Oregon man argues for farm tax break for bee land

MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — A Jackson County man contends that his honeybees are livestock, so the grounds where they forage for nectar and pollen among wildflowers, clover and blackberries should qualify for a lower, agricultural property tax rate.

The county says the tillable land is idle and could be used for farming. Unless it is, it's not eligible for the lower rate, county officials have argued.

The difference is worth about $1,000 a year in the property tax bill on Leroy and Nancy Wehde's 40-acre property outside Rogue River, the Medford Mail Tribune reported Wednesday.

John Jacob owns Old Sol Apiaries and, depending on the season, keeps between 30 and 300 hives on his land, which is half in forest, half cleared.

The dispute is over the cleared part. Jacob's hives sit on about an acre of it, which qualifies that for the lower farm use tax rate.

But the county in 2011 disqualified 19 cleared acres on the grounds that it wasn't being used at its "highest and best use," such as for growing hay, grains, fruit trees, or for timber or pasture.

The hives are clustered near the edge of the property, for Jacob's convenience and to minimize bee stings elsewhere.

The bees produce honey, but most of Jacob's revenue comes from leasing bees to orchard owners during pollination season, generating larger yields of almonds and pears.

Jacob also sells disease-resistant queen bees and contends the property is "one of the best" in the area for bee foraging because of the variety of plants and the wooded area.

A tax court magistrate, Dan Robinson, upheld the county action. He said the bees forage beyond the boundary of the property, and the couple hadn't established that the bees' needs for foraging kept the couple from using the cleared land for agriculture.

Jackson County's assessor, Josh Gibson, said the tax court has a backlog, and a decision could take a year.

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Information from: Mail Tribune

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