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Tax bill gives cooperatives preferential treatment

Farmers get a bigger deduction if they sell crops to agricultural cooperatives.

by Mario Parker and Sahil Kapur

A provision in last month’s U.S. tax overhaul that gives farmers the opportunity to significantly minimize their taxable income is drawing fire from some companies who could lose out as a result, while two senators behind the change pledged to fix the problem.

The measure in question gives farmers a bigger deduction if they sell crops to agricultural co-operatives. That appears to be a win for farmer-owned agribusinesses such as CHS Inc. at the expense of other major crop buyers like Archer Daniels Midland Co., Bunge Ltd. and Cargill Inc. 

The two Republican senators who worked to craft that part of the bill, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota and John Thune of South Dakota, say they were trying to preserve a provision from the outgoing tax code, and that the outcome for co-ops was unintentional. They’re now working with other lawmakers and the agriculture industry to find a "reasonable solution,” Ryan Wrasse, a spokesman for Thune, said in an emailed statement Wednesday. 

“Senator Thune believes that producers should make decisions about where and how to sell their products without the tax code unfairly tipping the scales in favor of marketing to one type of business entity or another," Wrasse said.

"Right now in terms of the technical fixes, this is the one that probably needs to get fixed the most," Thune told reporters in Washington on Thursday, referring to the tax bill.

Potential Solutions

American farmers produced crops last year worth some $183 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. CHS, the largest U.S. co-op, competes directly with Cargill, ADM and Bunge to buy and distribute corn, soybeans and wheat. CHS also competes directly in ethanol with Cargill, ADM and other producers of the biofuel like Green Plains Inc., all of whom use corn as a raw material. 

“Cargill, like nearly everyone following the tax bill, was surprised to see this last-minute addition to the bill,” said April Nelson, a spokeswoman for the largest privately owned U.S. company said. ADM and Bunge said separately that they’re evaluating the potential effects of the new tax provision while also looking at potential solutions.

“We believe this will be corrected very soon,” said Jim Stark, a spokesman for Green Plains. CHS declined to comment on the provision. 

The intent of the provision was to make sure “farmers and cooperatives were not unfairly treated” as the previous tax code was eliminated, said Kami Capener, a spokeswoman for Hoeven.

--With assistance from Allyson Versprille and Laura Davison.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mario Parker in Chicago at [email protected]; Sahil Kapur in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Simon Casey at [email protected]

John Voskuhl

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P

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