Do dairy farmers really only pay 3% tax?

Stuff reports:

Inland Revenue Department figures provided to revenue spokesman Stuart Nash show that, in the latest full year for which figures were available, the average paid by dairy farms was $1506 a year, despite an average Fonterra payout understood to be well over $500,000.

The 17,244 registered as being in the sector, including companies, trusts and individuals, paid only $26 million in tax.

This is such a bullshit story, I don’t know where to start. Here’s a few vital facts:

  1. The tax data is from 2008/09 and the Fonterra payout figure is from 2011. Epic fail. As I understand it commodity prices in 2008/09 were much lower, and most farmers in that year made a loss.
  2. The $500,000 is a revenue or turnover figure, not a profit figure. This is not comparing apples and oranges. A company can have a $500,000 turnover and a $30,000 profit. Turnover by itself is meaningless for tax purposes.
  3. The $26m in tax paid in 2008/09 only relates to tax entities classified as dairy farmers. Many dairy farmers are in the unclassified category which paid an additional $1.5b in tax.
  4. Labour and the Dom Post divided the $26m by the 17,244 tax entities registered as dairy farming. Many of these are defunct shelf companies etc. The actual number of dairy farms is thought to be around 11,500.

MAF have some data on the average dairy farm. In 2008/09 they found the average farm had $750,000 income, $529,000 expenses, $235,000 interest and depreciation resulting in a loss of $6,300. Their average tax bill was $18,600 so profit after tax was -$25k.

So the story is a total beatup. They commit two cardinal sins. One is comparing revenue from one year against tax of two years earlier. You’d be thrown of of accountancy school for that. Equally bad is comparing turnover to profit. A mistake that only people who have never worked in business would make.

Having said all that, I am a supporter of a (subject to a reduction in income taxes to compensate). A is near impossible to avoid, very simpleto calculate and provides an incentive for land to be out to good economic use.

If Labour are serious about closing tax loopholes, then they should propose a land tax. It would over time boost NZ’s economic growth as it encourages better economic use of land.

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