OLYMPIA, Wash. — In the eyes of Washington’s tax law, beekeepers are now part of agriculture.
Apiarists were declared “farmers” in a sprawling tax-cutting bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee.
Senate Bill 6057 grants more than a dozen tax breaks to industries, including aluminum smelters, food processors, data centers and newspapers.
Wrapped into the bill was a provision that will give beekeepers the same tax status as other agricultural producers.
Beekeepers will be exempt from paying state business taxes on money they collect for pollination services or by selling their products, such as honey, wholesale. They also will be exempt from sales taxes for production expenses, such as bee feed and chemicals to keep hives healthy.
Any beekeeper with at least one colony qualifies for at least some of the exemptions. Budget writers estimated the loss in taxes at about $100,000 a year.
“I was really pleased (legislators) took common sense advice and made beekeepers the equivalent of farmers as far as the state is concerned,” said Ephrata commercial beekeeper Tim Hiatt, legislative director for the Washington State Beekeepers Association.
“When we told people about this, they would say, ‘Aren’t beekeepers already part of agriculture?’”
Legislators granted temporary tax relief to beekeepers in 2008 to help them cope with high mortality rates. The tax relief was due to expire in 2017. SB 6057 makes the tax breaks permanent.
Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside, sponsored the honeybee legislation. “Sen. Honeyford was our great champion on this one,” Hiatt said.
Beekeepers and Honeyford argued that beekeepers are a vital part of food production. Hiatt and others said that out-of-state beekeepers provide pollination services in Washington but leave without paying business taxes. “That really was a matter of fairness,” Hiatt said.
The tax breaks, including the one for beekeepers, were rolled into one bill that will cost the state an estimated $35.2 million over the next two years in lost revenue. One legislator remarked that there was something in the bill for every lawmaker to like and dislike, but it was a compromise package agreed to by House and Senate budget writers.
The bill passed the Senate 38-10 and the House 77-21.
The new tax treatment gave beekeepers one legislative victory this year.
Hiatt said the beekeepers association will renew its push next year for more funding for bee research at the Washington State University, a recommendation made last year by a Washington State Department of Agriculture work group.
Beekeepers also will continue to advocate for a pilot program to plant pollen-rich flowers on ground where noxious weeds have been eradicated. A bill this year was bogged down by concerns that the program would inadvertently introduce new problem plants on the landscape.