Business and Financial
The year is still fairly new, and 2020 has brought with it some newly-introduced legislation in the Ohio General Assembly. That being said, in 2020 the General Assembly also continues to consider legislation first introduced in 2019. From tax exemptions to CAUV changes, to watershed programs and local referendums on wind turbines, here is some notable ag-related legislation making its way through the state house.
- House Bill 400 “To authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for the retail sale of high-ethanol blend motor fuel”
HB 400 was introduced after our last legislative update in November, so while it was first introduced in 2019, it still technically qualifies as “new” to us. Since its introduction, the bill has been discussed in two hearings in the House Ways & Means Committee. The bill would give owners and operators of gas stations a tax rebate of five cents per gallon for sales of ethanol. To apply, the fuel would have to be between 15% and 85% ethanol (E15). If passed, the tax credit would be available for four years. The bill is meant to encourage gas station owners in Ohio to sell E15, which is much more readily available in other states. The bill is available here.
- House Bill 485 “To remove a requirement that owners of farmland enrolled in the CAUV program must file a renewal application each year in order to remain in the program”
Introduced on January 29, 2020, HB 485 would make it easier for farmers to stay enrolled in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program. CAUV allows agricultural land to be taxed at a much lower rate than other types of land. If HB 485 were to pass, the initial application for CAUV on land more than 10 acres would automatically renew each year but the landowner must notify the auditor if the land ceases to be devoted exclusively for agricultural use. Owners of agricultural land less than 10 acres in size, who can qualify for CAUV if gross income from the land exceeds $2,500, would have to submit documentation on the annual gross income of the land to the county auditor each year rather than filing the renewal application. The CAUV bill can be found here.
Legislation from 2019 still being considered
- House Bill 24 “Revise Humane Society law”
In November, we reported that HB 24 passed the House unanimously and was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources. Since that time, the committee has held two hearings on the bill. The hearings included testimony from the bill’s House sponsors, who touted how the bill would improve humane societies’ public accountability. The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations, require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve, and would establish procedures for seizing and impounding animals. It would also remove humane societies’ current jurisdiction over child abuse cases and make agents subject to bribery laws. Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense. Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats. You can read HB 24 here.
- House Bill 109 “To authorize a property tax exemption for land used for commercial maple sap extraction”
HB 109 was first introduced in February of 2019, but has recently seen some action in the House Ways & Means Committee, where it was discussed in a hearing on January 28, 2020. The bill would give owners of “maple forest land” a property tax exemption if they: (1) Drill an average of 30 taps during the tax year into at least 15 maple trees per acre; (2) use sap in commercially sold maple products; and (3) manage the land under a plan that complies with the standards of reasonable care in the protection and maintenance of forest land. In addition, the land must be 10 contiguous acres. Maple forest land that does not meet that acreage threshold can still receive a tax exemption if the sap produces an average yearly gross income of $2,500 or more in the three preceding years, or if evidence shows that the gross income during the current tax year will be at least $2,500. You can find the text of the proposed bill here.
- House Bill 160 “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”
Have you ever thought, “Gee, this ice cream is great, but what could make it even better?” Well this is the bill for you! At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol in Ohio must obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol. This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. HB 160 passed the House last year and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. Since our last legislative update, the committee has had three hearings on the bill. In the hearings, proponents testified in support of the bill, arguing that it would allow their businesses to grow and compete with out of state businesses. Senators asked questions about how the ice cream would be kept away from children, how the bill would help business, and about other states with similar laws. To read the bill, click here.
- Senate Bill 2 “Create watershed planning structure”
In 2019, SB 2 passed the Senate and moved on to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director. Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region. The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices. Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus. Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption.
Since SB 2 moved on to the lower chamber, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held multiple hearings on the bill, and has consented to two amendments. The first amendment would keep information about individual nutrient management plans out of the public record. Similarly, the second amendment would keep information about farmers’ agricultural operations and conservation practices out of the public record. The text of SB 2 is available here.
- Senate Bill 234 “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”
SB 234 was introduced on November 6, 2019. Since that time, the bill was assigned to the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee, and three hearings have been held. The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote. The bill would also change how minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured. The committee hearings have included testimony from numerous proponents of the bill. SB 234 is available here. A companion bill was also introduced in the House. HB 401 can be found here.
A new rule proposed by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) covers a topic that has been up in the air for more than a decade. The 2008 Farm Bill called on the Secretary of Agriculture to create regulations meant to guide the USDA in determining whether or not a packer, swine contractor, or live poultry dealer gave a person or locality “any undue or unreasonable preference or advantage” when purchasing livestock and meat products. The Secretary of Agriculture entrusted the rulemaking to USDA’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). GIPSA did propose versions of the rule in 2010 and 2016, but neither ever went into effect due to congressional prohibitions on such rulemaking and a presidential transition, respectively. (The anticipated regulations have long been referred to as the “Farmer Fair Practice Rules.”) Once Trump came into office, his administration did away with GIPSA and gave its responsibilities to AMS, further delaying the rulemaking.
After all this time, what does AMS propose for the Farmer Fair Practice Rules? On January 13, AMS published its proposed rule in the Federal Register. AMS would add a section to the Packers & Stockyards regulations, which would allow the Secretary of Agriculture to “consider one or more criteria” when deciding whether a packer, swine contractor, or live poultry dealer unfairly favored any person or locality over another in their dealings. AMS developed four criteria to be considered when determining whether a packer, contractor, or dealer’s actions were unfair. Actions would be deemed unfair when they:
- Cannot be justified on the basis of cost savings related to dealing with different producers, sellers, or growers;
- Cannot be justified on the basis of meeting a competitor’s prices;
- Cannot be justified on the basis of meeting other terms offered by a competitor; and
- Cannot be justified as a reasonable business decision that would be customary in the industry.
In the rulemaking, AMS provides several examples of fair and unfair practices. AMS also emphasizes several times that the Secretary of Agriculture would not be limited to considering just those four criteria when making a decision, as each situation is unique. In essence, the proposed language is meant to guide the Secretary’s thinking when making a determination about whether or not an action is unfair.
If you would like to read more about this proposed rule it is available in its entirety here. Information about submitting comments on the rule is available at the same link. Comments on the rule may be submitted up until March, 13, 2020. Will this version of the elusive Farmer Fair Practice Rules finally stick? We will have to wait and see.
With 2019’s ups and downs in the weather and the marketplace, it’s likely that many farmers used the Federal Crop Insurance Program to mitigate their losses. Those farmers whose crop insurance claims reach $200,000 or more will be audited by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency.
What’s the purpose of an audit—does it mean you’re in trouble with the government? What can you expect when going through the audit process? How do you prepare for an audit? What kind of records and documentation do you need? All of these questions and more are answered in a new fact sheet we recently published through our partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center. Click here to read the fact sheet to better prepare you for going through an audit.
Hemp, drones, meat labeling and more—there is so much going on in the world of ag law! With so much happening, we thought we’d treat you to another round of the Harvest before the holidays.
Hemp for the holidays. As 2020 and the first growing season approach, there has been a flurry of activity surrounding hemp. States have been amending their rules and submitting them to the USDA for approval in anticipation of next year. In addition, just last week USDA extended the deadline to comment on the interim final hemp rule from December 30, 2019 to January 29, 2020. If you would like to submit a comment, you can do so here. To get a refresher on the interim rule, see our blog post here.
In other hemp news, EPA announced approval of 10 pesticides for use on industrial hemp. You can find the list here. Additional pesticides may be added to the list in the future.
Congress considers a potential food safety fix. It’s likely that over the last several years, you’ve heard about numerous recalls on leafy greens due to foodborne illnesses. It has been hypothesized that some of these outbreaks could potentially be the result of produce farms using water located near CAFOs to irrigate their crops. A bill entitled the “Expanded Food Safety Investigation Act of 2019” has been introduced to tackle this and other potential food safety problems. If passed, the bill would give FDA the authority to conduct microbial sampling at CAFOs as part of a foodborne illness investigation. The bill is currently being considered in the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee.
Animal welfare bill becomes federal law. In November, the President signed the “Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act” (PACT), into law. PACT makes it a federal offense to purposely crush, burn, drown, suffocate, impale, or otherwise subject non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians to serious bodily injury. PACT also outlaws creating and distributing video of such animal torture. The law includes several exceptions, including during customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, and other animal management practices, as well as during slaughter, hunting, fishing, euthanasia, etc.
No meat labeling law in Arkansas? Last winter, Arkansas passed a law that made it illegal to “misbrand or misrepresent an agricultural product that is edible by humans.” Specifically, it made it illegal to represent a product as meat, beef, pork, etc. if the product is not derived from an animal. Unsurprisingly, the law did not sit well with companies in the business of making and selling meat substitutes from plants and cells. In July, The Tofurky Company sued the state in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas, Central Division, claiming the labeling law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments, as well as the dormant Commerce Clause. On December 11, the District Court enjoined, or stopped Arkansas from enforcing, the labeling law. This means that the state will not be able to carry out the law while the District Court considers the constitutionality of the law. We will be following the ultimate outcome of this lawsuit closely.
Ag wants to be part of the drone conversation. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation is currently considering a bill called the “Drone Advisory Committee for the 21st Century Act.” If passed, the bill would ensure that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) includes representatives from agriculture, forestry, and rangeland, in addition to representatives from state, county, city, and Tribal governments on the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC). Thus, such representatives would be part of the conversation when the DAC advises the FAA on drone policies.
Ag financing tools may get an upgrade. The “Modernizing Agriculture and Manufacturing Bonds Act,” or MAMBA (what a great name) was introduced very recently in the House Committee on Ways and Means. Text of the bill is not yet available, but when it is, it should be located here. According to this fact sheet, the bill would make a number of changes to current law, including increasing “the limitation on small issue bond proceeds for first-time farmers” to $552,500, repealing “the separate dollar limitation on the use of bond proceeds for depreciable property” which would mean famers could use the full amount for equipment, breeding livestock, and other capital assets, and modifying the definition of “substantial farmland” to make it easier for beginning farmers to gain access to capital.
Shoring up national defense of agriculture and food is on the docket. The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry sent the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility Act of 2019 (NBAF) to the floor of the Senate for consideration. Among other things, bill would allow the USDA, through the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility, to address threats from human pathogens, zoonotic disease agents, emerging foreign animal diseases, and animal transboundary diseases, and to develop countermeasures to such diseases. Essentially, USDA and NBAF would see to national security in the arena of agriculture and food.
We hope you have a wonderful holiday season! We will be sure to continue the ag law updates in the next decade!
We haven’t done a legislative update in a while—so what’s been going on in the Ohio General Assembly? Without further ado, here is an update on some notable ag-related bills that have recently passed one of the houses, been discussed in committee, or been introduced.
- House Bill 7, “Create water quality protection and preservation”
This bill passed the House in June, but the Senate Finance Committee had a hearing on it just last month. HB 7 would create both the H2Ohio Trust Fund and the H2Ohio Advisory Council. To explain these entities in the simplest terms, the H2Ohio Advisory Council would decide how to spend the money in the H2Ohio Trust Fund. The money could be used for grants, loans, and remediation projects to address water quality priorities in the state, to fund research concerning water quality, to encourage cooperation in addressing water quality problems among various groups, and for priorities identified by the Ohio Lake Erie commission. The Council would be made up of the following: the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie commission, one state senator from each party appointed by the President of the Senate, one state representative from each party appointed by the Speaker of the House, and appointees from the Governor to represent counties, municipal corporations, public health, business or tourism, agriculture, statewide environmental advocacy organizations, and institutions of higher education. Under HB 7, the ODA, OEPA, and ODNR would have to submit an annual plan to be accepted or rejected by the Council, which would detail how the agencies planned to use their money from the Fund. You can find the bill in its current form here.
- House Bill 24, “Revise Humane Society law”
HB 24 passed the House unanimously on October 30, and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources. The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations and require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve. Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense. Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats. You can read HB 24 here.
- House Bill 160, “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”
Since our last legislative update, HB 160 has passed the House and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate. At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol must in Ohio obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol. This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. To read the bill, click here.
- House Bill 168, “Establish affirmative defense-certain hazardous substance release”
This bill was passed in the House back in May, but there have been several committee hearings on it this fall. HB 168 would provide a bona fide prospective purchaser of a facility that was contaminated with hazardous substances before the purchase with immunity from liability to the state in a civil action. In other words, the bona fide prospective purchaser would not have the responsibility of paying the state of Ohio for their investigations and remediation of the facility. In order to claim this immunity, the purchaser would have to show that they fall under the definition of a bona fide prospective purchaser, that the state’s cause of action rests upon the person’s status as an owner or operator of the facility, and that the person does not impede a response action or natural resource restoration at the facility. You can find the bill and related information here.
- House Bill 183, “Allow tax credits to assist beginning farmers”
House Bill 183 was discussed in the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee on November 12. This bill would authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for beginning farmers who attend a financial management program. Another nonrefundable tax credit would be available for individuals or businesses that sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to beginning farmers. ODA would be in charge of certifying individuals as “beginning farmers” and approving eligible financial management programs. HB 183 is available here. A companion bill (SB 159) has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Ways & Means Committee, but no committee hearings have taken place.
- House Bill 373, “Eliminate apprentice/special auctioneer licenses/other changes”
HB 373 was introduced on October 22, and the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee held a hearing on it on November 12. This bill would make numerous changes to laws applicable to auctioneers. For instance, it would eliminate the requirement that a person must serve as an apprentice auctioneer prior to becoming an auctioneer; instead, it would require applicants for an auctioneers’ license to pass a course. The bill would also require licensed auctioneers to complete eight continuing education hours prior to renewing their license. HB 373 would give ODA the authority to regulate online auctions conducted by a human licensed auctioneer, and would require people auctioning real or personal property on the internet to be licensed as an auctioneer. To read the bill in its entirety and see all the changes it would make, click here.
- Senate Bill 2, “Create watershed planning structure”
Since our last legislative post, SB 2 has passed the Senate and is now in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director. Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region. The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices. Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus. Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption. The text of SB 2 is available here.
- Senate Bill 234, “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”
Senate Bill 234 was just introduced on November 6, 2019. The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote. The bill would also change minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured. SB 234 is available here. A companion bill was also recently introduced in the House. HB 401 can be found here.
Mentoring is a rewarding part of my position with OSU, but it is often a bittersweet experience to see young people come and go. Such is the case with our law fellow Evin Bachelor, whom I’ve had the privilege of mentoring for the past two years. Evin left the Farm Office on September 30 to pursue private practice.
While I’m happy to send Evin off to serve farmers with his brilliant legal mind, I’m sad to see him go. I will miss his passion, his cleverness, his analytical gifts, and his hearty laugh. But it’s been a joy to help Evin evolve from a law student curious about agricultural law to an attorney prepared to impact the world of agricultural law. He has deftly exceeded every challenge I’ve given him.
One of those challenges was to co-author a set of law bulletins on legal documents used in farm financing arrangements, his final project. The Financing the Farm law bulletin series, which specifically targets new and beginning farmers, is now available. The series includes explanations of mortgages, promissory notes, installment contracts, leasing arrangements and secured transactions, and how they’re used in farm financing. Access the law bulletins in the Financing the Farm series here.
Evin will be practicing law with our good friends at Wright & Moore Law Co. LPA in Delaware, Ohio. He's an excellent addition to an already outstanding agricultural law firm. You’ll continue to see his work on the Farm Office, however, as I’ll be contracting with Evin on a few more finance and farm transition projects in the next year. The mentorship and Evin’s time at OSU is over, but the relationship will continue. A bittersweet ending, to be sure.
Farm Science Review is upon us, and we’re hoping that the low-80s forecast holds true. In addition to checking the weather report, we’ve been monitoring the news for developments in the agricultural law world, and quizzing each other on agricultural law topics so that we’re ready to answer your questions. While we hope you come see our presentations (speaking schedule available HERE), we won’t make you wait until you see us at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London to learn what we’ve found in the news.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:
Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 signed into law. We’ve talked about this bill on the ag law blog, and now it’s official. With the President’s signature, the debt limit for family farmers seeking to reorganize under Chapter 12 bankruptcy increases to $10 million from an adjusted $4.4 million.
No vote on community rights in Williams County, yet. A proposed county charter for Williams County, Ohio containing language similar to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights may not make it on the November ballot. The Ohio Supreme Court recently refused to compel the Williams County Board of Elections (BOE) to include the charter on the ballot for procedural reasons.
The charter would have declared that the people of Williams County have the right to a healthy environment and sustainable community, and that the Michindoh Aquifer and its ecosystem have the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate. Further, the aquifer would have the right of restoration, recovery, and preservation, including the right to be free from interferences such as the extraction, sale, lease, transportation, or distribution of water outside of the aquifer’s boundary.
Even though the petition to put the charter on the ballot had enough signatures, the BOE believed that the language of the charter violated Ohio law, and therefore exercised its power to reject the petition and keep it off the ballot. The petitioners appealed the BOE’s decision to the Williams County Court of Common Pleas, and that court agreed with the BOE. Instead of going to the Court of Appeals, the petitioners tried to go directly the Ohio Supreme Court because the BOE will soon print the November ballots. The Ohio Supreme Court said the petitioners should have gone to the Court of Appeals first, and that it will not decide on whether the BOE has to include the charter on the ballot until the petitioners do so.
This doesn’t mean the end for the proposed charter, but rather that more court time is in the proposed charter’s future. To read the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion, click HERE. To read the text of the proposed charter, click HERE.
Hemp, hemp, and more hemp. Legal and policy updates on hemp continue to trickle down from state and federal officials. Since our last blog post, when we released our latest law bulletin on the legal status of hemp in Ohio, there have been a couple additional developments.
One of the latest updates we’ve heard from USDA is that industrial hemp growers in states with a USDA-approved hemp production plan may apply for crop insurance to cover hemp grown for fiber, flower, or seeds starting next year. Ohio is in the process of putting together a hemp program to send to the USDA for approval. Ohio farmers still cannot legally grow hemp until the Ohio Department of Agriculture creates a hemp program and the USDA approves that program, but we are expecting rules to be released from those agencies in the coming weeks. For more about the crop insurance update, read the Risk Management Agency’s press release HERE.
Closer to home, we’ve heard that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has requested $3.3 million from the Ohio Controlling Board for staffing along with IT equipment and support. Further, ODA has made statements predicting that it expects to have its rule hemp program rule package ready by the end of the year.
Federal court orders U.S. EPA to reconsider Renewable Fuel Standards waivers and their impact on endangered species. The U.S. EPA is responsible for creating fuel standards that incorporate and blend renewable sources of energy under the Clean Air Act. These standards tell refineries how much of their fuel blend must come from renewable sources of energy; however, the U.S. EPA also has the authority to grant waivers to companies that would have difficulty meeting the standard. The court noted that some industry groups felt that the 2018 rules were too strict, while others argued that they were too lax. The court ended up dismissing all but one of the claims against the U.S. EPA, saying that Congress gave it discretion in developing the standards. However, the court sent the rule back to the U.S. EPA due to an argument by environmental groups that the federal agency failed to conduct a thorough review of the risk to endangered animals, plants, and habitats under the Endangered Species Act. Many farm groups have criticized the Trump administration’s granting of waivers for causing a reduction in demand for their products from energy companies, but it appears that they will have to make their arguments to the administration rather than to the courts. To read the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, click HERE.
Whether we’re ready or not, Labor Day traditionally marks a transition from summer to fall. Pumpkin flavored everything will soon be available at a coffee shop and restaurant near you, and Ohio’s agritourism farms will surely be busy.
Whether you are just getting your agritourism farm up and running, or a seasoned agritourism veteran, it never hurts to take a moment to think about your liability risks. The OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program has developed a number of resources, available on our publications webpage, that can help you think about ways to minimize the legal risks to you and your farm. These resources include:
- Ohio’s Agritourism Law – Ohio law grants liability protection for personal injuries suffered while participating in an agritourism activity. It also provides for special taxation and zoning of lands where agritourism activities occur. This law bulletin explains what your farm needs to do to be covered by the immunity, and how much protection it provides. Click HERE to read the law bulletin.
- Farm Animals and People: Liability Issues for Agritourism – Farm animals can be a valuable attraction for an agritourism operation, but having people and animals interact on the farm creates liability risks. This factsheet explains a range of animal liability risks and provides a checklist to think about what you can do to reduce the risk of injury to your visitors, as well as reduce the risk of a lawsuit. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism and Insurance – Even with immunity laws in place, a farmer must carefully consider the farm’s insurance needs and ensure that it has adequate coverage. This factsheet explains agritourism insurance, why it may be needed, and more. It also provides a checklist that may help an agritourism farmer make sure that certain important insurance questions are addressed before an accident occurs. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism Immunity Laws in the United States – Many states, including Ohio, have taken steps to encourage agritourism by providing agritourism farms with some degree of immunity to liability. We explain Ohio’s law more in depth in our law bulletin titled “Ohio’s Agritourism Law,” but this factsheet compares approaches taken in other states and provides a checklist that helps an agritourism farm think about how much protection it has under these laws. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism Activities and Zoning – Zoning is a force to be reckoned with in many states, but many states, including Ohio, have taken steps to encourage agritourism through zoning regulations. This factsheet explains how zoning and agritourism interact across the country, including an explanation of Ohio’s current approach. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know – Many Ohio agritourism farms provide employment to youth, who are able to learn about agriculture, business, and customer service through working at the farm. Those hiring youth under the age of 18 want to make sure that they are following federal and Ohio labor laws. Our latest law bulletin explains the youth labor laws that are unique to agriculture. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
Food sales present some special issues that you will want to think about if you wish to sell food at your farm. Depending upon the foods you sell, you may have to obtain a retail food establishment license for food safety purposes. The following resources can help you think through the steps you must take to sell food at your agritourism farm:
- Food Sales at Agritourism Operations: Legal Issues – Whether you sell fresh produce, cottage foods or baked goods, or prepare and serve food on-site, there are legal risks and requirements that may come into play. This factsheet explains some of the legal issues you should consider before selling food at your farm, and provides a checklist of things to consider before you begin selling food. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Selling Foods at the Farm: When Do You Need a License? – This Ohio-specific factsheet explores farmers, including those operating an agritourism farm, need to register or obtain a license in order to sell food at the farm. Click HERE to read the law bulletin.
Beyond our website, many of our peers at OSU Extension have developed a number of helpful resources for agritourism farms. OSU Extension’s Agritourism Ready webpage, which you can access at u.osu.edu/agritourismready/, is designed to be a one stop shop for preparing an emergency management plan. You can also read factsheets on Ohioline related to agritourism ranging from “Creating Signage for Direct Food and Agricultural Sales” to “Grants and Low-Interest Loans for Ohio Small Farms,” and “Maps, Apps and Mobile Media Marketing” to “Selling Eggs in Ohio: Marketing and Regulations.”
As new legal issues arise, we will continue to create resources that help farmers understand and mitigate their risk. In the meantime, we wish everyone a fun and safe fall at Ohio’s agritourism farms.
August turned out to be a very busy month for food law. We’re again reading headlines about the definition of meat and debates over cage-free egg laws. We’ve also come across some interesting criminal actions involving organic labeling fraud and undocumented workers at poultry processing plants. And yet again we have a Roundup update, but fortunately for Bayer, the target of the latest lawsuits are Home Depot and Lowe’s. So without further ado, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:
Tofurkey cries foul against state definitions of meat. The maker of edible vegetarian products designed to replicate the taste and texture of meats is fighting back against state labeling and advertising laws that require products labeled as “meat” to be made of meat. Tofurky filed a lawsuit in federal court in Arkansas to stop the state from enforcing such laws, which is similar to a lawsuit it filed in Missouri and yet another company filed in Mississippi. Livestock advocacy groups succeeded in having 12 states pass laws restricting the ability of food producers to refer to their products as meats if those products contain no meat. Livestock advocacy groups argue that the labeling practices are confusing and misleading to consumers, while companies like Tofurky argue that they have a constitutional right to describe their products with meat terminology. On its website, Tofurky lists beer brats, jumbo hot dogs, “slow roasted chick’n,” “ham style roast,” and more. None of the products contain meat.
Organic food fraud puts farmers in jail. A federal judge sentenced a 60-year-old Missouri farmer to serve 10 years and 2 months in prison after being convicted of wire fraud, which is the federal crime of committing financial fraud through the use of a telecommunications wire across state lines. This includes placing a phone call, sending an email, or advertising online in the furtherance of the fraudulent scheme. Another three farmers were also sentenced to prison for terms ranging from 3 months to 2 years for their participation. The fraud involved a decade-long scheme to mix traditional corn and soybeans with a small amount of organic grains and then label everything as certified organic. The grains were mostly sold as animal feed to producers and companies selling organic meat. Organic products generally are sold at a high premium, and the volume of goods in this scheme resulted in the farmers receiving millions of dollars from consumers that was fraudulently obtained. The lengthy prison sentences reflect the farmers’ intentional misrepresentation and mislabeling. In other words, it was not an accident.
Oregon joins California and Washington to make the west coast cage-free. States continue to battle over whether eggs should come from cage-free hens or caged hens. When we last discussed the topic HERE in May, the governor of the state of Washington had just signed his state’s cage-free requirement into law. Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producing state, has gone the other way in trying to limit cage-free egg production. Now, Oregon is set to ban the purchase or sale of eggs and egg products from caged hens starting in 2024. However, Oregon’s law exempts eggs and egg products from caged hens if the sale occurs at a federally inspected plant under the Egg Products Inspection Act or if the caged hens were at a commercial farm with a flock of fewer than 3,000 hens. You can read the text of the bill HERE.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids poultry processing plants. Federal immigration officials have alleged that managers at five Mississippi poultry processing plants knowingly hired undocumented aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States. Fines for individuals or companies proven to have actual knowledge that they hired undocumented workers can reach up to $3,000 per undocumented worker. Individuals may also face prison time. According to news reports, ICE arrested 680 possibly undocumented workers during its August 7th raids in Mississippi. In their applications for the search warrants, the investigators alleged that the companies hired undocumented workers who were wearing GPS ankle monitors as they await deportation hearings, reported Social Security numbers of deceased persons, and used different names at different times.
Latest Roundup lawsuit targets retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s. You’ve heard us talk before about the thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) based on the allegation that the glyphosate in products like Roundup has caused cancer. If you’d like a refresher, you can review our last post HERE. Now, instead of going after the manufacturer, a new plaintiff is going after retailers. Plaintiff James Weeks filed two class action complaints in federal court in California against Home Depot and Lowe’s, alleging that the home improvement giants failed to adequately warn customers about the safety risks posed by using the popular weed killer. Mr. Weeks argues that the labeling leaves the average consumer with the impression that the greatest risk of harm is eye irritation, when in fact the retailers know of the product’s potential carcinogenic properties. As these complaints are class action complaints, Mr. Weeks seeks to claim representative status over all consumers who purchased Roundup products from these retailers, and thereby lead the case against the retailers. It will be interesting to see whether the court certifies these cases as class actions, or if this strategy falls short for the plaintiff. You can read the complaint against Home Depot HERE.
Food giants seek silence from U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. In 2015, the U.S. Commodity Futures Tradition Commission initiated a lawsuit against Mondelez International Inc. and Kraft Heinz Co. for allegedly manipulating the wheat futures market. All parties recently agreed to an undisclosed settlement, and entered into a consent order with the court to close the matter. The agreement apparently included a provision that all parties would refrain from publically commenting about the settlement. However, the federal agency ended up commenting on the settlement by the end of the week in which the agreement was finalized. Mondelez and Kraft Heinz believe that such statements violated the terms of the consent order, although the federal agency contests the allegation. Nonetheless, the confidentiality restrictions make it difficult to know the full details of the settlement. All we know for certain is that there was one.
Federal courts report that Chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies are on the rise. The federal court system releases data every quarter on the number of bankruptcies filed each month in that quarter. The latest numbers for April to June 2019 showed a slight increase in the number of Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed when compared to the same time period in 2018. Nationwide, there were 164 new filings, compared to 135 in the second quarter of 2018. The numbers show a gradual increase in the use of Chapter 12 bankruptcy since 2013, but the numbers are starting to tick up to levels not seen since the Great Recession. Chapter 12 bankruptcy is a special form of bankruptcy that can only be used by family farmers and family fishermen whose total debts do not exceed a certain dollar limit. The current dollar limit is $4.4 million, but there is legislation awaiting President Trump’s signature to increase the limit to $10 million. In large part because of these restrictions, Chapter 12 is one of the least commonly used forms of bankruptcy.
Congress must be concerned about the financial state of farmers. A bill to increase the Chapter 12 debt limit to $10 million has languished in Congress since March, but recently gained traction and passed through both houses quickly. Congress forwarded the bill, known as the Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019, to the President after the Senate approved it late last week. The House passed the change to Chapter 12 on July 25.
Chapter 12 allows eligible family farmers and fishermen to stay in business and reorganize their debts through a repayment plan. The recent action by Congress more than doubles the debt limit for Chapter 12 eligibility from its current amount of $4.4 million, adjusted for inflation from the original $1.5 million limit established when Congress created Chapter 12 in 1986. If the President signs the current bill, a family farmer or fisherman with an aggregate debt of no more than $10 million will be eligible to use the special protections of the Chapter 12 bankruptcy process.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY), explained that the increase to the debt limit reflects higher land values and the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations. He stressed that the changes are necessary so that farmers have additional options to manage the current farm economy because farmers are “currently facing a fifth year of declining net farm income…. [p]rices are low, inputs are high, and current trade policies make the future unknown.”
According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, farmers and fishermen filed a total of 535 Chapter 12 bankruptcies from June 2018 to June 2019, up from 475 in the previous year and 482 in the 2017 period. Ohio had nine of those cases in each of the past two years and six in 2017. These numbers will likely continue to grow with the recent change made by Congress, as more farmers will qualify for the special protections of Chapter 12.