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There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to filing business licenses and permits, particularly for farming and agricultural businesses.

How do you determine which licenses and permits you need? According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), the first step is to examine your business activities on a federal and state level. Let’s say that your farm or ranch imports or transports animals. This type of business activity is considered to be agriculture. You would then go through the appropriate issuing agency, which is the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to file the proper permit. Filing for permits and licenses on a state level, however, often take business location into consideration as well as the company’s activities. Farming, as stated by the SBA, is a commonly regulated business activity with the state.

Not surprisingly, my initial research into writing this article quickly revealed that it’s incredibly difficult to provide farms and ranches with a “set” list of business licenses and permits. The licenses and permits these organizations apply for are ultimately determined by the state in which they do business, their activities, and how these activities are regulated at either a federal or state level.

That being said, some farms and/or ranches partake in unique business activities.

Would your state require a business license or permit for this lesser-known farming or ranch activity?

Let’s take a look and find out!

Farmers’ Market Sellers

Consider the phrase “farm to table” for a moment. Many think of a farmers market as quaint stalls out in a park that sell items ranging from honey to bread. However, what few may realize is that a farmers’ market seller and/or vendor must meet certain farmers market permit requirements.

A good example of this is the farmers market permits required by the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation. If you’re a vendor that wants to have a presence at the farmers market, you must obtain a City Parks Farmers Market Permit first. The office that the permit is obtained through will depend on your specific farmers market borough, which may range from the Bronx to Staten Island.

Farmers market sellers in New York are also encouraged to run through a checklist before selling products. This document is provided by the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. It offers up a general guideline for whether or not items sold at a farmers’ market require permits, licenses or certificates.

We’ll use the aforementioned examples of honey and bread to determine if these items need any licenses or permits to be sold at a farmers’ market. Honey does not require these documents, so long as it uses single-ingredient products. If additional ingredients are added, you’ll need to file for Article 20C License from the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets. Bread falls under the category of “baked goods” in this guideline. If the bread is home-baked and non-hazardous (without containing fruits or vegetables), then the NYS Department of Agriculture & Markets provide it with a 20E Exemption.

Wineries and Vineyards

A glass of vino, anyone? If you have a winery or vineyard where you make and sell wine, you’ll definitely need to file for the proper alcohol business license(s).

I’ll use my home state of California as an example to determine which licenses a California-based winery would need to obtain. The California Secretary of State website has a page dedicated to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. (Alcoholic Beverage Control is often abbreviated as “ABC” throughout the page.) Here you’ll find a catalog of necessary license types for wine. Beyond wine, the catalog also covers brandy, distilled spirits, and beer.

A typical winegrower, as stated on the page, that engages in wine production and uses facilities for converting fruit into wine must file for a winegrowers’ license. There’s even a license for grape growers with an abundance of grapes! If you have grown so many grapes that you have an oversupply and need to store the grapes elsewhere, you’ll need to apply for a wine grape grower’s storage license. This authorizes you to store the bulk grapes and wine made from said grapes. Should you ever need to sell the wine, this storage license allows you to sell it in California to other winegrowers. File these forms and additional winery documents through ABC’s portal.

The three business activities listed above, and their respective states, are examples of license and permit rules. Whether it’s on a federal or state level, if you are unsure of what kind of license or permit your farm requires, check with the SBA and your local Secretary of State office to learn more.

Citrus Growers and Dealers

Growing citrus fruits, like oranges and grapefruit, is big business in certain U.S. states. The state of Florida has even established the Florida Department of Citrus (FDOC). This resource links to other websites that expand upon citrus nutrition information and support for citrus growers.

What if you are a citrus grower who has decided to start a business in Florida? In addition to registering the overall business with the Florida Department of State and/or the IRS, you must also be licensed by the Florida Citrus Commission. Applying for a citrus fruit dealer license allows you to operate in the role, and the application may be found in the FDOC forms library.

About the Author(s)

Deborah Sweeney - Small Business Services at Deluxe Corporation

Deborah Sweeney is the GM & VP, Small Business Services at Deluxe Corporation. She is an advocate for protecting personal and professional assets for business owners and entrepreneurs.

General Manager and Vice President, Small Business Services at Deluxe Corporation
man working in vineyard