Sen. Schumer Pushes Hard Cider Legislation To Ease Tax Burden On Producers

U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer has filed legislation that seeks to boost the sales for hard cider by updating the definition of hard cider to ease the overall tax burden on hard cider producers, which are predominantly small craft operations.

Schumer said the legislation, which now has a House of Representatives companion bill, is a boon for New York’s more than 20 existing hard apple cider producers and will allow the state’s more than 650 apple growers to expand their business and add hard cider to their product line. The alcohol content of New York’s hard cider fluctuates greatly due to sugar content, and current law often forces it to be taxed at a higher rate, preventing it from being labeled as hard cider. Compliance adds a significant financial burden to producers and consumers, and an unpredictable nature to the business, which makes it more expensive for cider producers and less attractive for potential new cider producers. Schumer and Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, filed the CIDER Act in the Senate, and it will now be referred to Senate Finance Committee.

The CIDER Act updates the definition for hard apple and pear cider in the Internal Revenue Code that would increase their allowed alcohol by volume from 7 percent to 8.5 percent, encompassing significantly more hard cider products and allowing them to be labeled and taxed like hard cider, rather than wine. Schumer’s legislation would also address existing tax issues related to carbonation levels in hard cider, and would put the new definition in line with that of the European Union, so producers can better compete with European products abroad. Hard cider is a value-added product that is sold around the same price every year; therefore hard cider gives producers a stable source of income when apple crops suffer due to weather and other unforeseen factors. New York apple producers are increasingly interested in producing smaller, artisanal batches of hard cider, but cite the cost and difficulty to comply with the IRC definition as significant impediments to expanding their businesses.

“New York is the second largest apple producer in the country, and there’s no doubt it should be at the core of the hard cider industry, which is rapidly growing in popularity,” Schumer said. “However, current federal tax rules make it extremely costly for New York producers and consumers alike to produce, market and sell this product, which could prevent New York’s hundreds of apple growers and hard cider producers from fully benefiting from the stable income that comes with this new product. That is why Senator Leahy and I have introduced legislation that will update the definition of hard cider in the federal tax code, to ensure that all products can be labeled and taxed for what they actually are, all while increasing our cider producers’ ability to compete overseas.”

BENEFITS TO NEW YORK STATE

New York is the second largest apple producer nationwide, harvesting a total of 29.5 million bushels annually from more than 650 farms and 41,000 acres across the state. In recent years, thanks to the growing popularity of hard cider, many apple producers have turned to producing this craft beverage as a method to keep apple orchards profitable, generate new economic development opportunities, and attract a new visitor demographic to their farms. There have been an increasing number of hard cider producers as a result, starting with a few producers a few years ago to over 20 today. And Schumer highlighted that number should only continue to grow, as a significant number of apple farmers are interested in adding this popular product, and have sought out advice and expertise from the Cornell Cooperative to do so.

Producing hard cider offers major benefits to apple orchards, whether they choose to increase production and add additional acres of “hard cider trees,” or if farmers simply use existing products to diversify their business. Most importantly, apple and other fruit growers who have suffered from frosts and bad weather in recent years, have benefited from adding hard cider into their business model, as it is not nearly as susceptible to these unpredictable occurrences. Some producers grow specific varieties of apples to produce hard cider, while other producers can use apples from their crops that have been damaged by storms. Hard cider can also be made from apples that are high quality, but that are not as aesthetically pleasing to sell on a farmer stand, and that would otherwise be sold at a loss or thrown away. In addition, hard cider is a value-added product, and can reign in significant value for producers than simply selling the same apples. However, the federal definition of hard cider under the Internal Revenue Code is restrictive to both current producers as well as those hundreds of growers that would like to enter production of this craft beverage.

There are 3,478 acres of apple orchards in Western New York.

PROBLEMS WITH CURRENT LAW

Schumer said current federal law only allows for up to 7 percent alcohol by volume before it is taxed as wine, and only a certain level of carbonation before it is subject to the champagne tax. All of New York’s cider producers are small craft cider operators, and because they rely on natural products, there is very little predictability and control over the precise alcohol content of their product. In addition, some consumers of hard apple cider expect a high level of carbonation as a substitute for beer, and current federal tax law doesn’t permit the desired amount without classifying the product as champagne. In both cases, hard cider often falls into a different beverage category, which makes non-compliant ciders subject to higher alcohol excise taxes, and complicates labeling issues. This makes the product more expensive for producers and consumers alike, and can make the sale and marketing of cider significantly more difficult. Schumer explained that consumers at local bars and restaurants are buying these products alongside beer, which means that virtually all ciders should be under $15/750ml bottle, and simply cannot compete when subject to higher excise taxes such as those in effect with champagne and wine. To illustrate, current law definition results in a tax of as much as $1.07 per gallon if the alcohol content is more than 7 percent and as much as $3.30 per gallon if it contains more than 39 percent carbon dioxide by volume. With the definition change, all hard cider will be taxed at the same rate of $0.23 per gallon, equivalent to the excise tax on beer. The new definition will also apply for the smallest producers to ensure they can maintain their discounted $0.17 per gallon tax on all hard cider production.