Farmers recently received some welcome tax relief for machinery and equipment purchases, says Roger McEowen, director, Iowa State University Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.

“From a farm tax standpoint, one of the biggest changes for 2010 and 2011 is the expansion of the Section 179 tax deduction to $500,000, and the introduction of 100% bonus depreciation for new assets bought after Sept. 8, 2010, and before Jan. 1, 2012,” he says. “With those two new rules, almost all farmers who purchase new and used equipment during these time periods will be able to completely deduct their purchases.”

Previously, the limit to Section 179 tax deductions had been $250,000 and the limit to bonus depreciation had been 50%, he says.

Although maximizing deductions for all farm equipment purchases may sound like a sensible financial strategy, there are instances when taking those deductions could be financially detrimental, cautions McEowen. One especially important consideration before claiming a large deduction on either new or used equipment is how long you intend to own that equipment before reselling it, he says.

If you take a deduction on an asset you purchase, and then sell that asset after owning it for only a few years, you might have to pay a hefty tax on the tax savings from taking that deduction, says McEowen. “So, you may want to sit down with a tax counselor to make sure you’re not stuck with what’s called ‘depreciation recapture’ further down the road.”

The following example may be helpful to illustrate other considerations when making tax deduction decisions for farm-asset purchases: “Let’s say a farmer is purchasing a tractor this year,” says McEowen. “First, the farmer must decide whether or not to take a Section 179 deduction and/or bonus depreciation. The Section 179 deduction can be as high as $500,000, and it applies to both used and new equipment, whereas the bonus depreciation only applies to new assets. However, there are two limitations to the Section 179 deduction:

  1.  The farmer must have taxable income from farm operations and other businesses at least equal to his planned Section 179 deduction (including most wages that he earns).
  2.  He must not have purchased more than $2 million in equipment for 2010. Purchases above this amount start to reduce the Section 179 deduction dollar for dollar.

“In the case of this farmer, as long as the farm is profitable and net income from farming and after other depreciation is more than the cost of the tractor, then the farmer will be able to completely deduct the cost of the tractor in 2011,” adds McEowen. “Any amount not deducted under Section 179 will be depreciated over seven years.”