Thursday, March 23, 2017

Farm-Related Casualty Losses and Involuntary Conversions – Helpful Tax Rules in Times of Distress


 Farm and ranch property is exposed to weather-related events that can seriously damage or ruin the property.  The massive wildfires in parts of Kansas and the horrific pictures have illustrated the devastation that the affected farmers and ranchers have suffered.  It’s truly gruesome to see the pictures of dead livestock and the burned-up fences and pastures, not to mention the buildings, structures and homes that were lost.  The financial losses are large, but there are some tax provisions that can be utilized to at least partially soften the blow.  A blog post last fall visited this issue, at least in part. Today’s post revisits the issue.

Casualty Losses

A casualty loss is the complete or partial destruction of property resulting from an identifiable event of a sudden, unexpected or unusual nature.  Casualty losses are deductible regardless of whether the property is used in the trade or business, held for the production of income or held for personal purposes although the rules differ slightly on how the loss is calculated.

Sometimes, the issue in a particular case comes down to drawing a line between what is a casualty and what is ordinary wear and tear.  For purposes of this post, a casualty is assumed.  The recent Kansas wildfire situation, for example, leaves no doubt that the losses are casualty losses for tax purposes.   

The amount of the deduction for casualty losses is the lesser of the difference between the fair market value before the casualty or theft and the fair market value afterwards, and the amount of the adjusted income tax basis for purposes of determining loss.  The deduction can never exceed the basis in the item that suffers the casualty.  In effect, the measure of the loss is the economic loss suffered limited by the basis (and any insurance recovery).

Here's a simple example:


Assume a rancher has five Hereford cows and one Hereford bull in a pasture.  A lightning strike ignites a wildfire, and the wildfire spreads rapidly by high winds and the cows and bull are caught in the fire and are killed.  The cows were raised and have a basis of $0.00 and a fair market value of $4,500.  The bull, which was purchased for $5,000, had a fair market value of $6,000 at the time of death. The amount of the casualty loss is the difference in the fair market value before and after the loss is $10,500 ($10,500 - $0.00).  However, the total basis in all of the animals is only $5,000 - the basis of the bull.  Since the deductible loss can never exceed the basis, the amount of the deduction is limited to $5,000.


In addition, any casualty loss must be reduced by any insurance recovery.  Thus, returning to the example, if the rancher collected $4,500 of insurance on the dead cattle, the deductible loss would be limited to $500.  The deduction is to be taken in the year in which the loss was incurred.  It is claimed on Section B of Form 4684 and on Form 4797.

Note:   If the rancher’s casualty loss causes his deductions to exceed his income for the year in which he claims the loss, the rancher may have a net operating loss (NOL) for the           year of the casualty that is entitled to a two-year carryback and a 20-year carryforward. However, the portion of the NOL arising from the casualty loss has a three-year carryback           period.  I.R.C. §172(b)(1)(E). 

Involuntary Conversion

What if, in the example above, the rancher’s pasture was destroyed by the wildfire but he had other livestock that survived?  But, without usable pasture, the rancher had to sell the livestock.  That’s where another tax provision can apply.

When a farmer sells livestock (other than poultry) held for draft, dairy or breeding purposes in excess of the number that would normally be sold during the time period, the sale or exchange of the excess number may be treated as a nontaxable involuntary conversion if the sale occurs because of drought, flood or other weather-related condition.  The livestock sold or exchanged must be replaced within two years after the year in which proceeds were received with livestock similar or related in service or use (in other words, dairy cows for dairy cows, for example), and be held for the same purpose that the animals given up were held.  Thus, dairy cows can be replaced with dairy cows, but they can’t be replaced with breeding animals. 

The tax on the sale is triggered when the replacement animals are sold. If it is not feasible to reinvest the proceeds in property similar or related in use, the proceeds can be reinvested in other property used for farming purposes (except real estate).  Similarly, if it is not feasible to reinvest the proceeds from involuntarily converted livestock into other like-kind livestock due to soil or other environmental contamination, the proceeds can be invested into property that is not like-kind or real estate used for farming purposes.  I.R.C. §1033(f).

If the replacement property is livestock, the new livestock must be held for the same purpose as the animals disposed of because of the weather-related condition. Treas. Reg. § 1.1033(e)-1(d). The two-year replacement period is extended to four years in areas designated as eligible for assistance by the federal government (i.e., by the President or any agency or department of the federal government).  I.R.C. §1033(e)(2)(A). Presumably, any livestock sales that occur before the designation of an area as eligible for federal assistance would also qualify for the extended replacement period if the drought, flood, or other weather-related conditions that caused the sale also caused the area to be so designated.  The replacement property must be livestock that is similar or related in service or use to the animals disposed of.  Also, the Treasury Secretary has the authority to extend, on a regional basis, the period for replacement if the weather-related conditions continue for more than three years.  I.R.C. §1033(e)(2)(B)

The election to defer the gain is made by attaching a statement to the return providing evidence of the weather-related condition that caused the early sale, the computation of the gain realized, the number and kind of livestock sold and the number and kind of livestock that would have been sold under normal business practices.  The election can be made at any time within the normal statute of limitations for the period in which the gain is recognized, assuming that it is before the expiration of the period within which the converted property must be replaced.  If the election is filed and eligible replacement property is not acquired within the applicable replacement period (usually four years), an amended return for the year in which the gain was originally realized must be filed to report the gain.  But, if the animals are replaced, for the tax year in which the livestock are replaced, the taxpayer should include information with the return that shows the purchase date of the replacement livestock, the cost of the replacement livestock and the number and kind of the replacement livestock.  The election must be made in the return for the first tax year in which any part of the gain from the sale is realized.  It’s also very important for a taxpayer to maintain sufficient records to support the nonrecognition of gain. 

    Note:   For livestock that are partnership property and are sold by the partnership, the election is the responsibility of the partnership.  The partners do not individually make the     election to defer recognizing the gain.  See Rosefsky v. Comr., 599 F.2d 515 (2d Cir. 1979).

The Interaction of the Two Rules

Returning to the example above, assume that the rancher received insurance proceeds exceeding $5,000, the net book value of the animals.  For instance, if the rancher received $6,000 of insurance proceeds, the $1,000 exceeding the tax basis of the dead animals would be taxable.  That is a potential taxable gain that can be deferred if the rancher makes a valid election to defer the gain, and the livestock are replaced within the applicable timeframe.  In that instance, the $1,000 casualty gain can be deferred until the replacement animals are sold.  However, it may be advantageous from a tax standpoint for the rancher to report the gain on the animals in order to claim ordinary depreciation on the replacement animals. 

Another Rule – One-Year Deferral

Under another rule, if farm and ranch taxpayers on the cash method of accounting are forced because of drought or other weather-related condition to dispose of livestock (raised or purchased animals that are held either for resale or for productive use) in excess of the number that would have been sold under usual business practices, they may be able to defer reporting the gain associated with the excess until the following taxable year. I.R.C. §451(e).  The taxpayer's principal business must be farming in order to take advantage of this provision.  This brings up a key observation – at the time the tax return is due for the year of the casualty, the livestock owner may not be sure of which election is the best one to make.  In that event, a “protective” election can be made under I.R.C. §1033 for that tax year.  If the livestock can be replaced within the applicable replacement period, the involuntary election can be revoked and the return for the casualty year can be amended to make the election to defer the gain for one year.  In that instance, the return for the year after the casualty would also have to be amended to report the deferred gain. 

Relatedly, a taxpayer can make an election under I.R.C. §451(e) until the four-year period for reinvestment of the property under I.R.C. §1033 expires. That means that if a livestock owner elects involuntary conversion treatment and fails to acquire the replacement livestock within the four-year period, the I.R.C. §451(e) election to defer the gain for one year can still be made.  If that happens the livestock owner will have to file an amended return for the casualty year to make the I.R.C. §451(e) election and revoke the I.R.C. §1033(e) election, and the next year to report the gain deferred to that year. 

Other Points

Farming operations organized in a form other than as a C corporation which have received “applicable subsidies” are subject to an overall limitation on farming losses of the greater of $300,000 ($150,000 in the case of a farmer filing as married filing separately) or aggregate net farm income over the previous five-year period.  Farming losses from casualty losses or losses by reason of disease or drought are disregarded for purposes of figuring this limitation. I.R.C. §461(j).

Farm income averaging can also be a useful tool as an election in a tax year in which a substantial casualty has been sustained.  The interaction of the income averaging election, casualty loss rules, the tax treatment of livestock sold on account of weather-related conditions and loss carryback rules can provide some significant tax planning opportunities.


Sustaining a casualty loss can be extremely difficult for a farmer or rancher, or any other taxpayer for that matter.  But, there are tax rules that can be used to soften the blow.

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