaster relief service.

The Lack of Guidance Regarding Agricultural Classification Defeats the Law’s Intent
Despite the case law discussed in this article, the legislature has not seen fit to remove or reclarify the application of the Greenbelt Law as it pertains to horse boarding. The lack of clarity has led to a lack of uniformity; while several jurisdictions recognize boarding and training of horses as an agricultural purpose under the Greenbelt Law,54 others do not consider boarding an agricultural use of property.55 One county may classify the activity as agricultural while, no more than three miles away, an adjacent property appraiser may give no consideration to the use of a horse on a property.56

This is not to suggest that the property appraisers are to blame for such gross disparities. With dozens of factors drawn into consideration, appraisers may err on the side of caution in their exclusionary actions. Some appraisers suggest there are too many factors and too many vagaries to allow the inclusion of “grey areas.”57 Many have stated that the legislature needs to provide more direction and less flexibility.58

Although the rescue ranches are not uniformly granted agricultural status under the Greenbelt Law, case law and custom shows that this type of classification is far from speculative.59 The disparity derives from the manner in which an appraiser’s office formulates specific quantifiers. Two factors that influence the formulation of the quantifiers are the composition or demographics of the county — in relation to the best management practices for agriculture — and the likelihood that adverse classifications will result in litigation.60

Appraisers are not the only victims of the law’s vagueness. Property owners will also suffer from property appraisals that are often unpredictable. Although property owners may choose to challenge the tax determinations, a property owner may challenge the appraiser’s classification only by showing the decision either 1) failed to properly consider the statutory criteria set forth in F.S. §193.011; or 2) was arbitrarily based on appraisal practices different from those generally applied to comparable property in the same county.61 For the challenging party, this is no easy task. According to one Florida court, “[C]ounty property appraisers are constitutional officers, entitled to a presumption that their actions are taken in accordance with the law. Assessments of property for ad valorem tax purposes fall under the discretion of the officer, and are presumed correct . . . the taxpayer challenging the assessment must prove more than a difference of opinion . . . .”62

Unfortunately, this can become an unsolvable problem for the disgruntled landowner. As we have seen, the statute draws broad lines, granting much discretion to the appraiser. If the challenging landowner must show more than a difference of opinion, he or she will have a difficult time doing so because the appraiser is granted such broad discretion that the appraiser’s determination is little more than his or her own opinion. The taxpayer would need to show that the appraiser’s determination was wildly outside of the statutory guidelines.63 The taxpayer must prove this by a preponderance of the evidence.64

In sum, the lack of directive from the statute undermines the very intent of the law. The broad language encourages litigation while simultaneously creating a confusing patchwork of county-by-county determinations, leaving many horse owners without answers. It is these very horse owners that the Greenbelt Law was intended to, and should, protect.

Benefits of Applying the Greenbelt Law to Rescue Horse Ranches
In addition to complying with the statutory guidelines enumerated by the legislature and courts, assessing rescue horse ranches as “agricultural” offers numerous benefits to both rural and urban communities.

First, by increasing the incentives for these ranches, crimes of animal abuse and neglect will decrease. The killing of animals, as addressed in F.S. Ch. 828, finds any person who “willfully and unlawfully . . . kills . . . or causes significant bodily harm or permanent breeding disability to [any horse]” guilty of a second degree felony.65 The care and maintenance of horses is an expensive proposition. In a downward economy, more stories emerge of horse neglect, abuse, and abandonment.66 In Florida, one increasing problem from the recession is the release of domesticated horses into the state and national forests, where the animals are starting to band together in small herds.67 Many horse owners can no longer afford the upkeep of their animals, but the lack of willing buyers leaves the owners with few alternatives to abandonment.68 Allowing a tax exemption for rescue ranches allows more of these ranches to survive and prosper, which in turn provides more outlets for horse owners who are overwhelmed by their responsibilities.

Second, recovery of abandoned or neglected horses not only restores a damaged good or commodity, but also prevents the mistreatment of animals. Facilities established to take in rescue horses recover as many as 23 animals a month.69 Unfortunately, these facilities are often forced to relocate when developers purchase the land.70 Organizations such as the South Florida Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals take in animals from owners unable or unwilling to care for them. Most are starving and neglected, but can be restored to health by the South Florida SPCA.71 Such instances of recovery and restoration allow for the possibility that a rescued horse can become a productive member of the community.

Rescued horses taken in by rescue ranches may be able to offer important benefits to communities. One benefit, for example, would be the likely boost in the state’s reputation as a premiere equine center. Florida is already a big player in the horse industry with the third largest horse population in the nation, surpassing even widely recognized horse centers like Kentucky.72 Arguably, an increase of exposure and prestige in the horse community could lead to more economically productive equine centers for the state.

Rescued horses housed on rescue ranches could also provide wonderful community benefits as therapy animals. The positive impact of therapy animals is widely known.73 Recently, the benefits of hippotherapy, or equine-based therapy, have been supported by scientific research.74 Rescue horse ranches could provide these types of hippotherapy services, whether for the purpose of producing a profit or of simply offering a community service.

In addition to the other economic incentives promoting inclusion of rescue ranches under the Greenbelt Law, the sale of horses from entities that are not the breeders of these animals can generate sales taxes.75 Unlike livestock sold directly from breeders, livestock sold indirectly is not tax exempt, which means that indirect sales open up the possibility of an additional stream of tax revenue for the state government. 76

Many horses, furthermore, deserve a restful end after serving critical roles in our society. For example, rescue ranches could board horses that served in the military or law enforcement. After these horses have proudly served their purposes, government agencies must find a landowner willing to care for the horses in old age.77 Although private individuals often take in veteran horses, a high number of retiring horses, economic troubles, or unsuitable adopters can make placement difficult.78 By promoting rescue ranches, the state can create positive “retirement homes” for equine veterans.

Conclusion
Horses are an irreplaceable component of our agricultural history and industry. The numerous optional factors mentioned in F.S. §193.461 and F.A.C. Rule 12D-5.004 show that no property use instantly qualifies for agricultural tax status.79 Property appraisers are required to provide determinations from a hodgepodge of ambiguous factors, leaving fields of appraisals open to costly and time-wasting litigation.80

There is a common joke that everyone comes to Florida to retire. However, elderly humans are not the only ones who are in need of a safe and comfortable place to retire. It is clear that horses constitute livestock as defined in F.A.C. 1D-1.003. Little doubt surrounds whether the breeding and boarding of livestock on property may qualify as a “bona-fide” and “primary” “agricultural use.” Regardless of whether rescue ranches specifically breed horses, generate significant profits, or produce a so-called “farm product,” those properties dedicated to rescue horses should qualify as a primary, bona fide, and agricultural use of the land because, under the law and text of the statute, these ranches constitute a valuable agricultural entity.

Furthermore, rescue horse ranches fulfill the legislative and constitutional intent of Florida’s Greenbelt provisions. Careful examination of the law shows that “agricultural” is the most fitting tax classification for rescue horse ranches. These ranches are an efficient and economically sensible alternative to destroying salvageable agricultural commodities. Rescue horse ranches strengthen the equestrian community, create an additional revenue base for municipalities, provide an agricultural benefit to the public, and, perhaps most importantly, foster a humane alternative for all of the potentially useful yet abused, abandoned, or aging livestock.


1 See Josh Hafenbrack, Proposed Tax Break Has No Cost Estimate; Amendment 4 Offers Incentive to Preserve Land, Sun-Sentinel, Oct. 20, 2008, at 1B; Patrick Whittle, Greenbelt Stays Loose For Now; Legislators Who Want to Tighten Farmland Tax Law Looking to 2008, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, May 14, 2007, at BS1; Patrick Whittle, Tax Break is a Cash Cow; Local Governments Are Losing Millions to the Loophole, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Feb. 11, 2007, at A1.

2 Press Release, The American Horse Council, Most Comprehensive Horse Study Ever Reveals a Nearly $40 Billion Impact on the U.S. Economy (June 28, 2005) (on file with authors).

3 See Florida’s Horse Industry, http://www.floridahorse.com. In fact, Ocala/Marion County has been called the horse capital of the world. Marion County has more horses than any county in the country. See Florida Dep’t of Agriculture and Consumer Services, The Florida Horse Industry, available at http://www.florida-agriculture.com/pubs/pubform/pdf/Florida_Horse_Industry_Brochure.pdf.

4 Fla. Stat. §193.461(b) (2009).

5 The article does not attempt to rehash or debate the seven factors of “bona fide” provided in Fla. Stat. §193.461, nor does this article address the two-dozen factors for consideration in F.A.C. Rule 12D-5.004.

6 See Fla. Stat. §193.461 (2009) (originally enacted in 1959); See also Michael Jacobson, Understanding County Forest Property Value Assessments, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR02300.pdf. (2003) (noting that “In 1959 . . . the [Florida] [L]egislature saw the need to moderate assessments for agricultural use, including forestry. As a result, the ‘Greenbelt’ law was instituted with the intent to provide taxation on agriculture and forestry land that makes it economically possible to continue such usage.”).

7 Michael Jacobson, Understanding County Forest Property Value Assessments, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/FR/FR02300.pdf (2003).

8 Id.

9 Fla. Stat. §193.461 (2009).

10 Counties such as Broward and Palm Beach report up to three hundred hearings a year challenging property appraiser assessments. More rural counties, such as Alachua, report between 10 and 20 hearings a year. (J. Sweirs, Alachua County Property Appraiser, personal communication, September 09, 2007).

11 Preamble to Fla. Stat., h. 72-181, amending Fla. Stat.§193.461.

12 Fla. Const. art. VIII, §1(a)(f)(g) (2009).

13 Straughn v. K &K Land Management, Inc., 326 So. 2d 421, 424 (Fla. 1976).

14 Fla. Stat. §163.3162 (as amended in 2003).

15 See note 6.

16 See notes 20-24. See also Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368, 371-72 (Fla. 1977); Robbins v. Racetrack Training Cntr., 833 So. 2d 306, 310 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2003).

17 Markham v. PPI, 843 So. 2d 922, 923 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2003).

18 Id. at 925-26.

19 Id. at 924.

20 Id.

21 Id. at 925 (citing to Robbins v. Racetrack Training Center, Inc., 833 So. 2d 306, 309-10 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2003) (emphasis added)).

22 In fact, the only text in the law mandating a nonagricultural classification states: “(4)(a) The property appraiser shall reclassify the following lands as nonagricultural: 1. Land diverted from an agricultural to a nonagricultural use. 2. Land no longer being utilized for agricultural purposes. 3. Land that has been zoned to a nonagricultural use at the request of the owner subsequent to the enactment of this law.” Fla. Stat. §193.461(4)(a) (2009).

23 See id.

24 Fla. Stat. §193.461(3)(b) (2009).

25 Id. at §193.461 (3)(c) (2009).

26 Id. at §193.461(3)(d) (2009). However, the portion of the property containing the dwelling is still eligible for homestead exemption.

27 See generally Walden v. Borden Co., 235 So. 2d 300, 302 (Fla. 1970) (holding that the legislative classification of agricultural lands was not intended to give preferential tax treatment to land that accommodated an incidental agricultural use).

28 Size may be a factor in agricultural classification, but “in no event shall a minimum acreage be required for agricultural assessment.” Fla. Stat. §193.461(3)(b)(4) (2009).

29 Fla. Stat. §193.461(3)(b) (2009).

30 Id.

31 Id.

32 See id.

33 Fla. Stat. §193.461(1)(b) (2009).

34 Fla. Stat. §193.461(5) (2009) (emphasis added).

35 See Markham v. PPI, Inc., 843 So. 2d 922, 925-26 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2003); Robbins v. Racetrack Training Cntr., 833 So. 2d 306, 310 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2003).

36 Fla. Stat. §193.461(1)(b) (2009).

37 Bystrom v. Union Land Investments, Inc., 477 So. 2d 585, 586 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1985). For example, an applicant seeking agricultural classification for a horse-boarding farm should be actually boarding other people’s horses on his or her land.

38 Id. at note 2. See also Fisher v. Schooley, 371 So. 2d 496, 500 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1979) (“‘Commercial agricultural use simply adds another factor . . . it does not . . . limit agricultural classification to commercially profitable agricultural operations.’”).

39 Fisher, 371 So. 2d at 500.

40 Gianolio v. Markham, 564 So. 2d 1131, 1134-1136 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1990).

41 Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368, 370-71 (Fla. 1978); Dep’t of Revenue v. Goembel, 382 So. 2d 783,786 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 1980).

42 Straughn, 326 So. 2d at 424.

43 Markham v. Nationwide Development Co., 349 So. 2d 220 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1977).

44 Straughn, 326 So. 2d 421 at 423-425.

45 Id. at 424.

46 Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368, 371-72 (Fla. 1977). See also Walden v. Tuten, 347 So. 2d 129 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1977); Gianolio v. Markham, 564 So. 2d 1131, 1135-36 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1990) (rejecting both the need for profitability and the investment cost requirement advanced by the appraiser).

47 Robbins v. Racetrack Training Ctr., 833 So. 2d 306, 309-10 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2003).

48 Id. at 309. (“In the instant case there are no allegations that Racetrack’s use of the Property for boarding or training …horses was not the primary use . . . .”). Noticeably, the court did not cite breeding. It cited only boarding and training.

49 This phrase is found in the list of agricultural purposes set out in Fla. Stat. §193.461(5) (2009).

50 Robbins, 833 So. 2d at 309-10.

51 Fla. Stat. §736.0408 (1-2) (2009).

52 Fla. Stat. §738.403 (2009).

53 See Sunshine State Horse Council, Hurricane Fire Emergency Equine Evacuation Information, available at http://www.sshc.org/evac/dbinfo.htm.

54 See Broward County Property Appraiser, Agricultural Classification and the Greenbelt Law, available at http://www.bcpa.net/ag.asp; Martin County Property Appraiser’s Office, Agricultural Classification, available at http://www.pa.martin.fl.us (click “agricultural classification” on left-hand menu); Marion County Property Appraiser, Requirements for Agricultural Classification of Lands, available at http://www.pa.marion.fl.us/agclass.html.

55 See Lake County Property Appraiser, What Are the Guidelines for Agricultural Classification?, available at http://www.lakecopropappr.com/frequently-asked-questions.aspx; Gilchrist County Property Appraiser, Gilchrist County Property Appraiser’s Office Agricultural Classification, available at http://www.gcpaonline.net/agap.pdf.

56 A good example is the difference between Lake and Marion counties; Marion is very equine friendly, while Lake does not consider boarding an agricultural use unless there are other agricultural uses on the property.

57 A prime example of necessarily conservative appraisals is an Open Letter in the Orlando Sentinel by Ed Havill, Lake County Property Appraiser, using conservative adherence to statutory guidelines as a defense to unpopular agricultural exemptions (August 5, 1992), available at http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/1992-08-05/news/9208050456_1_greenbelt-law-havill-property-appraiser; see also Stephen Hudak, Pasture Up for Tax-break Ruling Today: Developers Hope to Get Agricultural Billing from the County, Over the Appraiser’s Protests, Orlando Sentinel (February 20, 2007).

58 Wes Smith, Mooing Tax Breaks Annoy Appraisers, Orlando Sentinel (January 29, 2006), available at http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2006-01-29/news/CASHCOW29_1_property-appraiser-windermere-county-property; Bill Donegan, Orange County Property Appraiser, Letter to the Editor: Misuse of AG Law Endangers Farmers, Orlando Sentinel (April 15, 2010), available at http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2010-04-15/news/os-ed-letters-greenbelt-law-041310-20100414_1_greenbelt-law-agriculture-classification-legitimate-farmers; see also Redgie Tedder: Forestry and Greenbelt Consulting, Proposed Florida 2010 Legislation (March 29, 2010), available at http://www.teddergreenbeltconsulting.com/Florida_2010_Legislative_Proposals.html (on the Greenbelt Agricultural Classification Statute, “As the Appraiser Administrator for agricultural property taxation with the Department of Revenue, we saw numerous interpretations of the language and the methodology applied in an effort to comply with the vague language …. Ask 10 appraisers what that means and you will get a variety of responses. We hope someone will pick up the ball and change a few words to clarify the meaning.”).

59 Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Correcting Misconceptions About Florida’s Greenbelt Law, http://www.floridafarmbureau.org/files/resources/issues/GreenbeltQ_A.pdf; see, e.g., RH Resorts, Ltd. v. Donegan, 881 So. 2d 1152 (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 2004); Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368, 368 (Fla. 1977); Straughn v. K & K Land Management, Inc., 326 So. 2d 421, 421 (Fla. 1976); Schultz v. Love PGI Partners, LP, 731 So. 2d 1270, 1271 (Fla. 1999); St. Petersburg Kennel Club, Inc. v. Smith, 662 So. 2d 1270, 1270 (Fla. 2d D.C.A. 1995); Markham v. PPI, Inc., 843 So. 2d 922, 923 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 2003); Robbins v. Racetrack Training Center, Inc., 833 So. 2d 306, 307 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 2003); Aitken v. Markham, 595 So. 2d 159, 159 (Fla. 4th D.C.A. 1992); Sugarmill Woods, Inc. v. Schultz, 823 So. 2d 807, 808, (Fla. 5th D.C.A. 2002); St. Joe Paper Co. v. Adkinson, 400 So. 2d 983, 984 (Fla. 1st D.C.A. 1981).

60 Author’s private communication with property appraisers. Many appraisal offices have internal policies that ensure consistency to avoid litigation. The best management practices for agriculture are established by the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS).

61 Steffen v. Turner, 342 B.R. 861, 871-72 (Bkrtcy. M.D. Fla. 2006).

62 Id. at 865, citing Straughn v. Tuck, 354 So. 2d 368, 371 (Fla. 1978)

63 Id. at 872.

64 Id. at 871-72. In other words, this is the clear and convincing evidence standard.

65 Fla. Stat. §828.125(1) (2009).

66 Susannah Bryan, New Coconut Creek Group to Save Abused, Neglected Horses, Palm Beach Post, Feb. 9, 2010, available at http://www.palmbeachpost.com/accent/pets/new-coconut-creek-group-to-save-abused-neglected-223780.html.

67 Author’s communication with property appraisers.

68 Id.

69 South Florida SPCA, August 4th Rescue Saves 23 Horses and Donkeys, available at http://www.spca-sofla.org/Archive/default.htm

70 Now the Volunteers Need Help, The Miami Herald, December 3, 2003, at 4E (“The all-volunteer group that was incorporated one month before Hurricane Andrew hit in 1992 must move for a third time because its current Miami Lakes location has been sold for development. It needs 10 acres for a new home and hopes to find a site in northern Miami-Dade or southern Broward.”).

71 Marrian Rizzo, Hoping to Find a Home: Rescued Horses Relocated from South Florida, The Star Banner, Oct. 29, 2005, available at http://www.spca-sofla.org/Archive/Articles/OCt%2029,2005%20Star-Banner%20Article/Star-banner.htm.

72 See note 5.

73 Forward Stride, Benefits of Therapeutic Riding, http://www.forwardstride.org/benefits.html; Margaret Bass, The Effect of Therapeutic Horseback Riding on Social Functioning in Children with Autism, 39 J. of Autism and Developmental Disorders at 1261-1267 (September 2009).

74 KC Henry, Horses and Humans Research Foundation, Benefits of Equine Therapy Substantiated by Washington University Research Team: Hippotherapy is “Therapy Disguised as Fun” for Children With Cerebral Palsy (June 2008), available at http://www.horsesandhumans.org/WUfinal_press_release.pdf.

75 See Fla. Admin. Code Ann. R. 12A-1.049(1) (2009).

76 Id.

77 Manes and Tails Organization, Retired NYPD Horses, http://www.manesandtailsorganization.org/NYPD_MPU.html; Murray Weiss, Probe Uncovers Conflict of Interest in Contract to House NYPD’s Retired Steeds, The New York Post (June 16, 2008).

78 Meghan Tierney, Retired Police Horses Move to Greener Pastures: Park Police Looking for Potential Homes for Future Equine Retirees, Gazette.net (Dec. 19, 2007); WCBS, Retired NYPD Horses Headed to New Pastures (Oct. 30, 2006), available at http://wcbstv.com/topstories/nypd.breonics.elain.2.239339.html.

79 Fla. Stat. §193.461 (2009)(3)(b) (listing the factors to be considered in classification of land as agricultural); Fla. Admin. Code R. 12D-5.004 (2009) (listing more than a dozen other factors that may become applicable to classification of agricultural lands).

80 The ambiguity of the directives in Fla. Stat. §193.461 arguably forces property appraisers to interpret legal precedence and legislative intent. Void of any clear parameters, the statute arguably compels appraisers to practice law in application of their assessments through case-by-case analysis. See Pamela Dubov, Circumventing the Florida Constitution: Property Taxes and Special Assessments, Today’s Illusory Distinction, 30 Stetson L. Rev. 1469 (2001) (discussing the loss of tax income to rural counties as a result of the agricultural tax exemption).


Michael Olexa is a professor and director of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law.

Joshua A. Cossey is the managing attorney for Sentinel Law, P. A., in Jacksonville.

Katherine Smallwood is a member of Sutherland Asbill & Brennan’s litigation practice group in Atlanta, GA. She focuses her practice on employment, business, and commercial litigation.Before joining Sutherland as an associate, Katherine served as a research assistant for the UF/IFAS Center for Agricultural and Natural Resource Law.

Zach Broome is a recent graduate of the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He has accepted an offer at Bowen Radson Schroth, P.A., in Eustis.

This article is a modified version of M.T.Olexa, et al., Protecting Equine Rescue from Being Put Out to Pasture: Whether Ranches Dedicated to Abused, Abandoned, and Aging Horses May Qualify for “Agricultural” Classifications Under Florida’s Greenbelt Law, 16 (1) Drake J. Agric. L. 69 (2011), and is published with permission.

[Revised: 02-10-2012]