Saturday, April 10, 2021

Federal Farm Programs and the AGI Computation


Many farmers participate in federal farm programs and receive subsidies on a per-person basis.  There are limits to the amount of subsidies that can be received.  However, to be eligible to participate in most federal farm programs the applicant (individual or entity) must have an average adjusted gross income (AGI) of $900,000 or less. 

What is AGI for farm program eligibility purposes?  How is it computed?  Does it matter if the applicant is an individual or an entity? 

The computation of AGI for farm program eligibility purposes – it’s the topic of today’ post.

In General

A prerequisite to participating in many federal farm programs is annually certifying that average AGI doesn’t exceed a $900,000 threshold. The measuring period is the prior three years, skipping the immediately prior year.  The $900,000 limit applies to most USDA farm programs, but there are some exceptions – particularly those concerning conservation or disasters.  An applicant must provide the IRS with written consent to allow the USDA to verify AGI.  The consent (via USDA Form CCC-941) allows the IRS to verify to the FSA, based on a farm program applicant’s tax return information, whether (for most farm programs) the $900,000 limit is not exceeded.  The consent covers the three tax years that precede the immediately preceding tax year for which farm program benefits are being sought.  Thus, for 2021, the relevant tax years are 2019, 2018 and 2017.  For a farmer or a farming operation that has not been operating for the three-year period before the immediately preceding year, the FSA uses an average of income for the years of operation. FSA 5-PL, Para. 312, subparagraph F

Note:  Worksheets used in determining AGI calculations should be retained for at least three years.

Defining AGI – The FSA Way

As noted, average AGI is measured over the three taxable years preceding the most immediately preceding complete taxable year for which benefits are requested.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 293.  The FSA, in its 5-PL at Paragraph 296, subparagraph B, sets forth the following Table for guidance on AGI determinations using a producer/applicant’s data that has been reported to the IRS:

If determining AGI for….

Then see IRS Form….

AND use the amount entered on….


1120 or 1120-S

Either of the following:

·       Line 30 (total taxable income) plus line 19 (charitable contributions)

·       For S corporations, use only Form 1120-S, line 21 (ordinary business income).

Estates or trusts


Line 23 (taxable income) plus line 13 (charitable deductions)

LLCs, LLPs, LP or similar type organization taxed as partnership


Line 22 (total income from trade or business) plus line 10 (guaranteed payments to partners).



Line 8b (AGI)

Tax-exempt or charitable organizations


Line 31 (unrelated business taxable income) minus income that CCC determines to be from noncommercial activity.

For a sole proprietor filing a joint return, an exception exists from the need to report the full amount reported as AGI on the final IRS tax return for the applicable year.  Under the exception, a certification may be provided by a CPA or an attorney that specifies what the amounts would have been if separate tax returns would have been filed for the applicable year.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 296, subparagraph A. 

Schedule K Issues

IRS Form 1120-S and Form 1065 do not refer to income or deductions reported on Schedule K-1. A Schedule K-1 is the IRS Form that is used to report amounts that are passed through to each taxpayer that has an interest in a “flow-through” entity such as an S corporation, partnership, trust or an estate.  Consequently, any I.R.C. §179 deduction (i.e., expense method depreciation) would not be factored into the average AGI computation for a farming operation that is a flow-through entity seeking farm program benefits.  But it would be taken into account for a C corporation. Thus, a C corporation and an S corporation with identical taxable incomes may not be treated similarly for farm program eligibility purposes.  This is particularly true for an S corporation farming entity, for example, that has AGI over the $900,000 threshold without factoring in any I.R.C. §179 amount but is under the limitation when the I.R.C. §179 deduction is taken into account. 

Threatened with litigation on this disparate treatment, the FSA backed down and the 5-PL was later amended to reflect the rule change allowing the I.R.C. §179 deduction for flow-through entities as well as sole proprietorships and C corporations.  However, FSA still ignores other K-1 items in the computation of AGI for purposes of the $900,000 AGI computation.  At least this is the position of the national FSA.  There may be variations at the local and state level.  Consistent application of the regulations has never been a staple of the FSA. 

Certifying Income – Form CCC-941

A producer seeking farm program benefits, as noted above, must annually certify income to the FSA to ensure that the $900,000 threshold (in most instances) is not exceeded. The verification process starts with the FSA’s referral of the applicant’s AGI certification and written consent to the IRS to use the applicant’s tax information on file and disclose certain information to the FSA for AGI verification purposes.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 301, Subparagraph A.  Consent for disclosure of tax information is valid only if the IRS receives it within 120 calendar days of the date the Form CCC-941 was signed.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 301, Subparagraph E. 

If an attorney or CPA statement is provided, both the statement and the completed Form CCC-941 must be submitted to the local FSA office before the Form CCC-941 is considered to be complete and AGI is updated in the producer’s file.  The submitted Form CCC-941 is then sent to the IRS and the statement of the attorney/CPA is attached to a copy of the Form that FSA retains.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 302, Subparagraph A.

Form CCC-941 is required to determine payment eligibility for all persons; legal entities; interest holders in a legal entity, including embedded entities to the fourth level of ownership interest, regardless of the level of interest held; and, members of a general partnership or joint venture, regardless of the number of members.  FSA 5-PL, Par. 294.  It is submitted under the same name and TIN as is used for tax filing purposes.  For example, for farm assets and land that have been transferred to a revocable trust, the identification on Form CCC-941 is the grantor’s name and Social Security number.

If Form CCC-941 is not filed for a program year, the producer is not eligible for farm program payments for that year.  Any program payments erroneously paid will have to be returned, with interest. 

Note:  Technically, the FSA rules state that to comply with the AGI requirement for the applicable crop, program or fiscal year, a person or legal entity must provide either a completed Form CCC-941 for that year or a statement from a CPA or attorney that the average AGI does not exceed the applicable limitation.  But, in all cases, the portions of Form CCC-941 pertaining to consent of disclosure of tax information must be completed and signed by the person (or entity) subject to AGI compliance.  FSA 5-PL, Par. 294, subparagraph B.

The form must be personally signed by the applicant – either in their own name or, if the application is on behalf of an entity, by the designated officer(s).  If the applicant is a minor, the Form can be signed by a parent or guardian.  One spouse cannot sign for the other spouse, however, absent a duly executed power-of-attorney (POA).  Likewise, neither IRS Form 2848 nor an FSA POA (Form 211) is acceptable.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 302, Subparagraph C. 

Note:  A Table contained in the FSA 5-PL, Amendment 4, page 6-34 at Para. 302, subparagraph C, sets forth the signature authority for Form CCC-941. 

If the applicant is a grantor trust, the Form must denote the grantor’s name.  For a deceased person, Form CCC-941 may be filed by the surviving spouse, an authorized representative or an entity that is responsible for filing the final Federal income tax return for the decedent.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 302, subparagraph D.  If filing is by an authorized representative, proof of such authorization must be provided by attachment to Form CCC-941. 

If a Form CCC-941, as submitted to the IRS, is incomplete or illegible it will be returned to the FSA along with IRS Notice 1398 containing the reason(s) for the rejection.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 301, Subparagraph H.  The FSA will then contact the person or entity that submitted the Form and explain the reason(s) for the rejection as well as provide assistance to get the Form corrected.  Id., Subparagraph H. 

Form CCC-941 authorizes the FSA to obtain AGI data from the IRS.  When the IRS receives the Form, it matches the identity of the name on the Form with the tax records associated with the name.  The IRS then calculates AGI according to the FSA’s definition of the term and reports to the FSA whether the applicant is within the $900,000 threshold.  If the IRS reports to the FSA that a producer is over the AGI limit, FSA then sends the producer a letter informing them that they have 30 days to provide a third-party verification by a CPA or an attorney that the producer’s average AGI is within the threshold along with associated tax records. If an entity is the farmer, this letter will be required for both the entity and the individual. If, upon review, the FSA still deems the producer to not be eligible for benefits, the producer may file an administrative appeal within 30 days of the determination.

Note:   It’s important for a producer/applicant to respond to the FSA within the 30-day timeframe so as to preserver administrative appeal rights.  However, the FSA 5-PL does state that appeal rights exist even if requested information is not timely provided.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 297, Subparagraph E.

The failure to provide the FSA with correct and accurate information to establish AGI compliance can result in ineligibility for all program payments and benefits that are subject to the AGI limitation for the applicable years.  In addition, the producer/entity will have to refund any benefits already paid due to the incorrect information and face possible civil or criminal prosecution.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 297, Subparagraph D.

A person or entity that lacks tax records or is not required to file tax returns may document AGI by providing to FSA annual budgets and a statement of operations; annual public financial disclosures; financial statements; or any other documentation as FSA deems acceptable. 

Note:  Some farmers have expressed concern about the information the IRS shares with the FSA.  However, the IRS does not report the applicant’s income, AGI (or average AGI), or any determination on the applicant’s eligibility or ineligibility for farm program payments.  The IRS merely computes AGI according to the FSA approach and reports to the FSA whether the producer/applicant is over or under the applicable threshold.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 303, subparagraph B.  FSA maintains the information that the IRS provides to it in a secure database, and the information  is not subject to a Freedom of Information Act request.  Id., subparagraph C. 

Exception for Exceeding the AGI Threshold

The 75 percent test.  There are some farm programs for which the $900,000 AGI limit does not apply if at least 75 percent of AGI is derived from farming, ranching or forestry activities.  For this purpose, “farm AGI” is comparable to net income from farming and may be identical to net farm profit (or loss) on Schedule F.  The FSA definition of “farm AGI” also includes income from the sale of farmland, breeding livestock and ag conservation easements, for example.  However, the term does not include income derived from the sale of farm equipment as well as income derived from the sale of production inputs and services.  However, if at least two-thirds of total AGI from all sources is from farming, the income from the sale of farm equipment and production inputs and services counts as farm AGI.  FSA 5-PL, Para. 312, subparagraph F.    

In recent years, the market facilitation program (MFP) and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) are examples of farm programs that don’t subject the applicant to a $900,000 AGI limitation.  A producer applying for benefits from such a program must certify that the 75 percent test is satisfied.  For this purpose, the FSA might require the producer to sign Form CCC-942.  Alternatively, a letter from the producer’s professional tax preparer (an attorney of a CPA) can suffice.  For entities that are applying for benefits, a certification letter is required for the entity and for the individual producer. 

Note:  The FSA cannot send certifications with respect to the 75 percent farm AGI test to the IRS for verification.

For purposes of the 75 percent test, the FSA, in a Table in the FSA 5-PL, Amendment 6, Para. 312, subparagraph B, defines income from farming, ranching and forestry.  The Table illustrates that the term is defined broadly.  

Wages paid by a farm employer do not constitute farm income.  Thus, if an applicant’s only income is from wages earned via employment with, for example, a farming C corporation, the wages do not count as farm income for purposes of the 75 percent test.  But, of course, this is only an issue if the producer/applicant’s income is over the $900,000 threshold. 

The FSA regulations and associated guidance do not address whether income from a farmer’s foreign sales that are funneled through an IC-DISC counts as farm income for purposes of the 75 percent test.  An IC-DISC allows a farmer that will be selling into an export market to essentially transfer income from the farmer to the tax-exempt IC-DISC via an export sales commission.  An IC-DISC can be formed and utilized by any taxpayer that manufactures, produces, grows or extracts (MPGE) property in the U.S. that is held primarily for sale, lease or rental in the ordinary course of the taxpayer’s trade or business.  That definition certainly includes farmers.  The property to be exported is transferred to the IC-DISC which then sells the assets into an export market.  While there is no “official” guidance on the issue, it would seem reasonable that such income counts as farm income. 


Farmers participating in federal farm programs are subject to many detailed rules.  In recent years, such payments have made up a substantial portion of total farm income.  That makes compliance with the rules and staying within the average AGI limit critical.

Income Tax, Regulatory Law | Permalink


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