Wealthy “Faux Farmers” Get Huge Agricultural Tax Breaks on Their Properties

Submitted by Elaine Magliaro, Guest Blogger  

According to T. S. Elliott in his poem The Waste Land: “April is the cruellest month.” I think many of us would agree because April is the month in which we Americans are required to file our annual income taxes. And thinking about who is actually paying taxes these days, has really gotten my dander up.

Today, while many working class and middle class people are trying hard to survive from paycheck to paycheck and when millions of Americans are out of work and unable to find new jobs that pay them a living wage, it’s hard to accept the fact that huge corporations like GE may not be paying any taxes at all while receiving tax rebates. It’s also maddening to see millionaires and billionaires who blew a hole in our economy and nearly caused a financial meltdown getting bailed out with OUR tax dollars.

It appears that the ultra-rich get all the breaks. Still, it seems many of them keep looking for different ways to hold onto their wealth by avoiding taxes while letting those of us who are less fortunate financially pay more than our share. Some of the well-heeled have even found a way to pay less than their fair share of local property taxes. They do that by claiming their large estates and properties as agricultural land. Here are the names of some of the “faux farmers” in New Jersey who have had their real estate taxes drastically reduced: Malcolm “Steve” Forbes, Jon Bon Jovi, E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, Publishing magnate Donald E. Newhouse, former CEO of Commerce Bank Vernon Hill II, and Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, heir to Johnson & Johnson and owner of the New York Jets football team.

Wealthy gentleman “farmers” haven’t just been gaming the system in New Jersey—they’ve been doing it in Texas, Florida, Iowa, Colorado, Alabama, and in many other states across this country. The tragedy of this tax avoidance by those who can well afford to pay more is that it is costing local governments the revenue they need to run their communities properly.

Several years ago, Art Cory, who was the chief appraiser for Travis Central Appraisal district in Texas, said: “It just seems to me that everyone ought to pay their fair share. That’s not happening now (American-Statesman, 2003). In regard to the agricultural tax break, Cory added, “You can go out and cut some brush, put out some feed and count the deer once a year and qualify.”

According to an article in The Nation, that’s what Michael Dell did with his second home—a suburban ranch in Austin. Because he hunted there periodically and maintained a “well-managed deer herd,” he was able to reduce the property’s 2005 market value from $71.4 million to an agricultural value of $290,000. That saved Dell—but cost Texas—$1.2 million. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal reported that Korea’s Samsung Electronics was able to qualify for a “wildlife management” agricultural tax exemption on more than fifty acres of land outside its semiconductor plant in Austin simply by erecting some birdhouses, eradicating ants, and taking a wildlife census. By doing that, the company reduced its tax bill by nearly 100%–from $21, 080 to $135! It’s sad to note that all the agricultural tax breaks in Texas have cost public schools in the state $1.5 billion in lost revenue.

A Few More Examples of Agricultural Tax Breaks

Colorado: Assessors in the state were reported to have said that even parking lots have qualified for agricultural tax breaks after some cows were brought in to graze on grassy strips between lanes. (Common Dreams)

Florida: Walt Disney World has received a farming tax break on 1,600 acres where it grows plants for its theme parks. At the time this was reported, the land owned by Disney was actually valued at $194 million but was taxed on a value of $12.3 million. (Common Dreams)

Alabama: In Mobile County, Ala., Delaney’s Inc. has planted pine seedlings on 54 acres left over after building a Hampton Inn, Marriott Courtyard, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart. This “tree farm” has been subdivided and laced with paved streets in preparation for development, and local officials insist that the land is not suitable for growing timber. But the developer’s lawyer pointed out that the law doesn’t require Delaney’s to be a good farmer — just a farmer. The result: a 2003 tax bill of $152 instead of $64,230. (Common Dreams)

Here are more details on the wealthy  “faux” farmers who have been getting agricultural tax breaks in New Jersey from New Jersey: “Fake” farms get tax breaks (Asbury Park Press)

The rolls of those with farm-assessed land in New Jersey read like a who’s who in the world of high finance, business and entertainment. Those in the rich-and-famous category with approved applications for tax breaks in 2009 and 2010 include:

— Financier Michael C. Price, with a net worth of $1.4 billion, Bedminster: 92 farm-assessed acres, on which he paid $359 in taxes in 2009.

— Robert Wood “Woody” Johnson IV, heir to Johnson & Johnson and owner of the New York Jets football team, Bedminster: 269 acres, $1,470 in 2009.

— Publishing magnate Donald E. Newhouse, with a net worth of $5.4 billion, Hopewell Township: 273 acres, $1,787 in taxes for 2010; in West Amwell, 77 acres, $611 in taxes in 2010.

— Publishing magnate Malcolm “Steve” Forbes, including properties with his wife, Sabina, Bedminster: 450 acres, $2,005 in taxes in 2009.

— E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg, Middletown: 34 acres, $122 in taxes in 2010.

— Rock star Jon Bon Jovi, Middletown: 7.1 acres, $104 in taxes in 2010.

— Lamington Farm Club, under the corporate umbrella of entrepreneur and TV personality Donald Trump, Bedminster: 195 acres; $277.

— John Whitman, husband of former Gov. Christie Whitman, Tewksbury: 167 acres, $1,521; in Bedminster: 65 acres; $173.

— Vernon Hill II, former CEO of Commerce Bank, Moorestown: 29 acres, $79 in 2010.

Now, let’s take a closer look at just one of the New Jersey “farmers” on the list above—Malcolm “Steve” Forbes. I bet you didn’t know that Forbes was into animal husbandry, did you? Well, Forbes actually raises show cows on his property, which qualifies for the agricultural tax break because it generates at least $500 in revenue annually. From The Center for Public Integrity (2000): “His New Jersey farm meets the state’s revenue test, with about $5,500 in yearly income, and he gets the federal write-offs for raising cattle, too.”

The Center for Public Integrity also reported the property that Forbes owns would have been valued at $9 million if he didn’t stock it with his show cows. An assessor had estimated that the land would be assessed at only $160, 531 because of the cows. So…Forbes paid a paltry $2,215 tax bill on his 449-acre estate because prize bovines were grazing there.

Well, there you have it, folks. That’s just one of the ways that the rich hold onto their riches. It’s also one of the ways that our cities and towns are losing out on essential tax revenues that are needed to pay for schools and other community services .

Because April is National Poetry Month, I’ve written another song parody for you in honor of Malcolm “Steve” Forbes:

Old Steve Forbes…He Had a Farm

A Song Parody By Elaine Magliaro (To be sung to the tune of Old MacDonald Had a Farm)

Old Steve Forbes

He had a farm.


And on that farm

He raised show cows.


He had moo-lah here.

He had moo-lah there.

He had lots and lots of moo-lah


Old Steve Forbes

He had a farm.



He milked them cows

For tax breaks. True!


He didn’t need

The money though.


He had moo-lah here.

He had moo-lah there.

He was a greedy billionaire.

Old Steve Forbes

He had a farm.



Old Steve was

A farmer—faux.


He knew how to make

His riches grow.


Did you hear him say

He’ll keep making hay

While all the little people pay their



This Tax Day, ‘Farms’ Owned by the Rich Provide Massive Tax Shelter (The Nation)

Property Taxes Are For Parasites: Billionaires Use The “Fake Farm Loophole” To Not Pay Any… (Exiled Online)

Senate panel OKs rollback of some Colorado ag-land tax breaks (The Denver Post)

Faux Farmers Milk the System (Common Dreams)

Steve Forbes Cattle Farmer (The Center for Public Integrity)

New Jersey’s Farmland Assessment Act

Why Texas Firms Are Keeping Cattle On the Back Forty (Wall Street Journal)

Owners of $250 billion in property benefit from exemptions, loopholes amid school crisis (Statesman)

“Fake Farmers” Cost N.J. Taxpayers Millions (CBS Local, NY)

“Fake” farms get tax breaks (Asbury Park Press)

99 thoughts on “Wealthy “Faux Farmers” Get Huge Agricultural Tax Breaks on Their Properties”

  1. I tried to read this article to my wife. She stopped me and asked ‘What are you going to do about it?’
    The answer is: nothing. No one is going to do anything about this.

  2. Pete

    Do you think it would be technically feasible to plant some sort of super metal absorbent fiber plant in the lead and arsenic polluted old orchards and then harvest the fiber and safely bind it into building blocks in such a way that it won’t re leach?

  3. Elaine

    what do you think of this?


    The Routt County Board of Commissioners will hear a proposal this morning to spend almost $218,000 in property tax revenues…

    Wolf Mountain Ranch is also a working cattle operation…

    When landowners donate a conservation easement, the land is permanently protected from development… There are significant tax breaks associated with the move, ….

    funding partners in the easement include ranch owner Bob Waltrip, of Pirtlaw Partners Ltd.,

    Pirtlaw Partners, Ltd. is located at 1929 Allen Pkwy Fl 12 Houston, TX 77019. The officers include Pirtlaw Management, L.L.C.. Pirtlaw Partners, Ltd. was incorporated on Wednesday, March 06, 1996 in the State of TX and is currently active. Robert L Waltrip represents Pirtlaw Partners, Ltd. as their registered agent.


    Pirtlaw is listed in Routt County Assessors office as owning a lot of property in Routt County. 931073001 is one of them. It is a 98 acre vacant parcel. It is listed as having actual value of $2,060 and assessed value of $600.

    Inside city limits almost all land parcels no matter how small are listed as having land value of 600K

  4. Pete

    Considering that lead supposedly gets into vegetables and is a health hazard it must be going in thru the roots.

    Even if it could be collected, how would lead be stored so it wouldn’t be back in the air, water and soil?

  5. Blouise-

    Yeah, Yeah he was small, but you have to admit he took off three of my best fingers! Tell me that’s not worth $20!

  6. HenMan,

    Yeah but that little thing was no bigger than a kitten and … he beat you! You could have gone more than a half a round.

    I was too inebriated to ask for my money back.

  7. Blouise-

    That was my fourth fight of the night. I was exhausted. Who did you expect me to fight, Bobzilla?

  8. Elaine

    i never understood why of all the farm animals he could have sex with why he picked a mule. maybe he was worried about getting it pregnant.

  9. HenMan,

    I paid $20 to get into that “HenMan Fights A Bobcat to the Death” show at the local VFW hall and how you could call the scrawny little thing named Bob a cat, I’ll never know.

  10. Elaine-

    The only thing I grow is older. I used to raise pedigreed bobcats, but after Michael Vick got arrested I gave it up. My carnival act, “HenMan Fights A Bobcat to the Death” wasn’t drawing the crowds like it used to. Anyway, the bobcats were starting to win too many matches and my medical bills were going through the roof getting all my bites and scratches sewn up. You can only get your juglar vein severed so many times, you know.

  11. Elaine

    With a name like HenMan–I have to ask if you’re into animal husbandry like Steve “Faux Farmer” Forbes.


    as long as he’s not into animal husbandry like Neal Horsley.

  12. kay

    lead arsenate was used as an insecticide as was an arseneated copper (i don’t recall the name, it was also used as a green pigment) but it is in the soil and construction stirred it up during the housing boom. they stopped using it for the most part when clorinated hydrocarbons (DDT endrin etc) came on the market in the 1940’s.

    i’m not sure what can be done with lead unless you could find a plant that stores it in its roots. lead was used in alot of products.

    although with lead arsenate which is worse the lead or the arsenic?

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