Recent Blog Posts

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, November 14th, 2018

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

Over the last several months, three nuisance cases have been decided against Smithfield Foods in federal court in North Carolina.  The juries in the cases have found Smithfield’s large farms, with thousands of hogs, and the odor, traffic, and flies that come along with them, to be a nuisance to neighboring landowners.  Smithfield has been ordered to pay hefty damages to the neighbors, and more cases against the company remain to be decided.  Given the outcomes of the cases that have been decided thus far, farmers and landowners in Ohio might be wondering how Ohio law compares to North Carolina law as pertains to agricultural nuisances.

Ohio’s Right-to-Farm law

Many states, including both Ohio and North Carolina, have “right-to-farm” legislation, which in part is meant to protect agriculture from nuisance lawsuits such as those filed against Smithfield.  While nearly every state has a right-to-farm statute, they do differ in language and how they go about protecting agriculture. 

Ohio farmers have right-to-farm protection in two parts of the Revised Code.  ORC Chapter 929 establishes “agricultural districts.”  Generally, in order to place land in an agricultural district, the owner of the land must file an application with the county auditor.  Certain requirements must be met in order for an application to be accepted.  Slightly different rules apply if the land in question is within a municipal corporation or is being annexed by a municipality.  If the application is accepted, the land is placed in an agricultural district for five years.  The owner may submit a renewal application after that time is up.

Being part of an agricultural district in Ohio can help farmers and landowners to defend against civil lawsuits.  ORC 929.04 reads:

In a civil action for nuisances involving agricultural activities, it is a complete defense if:

  • The agricultural activities were conducted within an agricultural district;
  • Agricultural activities were established within the agricultural district prior to the plaintiff’s activities or interest on which the action is based;
  • The plaintiff was not involved in agricultural production; and
  • The agricultural activities were not in conflict with federal, state, and local laws and rules relating to the alleged nuisance or were conducted in accordance with generally accepted agriculture practices. 

The ORC’s chapter on nuisances provides additional protection for those “engaged in agriculture-related activities.”  Under ORC 3767.13, people who are practicing agricultural activities “outside a municipal corporation, in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices, and in such a manner so as not to have a substantial, adverse effect on public health, safety, or welfare” are typically exempt from claims of nuisance due to farm noise, smells, etc.

North Carolina’s Right-to-Farm law

Much like Ohio, North Carolina farm land can be part of an “agricultural district.” North Carolina’s preservation of farmland law is available here.  This program is meant to protect agricultural land—land that is part of an agricultural district is must be used for agriculture for at least 10 years.  However, unlike Ohio’s law, North Carolina does not specifically spell out that land in agricultural districts will be protected from nuisance suits when the landowner follows the rules of the agricultural district.  North Carolina’s law does state that one of the purposes of agricultural districts is to “increase protection from nuisance suits and other negative impacts on properly managed farms,” but unlike Ohio, it does not explicitly state that being part of an agricultural district is a defense to a nuisance lawsuit. 

North Carolina also has a statute which specifically spells out the right-to-farm.  In response to the recent jury decisions, however, North Carolina has changed its right-to-farm law.  The original law read:

  1. No agricultural or forestry operation or any of its appurtenances shall be or become a nuisance, private or public, by any changed conditions in or about the locality outside of the operation after the operation has been in operation for more than one year, when such an operation was not a nuisance at the time the operation began.

(a1) The provisions of subsection (a) of this section shall not apply when the plaintiff demonstrates that the agricultural or forestry operation has undergone a fundamental change.  A fundamental change does not include any of the following:

  1. A change in ownership or size.
  2. An interruption of farming for a period of no more than three years.
  3. Participation in a government-sponsored agricultural program.
  4. Employment of new technology.
  5. A change in the type of agricultural or forestry product produced.

The original law did not protect agricultural operations if their actions were negligent or improper.  The original law is available here.

Following the first decision against Smithfield, the North Carolina legislature overrode the Governor’s veto to implement amendments to the state’s right-to-farm law.  In the amendments, available here (sections 106-701 and 106-702), the legislature substantially changed the language of the law, making what constitutes a nuisance much more explicit and dependent on certain factors.  What is more, the new version of the law places limits on when plaintiffs can recover punitive damages for a private nuisance action.  

A comparison of the Ohio and North Carolina’s sections of legislation promoting the “right-to-farm” shows how different the two states are.  Ohio’s legislative language makes it obvious that the meaning of the law is to protect agriculture from nuisance suits—by specifically stating that being in an agricultural district is a complete defense to nuisance, and that otherwise, agriculture is generally exempt from nuisance suits.  North Carolina’s law concerning agricultural districts does not specifically state that being in such a district is a defense to nuisance, instead, it simply expresses the hope that districts will “increase protection from nuisance suits.”  Furthermore, while North Carolina’s original right-to-farm law stated that agricultural operations do not “become a nuisance” due to changed conditions in the community, that language is not very specific.  Ohio’s agricultural district language lays out exactly what must be done to have a complete defense against a nuisance lawsuit; North Carolina’s language in multiple parts of the General Statutes does not have the same degree of specificity.

Permit as a defense to nuisance

In addition to the right-to-farm law, under ORC 903.13, those owning, operating, or responsible for concentrated animal feeding facilities in Ohio have an affirmative defense to a private civil action for nuisance against them if the CAFO is “in compliance with best management practices” established in their installation of a disposal system or operation permits.   North Carolina does not appear to have similar language protecting permitted farms in its General Statutes. 

Other factors that may come into play

In the lawsuits against Smithfield farms, the lawyers for the plaintiffs (neighboring landowners) have continuously asserted that Smithfield has “means and ability” to “reduce the nuisance from existing facilities” by ending the use of “lagoon and sprayfield” systems at their farms.  Plaintiffs stress that not only is Smithfield Foods, Inc. a large, wealthy, multinational company, but that they have also changed their lagoon and sprayfield practices outside of North Carolina.  In lagoon and sprayfield systems, all waste is collected in an open-air lagoon and then sprayed on fields as fertilizer.  The practice was first banned for new construction in North Carolina in 1997, and in 2007, the state permanently banned the practice for newly constructed swine facilities.  Although many of the facilities in question were opened before any ban on the construction of lagoon and sprayfield facilities, the plaintiffs contend that changes made in other states mean Smithfield can afford to change in North Carolina.  The ban on new lagoon and sprayfield systems in North Carolina, and evidence that Smithfield has used different practices to reduce the smell from the farms in other states, likely helped the juries in the cases that have been tried to date find that the farms are a nuisance to their neighbors. The above argument is something operators of livestock facilities in Ohio should be aware of.  Although Ohio has not specifically banned lagoon and sprayfield systems like North Carolina has, the ability to change the system could still potentially be used to argue nuisance.  Ohio operators are supposed to follow best management practices and the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Field Office Technical guide when applying and storing manure, which include ways to reduce odor from manure and other applications, as well as reducing other types of nutrient pollution.  Following such guidelines would likely help operators in any argument against nuisance. 

By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, November 09th, 2018

Every year, we hear fascinating legal updates at the American Agricultural Law Association’s annual conference.  Thanks to presentations by Todd Janzen and Brianna Schroeder of Janzen Ag Law in Indianapolis, we were inspired to learn a little more about trends in meat law.  For readers with a livestock operation, these legal issues can present great challenges, and keeping up to date on legal trends helps farmers stay prepared.

Veal, pork, and eggs: states battle each other on minimum confinement space regulations.

California voters passed Proposition 12 in the November 2018 election, which will require producers to comply with minimum confinement space regulations in order to sell certain products in California.  The Prevent Cruelty California Coalition placed the proposition on the ballot, expanding a previous regulation on in-state suppliers, but the new law would apply to any producer trying to sell veal, pork, or eggs in California.  By 2020, veal calves must be housed with at least 43 square feet of usable floor space, breeding pigs must be housed with at least 24 square feet of usable floor space, and egg-laying hens must have at least 1 square foot of floor space.  However, by 2022, egg-laying hens must be cage free.  Proposition 12 strengthens requirements approved by California voters in 2008’s Proposition 2 by imposing the requirements on out-of-state producers who want to sell their products in California.

In 2016, Massachusetts voters approved a ballot measure that would require eggs sold within the state to be cage free by 2022.  Thirteen states, led by Indiana, have sued Massachusetts in the United States Supreme Court in an attempt to stop Massachusetts from enforcing the requirement.  These states allege that the restriction is an attempt to regulate how farmers in other states operate, which violates the rights of other states to create their own regulations.  This would be a constitutional question under what is known as the Dormant Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from unfairly regulating business activities that have impacts beyond a state’s border.  Status updates on the lawsuit are available here.

Trying a legislative solution to slow the trend of cage-free restrictions, Iowa passed a law earlier this year that requires grocers that sell cage-free eggs to also sell conventional eggs if they want to receive benefits from the USDA WIC program.  Supporters of the law argued that cage-free eggs are often more expensive and excluded from the WIC program.  They argue that as a result, when grocers make commitments to sell only cage-free eggs, they make it more difficult for low-income families to purchase eggs.

Beef: non-meat proteins continue to target beef.

The “Impossible Burger” wants to convince consumers that a non-meat burger patty that tastes just like meat is just around the corner.  Veggie burgers are not new to the grocery store shelves, but recent innovations that have allowed non-meat proteins to improve in taste and texture have raised concerns among meat producers that these products are becoming a serious threat.  Given that many of these innovations have taken aim at the burger market, beef producers in particular have felt a target on their backs.  As we reported in a previous edition of The Harvest, Missouri became the first state this year to regulate labeling of non-animal products as being derived from an animal, and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association has petitioned the USDA to consider regulating labels involving animal terms like “meat.”  Other speakers at the AALA conference indicated that the USDA is currently debating how to regulate labels, but has yet to develop a comprehensive rule package.

Dairy contracts: always know what you are signing.

The market has been very tough for dairy producers.  Having a long term supply contract in place is certainly preferable to no contract, but depending upon the terms of the contract, unfortunate surprises may be in store.

Purchasers often write the contracts, and include terms that favor them.  For example, many contracts contain termination provisions that allow either party to end the agreement for essentially any reason with prior notice, often 30 days.  When producers invest in their operations under the expectation that the contract will stand throughout the term specified, these termination provisions can result in devastating surprises.  As another example, many contracts contain confidentiality agreements that make it difficult for a producer to determine whether the deal they are offered is great, average, or actually bad.  Equally concerning for producers are provisions that shift liability for problems with the milk to the producer, and away from the purchaser who sells the milk on the market.  With modern technology, tracking where milk originated makes this possible.  Courts are likely to enforce these agreements because the law of contracts favors enforcement of private agreements.

Given the current market, many dairy producers felt that they are not in a position to negotiate better terms, for fear that another dairy close by will accept the terms as-is.  This position is made worse by the inability of producers to talk about their contracts with one another because of confidentiality provisions.

What a producer can do is to read the contract carefully and make sure that he or she understands the terms of the contract.  It may be wise to speak with an attorney to verify that the producer’s understanding of the contract matches how the contract is likely to be read by a court.

By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, November 07th, 2018

A landowner may present evidence regarding the value and acreage of his or her land, but the Board of Tax Appeals (BTA) is free to weigh that evidence as it wishes, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.  All seven justices agreed that the BTA in the case of Johnson v. Clark County Board of Revision acted with appropriate discretion, although two justices did not sign onto the reasoning as to why the BTA acted appropriately.  The case involved a property owner’s challenge of the Clark County Auditor’s determination of Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) for property tax purposes.

Continue reading for more information about what CAUV is, how CAUV determinations and tax assessments can be appealed, what happened in the Johnson v. Clark County Board of Revision case, and the main takeaways from the Supreme Court’s decision.

What is CAUV?

CAUV permits owners of land devoted exclusively to agricultural uses to request that the county auditor assess property for tax purposes based upon the value of the land’s current agricultural use, rather than its true market value.  Since its inception, CAUV has generally provided landowners with qualifying property a lower tax bill than they otherwise would have using market value.  Ohio most recently changed the formula for CAUV in 2017.  If CAUV land is converted to a use that no longer qualifies for CAUV treatment, the land is again assessed based upon its fair market value and the landowner must pay to the county the difference between the CAUV value and the fair market value for the prior three years.  To learn more about CAUV, visit the Ohio Department of Taxation’s CAUV webpage here.

How can a CAUV determination be appealed?

First, if a landowner believes that all or part of his or her parcel qualifies for CAUV, an application must be submitted to the county auditor where the land is located.  County auditors are the “chief assessing officers of their respective counties” and have the authority, within the guidelines of the state tax commissioner, to make the initial CAUV determination under Ohio Revised Code § 5715.01(B).  Landowners should contact their county auditors about filing instructions.

Second, the procedure to appeal whether land qualifies for CAUV is different than the procedure to appeal a tax valuation assessment.  If a landowner does not agree with their county auditor’s determination as to whether or not land qualifies for CAUV, they have thirty days to file an appeal with their county court of common pleas under Ohio Revised Code § 929.02(A)(2).  Decisions of courts of common pleas can be appealed to the state district court of appeals, and those decisions can be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

If a landowner does not agree with their county auditor’s valuation assessment, the landowner may file a complaint with their county Board of Revision.  The forms for these complaints are generally available at the county auditor’s office or website.  If a Board of Revision believes that the county auditor made an error in applying the CAUV statute and rules, the board has the authority to revise tax assessments.  If the landowner still does not agree with the Board of Revision’s decision, he or she may appeal to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals within thirty days of the Board of Revision’s decision under Ohio Revised Code § 5717.01.  More information is available on the BTA’s website here.  Alternatively, under Ohio Revised Code § 5717.05, the landowner may appeal the Board of Revision’s decision to the appropriate county court of common pleas.

Decisions of the BTA can be appealed to the respective state district court of appeals where the land in question is located, and those decisions can be appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.  However, there are certain cases in which landowners can appeal decisions of the BTA directly to the Ohio Supreme Court under Ohio Revised Code § 5717.04.  However, the types of appeals of a BTA decision eligible for direct appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court were reduced in September 2017 through House Bill 49.

What happened in Johnson v. Clark County Board of Revision?

Mr. Johnson challenged the Clark County Auditor’s 2013 tax assessment of his 154.61 acre farm.  Neither party disagreed that the land qualified for CAUV, but Mr. Johnson disagreed with how much the Clark County Auditor said the farm was worth under the CAUV formula.  For tax year 2013, the auditor assessed the property’s CAUV at $457,250.

Mr. Johnson appealed to the Clark County Board of Revision.  He testified, and also elicited testimony from an employee of the Clark County Soil and Water Conservation District and an employee of the Clark County Auditor’s office.  Further, Mr. Johnson presented photographs, official records from the tax commissioner and auditor, and a “self-prepared written statement purporting to convey [the SWCD employee’s] site-visit findings.”  The Board of Revision rejected Mr. Johnson’s claims.

Mr. Johnson then appealed to the Ohio Board of Tax Appeals.  Again, Mr. Johnson testified and produced a number of exhibits.  At this appeal, he elicited testimony from an employee of the Ohio Department of Taxation.  The BTA also rejected Mr. Johnson’s claims, finding that the Clark County Auditor had acted appropriately.  Mr. Johnson then filed an appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court in 2016.  Mr. Johnson represented himself pro se, or without an attorney.

What are the main takeaways, and why did the landowner not succeed?

First, the Ohio Supreme Court explained that a landowner challenging a Board of Revision or Auditor’s tax assessment must convince the BTA that his or her valuation assessment is correct and the one they are challenging is incorrect.  This requirement to convince the Board of Tax Appeals is known as the burden of proof.  The burden of proof determines which party must play an active role in proving his or her argument, while the opposing side will only have to present proof to counter if the board finds that the first party has carried its burden.  Here, the court said that Mr. Johnson, as the landowner challenging the assessment, had the burden to convince the BTA.  The court disagreed with Mr. Johnson’s argument that the county should have to rebut his evidence and prove the value that it assessed.

Second, even though the BTA properly said that Mr. Johnson had the burden of proof, this does not mean that the BTA should have presumed the Board of Revision’s decision to have been correct.  Instead, the BTA must independently analyze the evidence presented to it, and not simply defer to and accept the Board of Revision’s decision.  Here, the Ohio Supreme Court found that the BTA did conduct an independent assessment in confirming the Board of Revision’s determination.

Third, while an owner may present evidence as to the value of his or her land, a BTA has discretion to determine how much weight to give to that evidence.  An owner’s opinion as to the value of his or her land is not determinative, but is merely a piece of evidence that the BTA may consider.

Fourth, instead of looking at the acreage, the focus of the assessment should be on boundaries and a property’s uses within those boundaries.  The Ohio Supreme Court explained the distinction between calculating acres and delineating boundaries by using dictionary definitions, and the distinction is essentially that a bounded area is fixed in space, while acreage alone describes an area without a specific line of demarcation.  To prove that a parcel or portion of a parcel qualify for CAUV treatment, the boundaries of the qualifying land must be determined.  Acres can only be determined after the boundaries are established.  Here, Mr. Johnson did not prove the boundaries of CAUV areas on his land to the BTA’s satisfaction, and the Ohio Supreme Court said that it was within the BTA’s discretion to reject Mr. Johnson’s evidence.

The Ohio Supreme Court’s full opinion, cited as 2018-Ohio-4390, is available here.  Additional facts about the case can be found within the court’s opinion.

Posted In: Tax
Tags: agricultural tax law, farm tax law, cauv
Comments: 0
By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, November 02nd, 2018

Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, and Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

We’re back from the American Agricultural Law Association’s 2018 symposium, which was held in Portland, Oregon this year.  We had the chance to hear from lawyers and experts from across the nation on various legal issues facing agriculture.  Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for an update on what we learned at the symposium, but first, here’s the latest in agricultural law news:

Vote to designate watersheds in distress tabled by Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission.  As recently reported in the Ag Law Blog, the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission held a meeting this week to discuss whether to designate certain sub-watersheds in the Western Lake Erie Basin as “in distress.”  Such designation would trigger additional management and reporting requirements on farmers in affected watersheds.  The Commission voted 4-3 to table the discussion and wait for the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) to examine the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s proposed rule changes next month.  This week’s vote maintains the status quo without extending the “in distress” designation to other watersheds.

FDA releases two FSMA draft guidance documents.  The Food and Drug Administration recently released draft guidance documents explaining how to follow rules under the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).  One document, titled “Guide to Minimize Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Produce,” provides guidance on how to follow the Preventive Controls Rule under FSMA.  “Fresh-cut produce,” is defined as “any fresh fruit or vegetable or combination thereof that has been physically altered from its whole state after being harvested from the field without additional processing.”  The guidance would affect manufacturers, processors, packers, and holders of fresh-cut produce.  The document covers current good manufacturing practices, as well as “new requirements for hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls.”  The draft guidance document, in addition to information on how to submit a comment on the guidance, is available here

The second draft guidance document is titled “Standards for the Growing, Harvesting, Packing, and Holding of Produce for Human Consumption: Guidance for Industry.”  This document provides guidance on how to follow FSMA’s Produce Safety Rule.  The guidance would affect produce farms.  The guidance covers personnel qualifications and training, health and hygiene practices, biological soil amendments, contamination from domesticated and wild animals, suggestions for practices during the growing, harvesting, packing, and holding of produce, sanitation of equipment, recordkeeping on produce farms, and other topics.  According to a press release about the two guidance documents, FDA will be holding a series of four public meetings at various places around the U.S. to discuss the second draft guidance document with those affected.  FDA will be announcing the details about the meetings in the Federal Register soon.

It is important to remember that these are draft guidance documents.  Furthermore, guidance documents are just that—guidance.  In other words, the documents are there as suggestions on how to follow rules, and “do not establish legally enforceable responsibilities.”

EPA renews dicamba registration for cotton and soybeans, and updates labels.  On October 31, 2018, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shared its decision on changes to applying dicamba, the much discussed herbicide.  EPA renewed the herbicide’s registration until December 20, 2020 for application to growing (what EPA terms “over-the-top”) dicamba-resistant cotton and soybean plants. 

Below is EPA’s list of label alterations to dicamba products for the 2019-2020 growing season:

  • Two-year registration (until December 20, 2020)
  • Only certified applicators may apply dicamba over the top (those working under the supervision of a certified applicator may no longer make applications) 
  • Prohibit over-the-top application of dicamba on soybeans 45 days after planting and cotton 60 days after planting
  • For cotton, limit the number of over-the-top applications from 4 to 2 (soybeans remain at 2 OTT applications)
  • Applications will be allowed only from 1 hour after sunrise to 2 hours before sunset
  • In counties where endangered species may exist, the downwind buffer will remain at 110 feet and there will be a new 57-foot buffer around the other sides of the field (the 110-foot downwind buffer applies to all applications, not just in counties where endangered species may exist)
  • Clarify training period for 2019 and beyond, ensuring consistency across all three products (Xtendimax with Vapor Grip Technology, Engenia Herbicide, DuPont FeXapan Herbicide)
  • Enhanced tank clean out instructions for the entire system
  • Enhanced label to improve applicator awareness on the impact of low pH’s on the potential volatility of dicamba
  • Label clean up and consistency to improve compliance and enforceability

EPA’s press release is available here.  More information on dicamba registration for resistant cotton and soybeans is available here

Judge reduces jury verdict against Bayer’s Monsanto.  As we predicted in a previous edition of The Harvest, Bayer’s Monsanto quickly challenged a quarter billion dollar verdict granted by a San Francisco jury to a plaintiff who alleged that Monsanto’s Roundup weed killer caused his cancer.  Monsanto asked the judge to reconsider the jury’s verdict, and on Monday, October 22nd, the judge reduced the punitive damages portion of the jury verdict from $250 million to $39.25 million.  The judge accepted the jury’s finding that Monsanto acted with malice, but said that the evidence did not justify a quarter billion dollar award.  The judge did uphold the $39.25 million compensatory damages verdict.  In total, the plaintiff would receive a $78.5 million award.  Just this week, the plaintiff accepted the reduction in the award, saying that he will not ask the judge to reconsider the decision on damages.  However, the litigation seems likely to continue, so stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for more updates about the glyphosate and Roundup lawsuits.

Blockchain: the future of information sharing?  We keep hearing about Blockchain technology, but what is it?  Blockchain is a digital system that allows users to securely transfer information and money without an intermediary to facilitate the transfer.  The transfers are recorded and timestamped, and the information contained in the “blocks” cannot be modified without the agreement of a majority of network users.  The system is decentralized in nature, meaning that the information is not stored in one location but is rather is stored on servers across the globe.  This makes the system more secure and less prone to modification because no single user can control the blockchain.  Its early uses were for digital cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, but its uses have expanded into information.  The system has a potential in almost every sector of the economy, agriculture included.  For example, Walmart announced plans to utilize blockchain to quickly track products like produce all the way from the ground to the consumer.  By tracking information on foods like produce, companies like Walmart hope to be able to quickly determine sources of contamination in its food supply.  This would not only be a way to save lives, but to also not have to waste produce that was not contaminated.  For more information on Blockchain, here is a webinar from the National Agricultural Law Center that goes more in depth on what blockchain is, how it works, and how it can be utilized to help agriculture.

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

Readers of the Ag Law Blog will recall our previous posts regarding Governor Kasich’s “watersheds in distress” executive order and the rules proposed to accompany the order.  The proposed rules were recently filed and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission continues to hold meetings about which watersheds will actually be designated as “distressed.”

“Watersheds in Distress” rules are filed and hearing is scheduled

On October 15, 2018, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) filed the proposed watersheds in distress rules in the Register of Ohio, which would make changes to Ohio Administrative Code Sections 901:13-1-11, 901:13-1-19, and 901:13-1-99.  A hearing on the proposed amendments will be held on November 20, 2018 at 9:00 a.m. in the Ohio Department of Agriculture, Bromfield Administration Building, Auditorium 141, 8995 East Main Street, Reynoldsburg, Ohio, 43068-3399.  Interested members of the public are invited to attend and participate.  Written comments are also welcomed, and information about where to send such comments can be found here.  Below, we will outline the proposed changes to each rule in turn. 

  • OAC 901:13-1-11

OAC 901:13-1-11 currently only applies to land application of manure in watersheds in distress.  The proposed changes to the rule would also make it applicable to the land application of “nutrients,” or “nitrogen, phosphorous, or a combination of both,” in watersheds in distress.  Under the proposed amendments, those responsible “for the land application of nutrients on more than fifty acres” of agricultural land would not be allowed to “surface apply nutrients:”

  1. On snow-covered or frozen soil;

  2. When the top two inches of soil are saturated from precipitation; and

  3. In a granular form when the local weather forecast for the application area contains greater than a fifty per cent chance of precipitation exceeding one inch in a twelve-hour period.

The same restrictions would apply for manure.  If either manure or nutrients are “injected into the ground,” “incorporated within twenty-four hours of surface application,” or “applied to a growing crop,” however, the above restrictions would not apply. 

The proposed changes would also alter and remove some language currently in the rule.  The new rule would also remove the date restrictions on the surface application of manure that currently exist, as well as the requirement that the responsible party keep records of the local weather forecast.  A document with the proposed amendments can be found here.

  • OAC 901:13-19

Proposed changes to OAC 901:13-19 would require those who apply nutrients to more than fifty acres annually in a watershed in distress to “develop and operate in conformance with a nutrient management plan.”  The original rule only applies to those applying manure.  The new rule would also require “an attestation to the completion” of nutrient management plans to be “submitted” to the Director of ODA.  The Director would also be given the power to “establish a deadline for all NMPs to be completed,” which would have to happen twelve to thirty-six months after the designation of a watershed in distress.  The Director would also have the power to request NMPs from producers.  The new rule would further require ODA to audit at least five percent of the attestations every year. Attestations would have to be completed each time an NMP is updated.    

As for the content in the NMPs, the proposed rule would remove date prohibitions on manure application.  The proposed rule also prescribes the form that NMP plans for nutrient application must take, as well as the information that must be included.  The proposed rule would also change some language around so that parts that once only applied to manure would apply to nutrients, as well.  The proposed changes to OAC 901:13-19 can be found here

  • OAC 901:13-1-99

OAC 901:13-1-99 contains the civil penalties for violating any of the rules in 901:13-1.  The proposed changes to this section would reflect the changes to the other sections discussed above by including penalties for violating the new rule provisions. 

More meetings will be held to determine which watersheds are “distressed”

In addition to the proposed rules for watersheds in distress, activity is also taking place on which particular watersheds within the Western Lake Erie Basin will actually be designated “distressed.”  To this end, the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission has held several public meetings throughout the summer and fall to examine the question.  Today, November 1, 2018, the Commission will hold yet another public meeting, where a vote on which watersheds are designated “distressed” may occur.

Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for updates on watershed in distress designations and the accompanying proposed rules!   

By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, October 12th, 2018

Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow, and Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

Here's a gathering of recent agricultural law news from OSU's Agricultural & Resource Law Program:

FDA seeks comments, asking “what is milk?”  The Food and Drug Administration recently posted a request for public comment in the Federal Register regarding the labeling of plant-based products that use terms associated with dairy in their names.  The FDA explains that it wants to know how consumers use products like soy milk and whether such labels provide enough clarity to consumers.  The press releases can be viewed here.  The public may submit comments here until November 27th, 2018.

Sixth Circuit says Clean Water Act does not cover discharges into ground water.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which includes Ohio, published an opinion on September 24th that seems to limit the extent of the Clean Water Act.  At issue in Tennessee Clean Water Network v. Tennessee Valley Authority was whether the TVA violated the Clean Water Act by dumping coal ash into a pond that was leaking into ground water that eventually would reach the Cumberland River.  The Fourth and Ninth Circuits previously published opinions saying that an underground “hydrological connection” between protected navigable Waters of the United States and unprotected ground water was enough to require a Clean Water Act permit.  In rejecting this approach, the Sixth Circuit creates a split that may send this question to the Supreme Court.  For now, the law in the Sixth Circuit, and therefore Ohio, is that a discharge into an underground water source that has a hydrological connection to a federal navigable water is not a discharge from a point source that triggers Clean Water Act protections.  The Sixth Circuit’s opinion is available online here.

Water Infrastructure Bill Headed to the President’s Desk.  After a bipartisan effort, Congress passed “America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018” on Wednesday with a 99-1 vote in the Senate.  The House had approved the bill by a voice vote in mid-September.  If signed by the President, the law would authorize the Army Corps of Engineer to carry out a variety of river and harbor improvements across the country, along with other conservation and water resource development projects.  The bill did not specifically earmark projects for Ohio, but it did authorize a Coastal Resiliency Study for the Great Lakes.  Also included in the bill was a reauthorization for the Safe Drinking Water Act, which authorizes the U.S. EPA to set drinking water standards and work toward reaching those standards.  Visit Congress’s website for the full text of the Senate Bill 3021.

States wait to decide on whether to end joint Ohio River standards.  Currently, the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) sets water quality standards and performs assessments for the Ohio River Basin.  Formed in 1948, ORSANCO includes representatives from Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the federal government.  The members of the commission were set last week to vote on whether to decentralize the setting of water quality standards, and instead have the individual states along the Ohio River set their own standards.  The vote was postponed in order to provide commissioners with more time to consider the proposal.  According to WCPO Cincinnati and Politico, opponents of the proposal say that this could harm water quality by allowing conflicting standards, while proponents argue that the commission’s role is redundant in light of the U.S. EPA’s jurisdiction over the Ohio River and its major tributaries.  Learn more about ORSANCO by visiting their website.

Multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses become available in Ohio.  As we reported in a Harvest post earlier this year, Governor Kasich signed a bill into law that created multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for residents of Ohio, and that allows the Division of Wildlife to offer licensure “packages” for any combination of licenses, permits, or stamps.  The new license categories are codified in Ohio Revised Code section 1533.321.  On Tuesday, October 9, 2018, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that the new multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses were available for purchase.  The options include 3, 5, 10-year, and lifetime licenses for three age categories—Youth (17 and younger), Adult (18-65), and Senior (66 and older).  More information on hunting and fishing licenses can be found here, including pricing, and where and how licenses can be purchased.

NAFTA 2.0 is now USMCA.  The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has released the text of the proposed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which President Trump intends to use as a replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).  NAFTA is currently a federal statute, and replacing it will require an act of Congress.  The U.S. Trade Representative’s webpage contains official summaries and fact sheets regarding the agreement, along with the current text of the agreement.

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Tags: ag law harvest
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By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, October 11th, 2018

Since significant changes were made to Ohio’s Line Fence Law in 2008, landowners have contacted us with a variety of questions about how it works.  We have compiled many of the frequently asked questions in our new law bulletin, appropriately titled Ohio’s Line Fence Law: Frequently Asked Questions.  The law bulletin answers questions like:

  • Who has to pay for a new line fence?
  • Can I stop my neighbor from installing a new line fence?
  • Who has to pay for maintenance and upkeep of a line fence?
  • What is the role of the township trustees?
  • What happens when my neighbor and I disagree?

The new law bulletin is available here.  If you still have some questions about Ohio’s line fence law, check out the Line Fence Law section of our Ag Law Library here, including our more in-depth fact sheet and our explanation about line fence affidavits.

Posted In: Property
Tags: line fence law
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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Friday, October 05th, 2018

Those post cards advising producers of a $1.51 billion settlement in the Syngenta corn seed lawsuits are legitimate, and corn producers seeking compensation from thesettlement must file claims by 11:59 p.m. on October 12, 2018.  The settlement is the result of class action and individual lawsuits alleging that Syngenta failed to receive import approval from China before selling its genetically modified Viptera and Duracade seeds in the United States, which led to the rejection of  U.S. corn shipments and a lowering of corn prices from 2013 to 2018.

Who can file a claim?

Three types of claimants that were involved in the U.S. corn market between September 15, 2013 and April 10, 2018 may file claims: 

  • Corn producers, which includes any owner, operator, landlord or tenant who shared in the risk of producing any variety of corn, not just Syngenta varieties.  Landlords who operated under fixed cash leases are not eligible.
  • Grain handling facilities that purchased, transported, stored, handled and sold any variety of corn. 
  • Ethanol production facilities that produced, purchased and sold dried distillers' grains from any variety of corn.

How to file a claim?

File electronically through a secure, encrypted portal at www.CornSeedSettlement.com or download a printed form on the same website to file via U.S. mail.  Claimants must file using either a federal tax ID number or social security number and must file a separate claim for each Form 578 filed with FSA.  Note that the settlement claims administrator states that all claims information is confidential and will be destroyed after the payment of claims.

How much will a claimant receive?

Payments will vary and will depend upon the total number of filed claims.  For corn producers, the claims administrator will determine payments based on the following factors: (1) compensable recovery quantity as calculated by number of acres, ownership interest, NASS county yields and predetermined marketing year averages, (2) the year of planting, (3) the producer’s ownership interest, and (4) whether the producer purchased and planted Agrisure Viptera or Duracade seed or a different variety.

When will claimants receive payments?

A claimant might not receive a payment for about a year.  A court hearing to approve the settlement will take place in the U.S District Court in Kansas on November 15, 2018.  If the court approves the settlement, those who object to the approval can file appeals.  Final payments won't occur until the court resolves all appeals, which could take about a year or more.

Must claimants report payments as income?

Class action settlement payments that compensate for the loss of business income should be reported for tax purposes.  Claimants should consult with tax advisors to determine IRS reporting requirements.

For more information, an extensive list of frequently asked questions about the Syngenta corn seed settlement is available here

By Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

On September 25, 2018, USDA found a Cleveland, Ohio company to be in violation of the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, or PACA.  USDA initiated the complaint against Forest City Weingart Produce (Forest City) in November 2017.  Forest City’s failure to pay $716,689, collectively, to numerous produce sellers is considered “unfair conduct” under PACA.  The complaint was determined to be valid, and consequently, Forest City is not permitted to “operate in the produce industry” for a time.  Because USDA found Forest City’s violations to be “repeated and flagrant,” under PACA, the Secretary of Agriculture had the authority to revoke the company’s license.  According to USDA’s press release, Forest City will be able to reapply for a PACA license on September 21, 2020.  The principal officers of the company are also banned from being “employed by or affiliated with any PACA licensee” through September 21, 2019.  Since Forest City has been found to have violated PACA by participating in unfair conduct, the law states that the company is liable to those they took advantage of “for the full amount of damages,” which in this case, would be the aforementioned $716,689. 

What is PACA?

PACA was passed in 1930.  The Act’s purpose is to promote “fair business practices” when buying and selling “perishable agricultural commodit[ies].”  A perishable agricultural commodity is defined in the law as “fresh fruits and fresh vegetables of every kind and character,” which can also be “frozen or packed in ice,” including “cherries in brine.” 

PACA contains a list of what the law considers to be “unfair conduct.”  Such unfair conduct is unlawful for commission merchants, dealers, or brokers, who are essentially the middle-men of the perishable agricultural commodities industry, to engage in.  The following actions are deemed to be “unfair” under the law, and therefore illegal when the transaction is in interstate or foreign commerce:

  • Using any unfair, unreasonable, discriminatory, or deceptive practice when weighing, counting, or determining the quantity of a perishable agricultural commodity;
  • Rejecting or failing to deliver perishable agricultural commodities under the terms of the contract, if there is no reasonable cause for the failure;
  • Discarding, dumping, or destroying any perishable agricultural commodity received without reasonable cause;
  • Making a false or misleading statement, for a fraudulent purpose, in connection with any transaction involving a perishable agricultural commodity; failing or refusing to make full, prompt, payment in such a transaction; or failing to perform any specification or duty in such a transaction without reasonable cause;
  • Misrepresenting by word, act, mark, stencil, label, statement, or deed, the character, kind, grade, quality, quantity, size, pack, weight, condition, degree of maturity, or State, country, or region of origin of any perishable agricultural commodity;
  • Removing, altering, or tampering with any card, stencil, stamp, tag, or other notice upon any container or railroad car containing any perishable agricultural commodity, if such notice contains a certificate or statement under the authority or law or regulation of the federal or state government concerning the grade, quality, or origin of the commodity;
  • Making any change by way of substitution or otherwise in the contents of a load or lot of any perishable agricultural commodity after it has been officially inspected for grading and certification. 

PACA also makes it mandatory for commission merchants, dealers, and brokers to be licensed.  In order to obtain a license, both an application and fee are required.  If all the requirements are met, the Secretary of Agriculture may issue the license.  Licenses can be annual or cover multiple years, depending on the type of entity licensed.  The Secretary may also suspend or revoke a license. 

Violations, Complaints, and Liability

PACA specifically states that when any commission merchant, dealer, or broker is found to have participated in unfair conduct (discussed above), they are “liable” to those injured by their conduct “for the full amount of the damages sustained in consequence of such violation.”  Liability can be enforced through the complaint process or through the courts.  Complaints of unfair conduct can be sent to the Secretary of Agriculture up to nine months after the unfair conduct occurs.  Notifications of violations by merchants, dealers, or brokers can also be sent to the Secretary by officers of state agencies.  The Secretary is then able to investigate complaints and notifications.  If the investigation shows violations occurred, then the Secretary can “have the complaint served” on the violator.   If the alleged damages are more than $30,000, the Secretary must provide the violator with the opportunity for a hearing.  After a hearing, the Secretary can “determine whether or not the commission merchant, dealer, or broker has violated” any part of the law regarding “unfair conduct.”

Those interested in background information on PACA, fees, licensing, etc. can find it at the USDA’s website, here.  The federal regulations that accompany PACA are here

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, September 27th, 2018

Written by Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow and Sr. Research Associate

We’re back from another successful Farm Science Review!  Thank you to everyone who stopped by our booth to ask us questions and pick up law bulletins.  We received some great suggestions on new topics affecting agricultural law, so stay tuned as we post more to our Ag Law Blog and Law Library in the near future.

Here’s our gathering of ag law news you may want to know:

ODA reviews meat inspection rules.  Ohio’s meat inspection rules are up for review under the state’s Five-Year Review requirement.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) recently posted the proposed changes to Ohio Administrative Code 901:2-1; 901:2-3; 901:2-6; and 901:2-7 for stakeholder comment on its website.  The primary changes to the substance of the rules are meant to bring them into compliance with new federal requirements that took effect earlier this year.  ODA also proposes to merge the interstate and intrastate regulations, which could change some rule numbers, but not necessarily their substance.  ODA will be accepting comments until Monday, October 1, 2018, which stakeholders may submit to AGReComments@agri.ohio.gov.

OSU explains tariff relief program and impacts.   Our good friend and economist Ben Brown and other policy experts in OSU's College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences recently published information that explains and analyzes the USDA’s response to the tariffs.  View a brief brochure that explains the Market Facilitation Program here.  View a longer report on the Market Facilitation Program and the impacts on farm income in Ohio here .

U.S. EPA petitions for new hearing on Chlorpyrifos registrations.  A panel of three judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ordered the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to cancel chlorpyrifos registrations in August.  The judges cited scientific evidence that the chemical insecticide causes developmental defects in children.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), on behalf of the U.S. EPA, filed a petition on Monday, September 24th, requesting an en banc hearing on the decision.  If granted, an en banc hearing would involve all the judges who serve on the Ninth Circuit, rather than only the three judges who initially ordered the cancellation of the registrations.  The U.S. DOJ argues that the August decision was incorrect and that the court should allow the U.S. EPA to reconsider the insecticide’s registration.  For more details, check out The Progressive Farmer’s post here.

License needed to broker oil and gas leases in Ohio.  On Tuesday, September 25th, the Ohio Supreme Court decided that oil and gas leases fall within the statutory definition of “real estate.”  As such, a person who offers and negotiates an oil and gas lease must have a real estate broker’s license under Ohio Revised Code § 4735.01(A) and § 4735.02(A).  Check out Court News Ohio’s webpage for more details.

No "bill of rights" vote for Lake Erie.  The group Toledoans for Safe Water sought to put a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” on the ballot this November as an amendment to the Toledo City Charter.  The amendment would have stated that Lake Erie and its watershed “possess the right to exist, flourish, and naturally evolve,” and that the citizens of Toledo have a right to a clean and healthy environment.  Enforcement would have been through a mix of revoking corporate licenses and privileges or criminal penalties if violated.  Despite having enough signatures, the Lucas County Board of Elections refused to place the issue on the ballot, saying that the amendment contained provisions beyond the City of Toledo’s authority.  The dispute made it up to the Ohio Supreme Court, which on Friday, September 21st, decided that Toledoans for Safe Water failed to prove that the Lucas County Board of Elections improperly denied their petition to place the issue on the ballot.  The court’s decision is here.

Iowa court makes owner liable for corporate liabilities.  An Iowa Court of Appeals decision recently allowed a plaintiff who was suing a biosolids management corporation to “pierce the corporate veil” and collect directly from the sole owner of the corporation.  The plaintiff obtained a judgment of $410,067 against the corporation for breach of contract after the corporation stopped performing its work.  However, the plaintiff could not collect against the corporation, and an Iowa Court of Appeals decided that the sole owner must pay the judgement.  The court said that the owner did not conduct the business or maintain its finances in a manner that demonstrates the existence of a separate legal entity from himself or his other businesses.  The owner co-mingled corporate and personal assets and accounts, failed to keep records, and had no bylaws or meeting records.  For more on the case, visit the Iowa State University’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation website here, or view the case opinion here.

California passes "home cooked food" law.  California's governor signed a bill into law last Friday that allows cities and counties to authorize and permit residents to operate “microenterprise home kitchens.”  Assembly Bill 626 exempts qualifying businesses from some food service facility regulations to allow residents to sell prepared food from their home, while also recognizing the differences between a home kitchen and a commercial kitchen.  To qualify, among other things, the operation can have no more than one full-time non-family employee, the food must be sold direct to the customer, and no more than 60 individual meals can be prepared per week.  The bill’s full text and legislative analysis are here.

Barn wedding popularity continues to grow.  Fifteen percent of weddings in the United States took place in a barn last year, according to a survey published by the wedding planning site The Knot.  In comparison, only two percent of weddings took place in a barn as recently as 2009.  The popularity of wedding barns has become a point of contention in many states, including Ohio, because statutory zoning exemptions for agriculture have been used to exempt wedding barns from zoning requirements.  We explain Ohio's zoning exemption for "agritourism" in this law bulletin.

Ohio legislation on the move:

  • Ohio Senate refers township bill to committee.  The Ohio House of Representatives passed House Bill 500 earlier this summer, and the bill has recently been referred to the Ohio Senate’s Local Government, Public Safety, and Veterans Affairs Committee.  House Bill 500 proposes to make a number of changes to Ohio’s township statutes, including a change to agricultural zoning regulations.  If passed as-is, the bill would allow a township to use zoning to regulate agricultural activities within any platted subdivision.  Under current law, townships are limited to a specified list of platted subdivisions that townships may regulate; however, the new law clarifies that the specified list is not intended to be exclusive.  For more information on the bill, view the bill analysis produced by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, or visit the Ohio General Assembly’s website here.

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