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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, June 05th, 2024

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service (USDA) is asking the agricultural community to weigh in on a new program aimed at the voluntary carbon market in the U.S.  The agency has published a Request for Information seeking input on what the agency should consider in developing rules for the new “Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program.”  The purpose of the new program, created by the passage of the Growing Climate Solutions Act last year, is to facilitate farmer, rancher, and private forest landowner participation in voluntary carbon markets by: (1) publishing a list of widely accepted protocols designed to ensure consistency, reliability, effectiveness, efficiency, and transparency of voluntary credit markets; (2) publishing descriptions of widely accepted qualifications possessed by covered entities that provide technical assistance to farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners; (3) publishing a list of qualified technical assistance providers and third-party verifiers; and (4) providing information to assist farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners in accessing voluntary credit markets.

Farmers haven’t engaged in the voluntary carbon market to the extent some predicted several years ago, when “carbon agreements” began circulating through the agricultural community.  A carbon agreement is a private  contract that compensates a farmer for adopting practices that sequester carbon, with one ton of sequestered carbon creating a “carbon credit.”  Those who pay farmers for the carbon credits can retain the credits or trade the credits through a carbon market.  The owner of the carbon credits can use the credits to offset their greenhouse gas emissions, with the goal of reducing their “carbon footprint.”

According to USDA Secretary Vilsack, “high-integrity voluntary carbon markets offer a promising tool to create new revenue streams for producers and achieve greenhouse gas reductions from the agriculture and forest sectors.  However, a variety of barriers have hindered agriculture’s participation in voluntary carbon markets and we are seeking to change that by establishing a new Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program.”  In its Request for Information, the agency seeks responses to eight questions:

Question 1: How should USDA define the terms “consistency,” “reliability,” “effectiveness,” “efficiency,” and “transparency” (see 7 U.S.C. 6712(c)(1)(A)) for use in protocol evaluation?

Question 2: What metrics or standards should USDA use to evaluate a protocol's alignment with each of the five criteria to be defined in Question 1? What should USDA consider as minimum criteria for a protocol to qualify for listing under the Program?

Question 3: In general, after a new protocol is published, how long does it take for a project to use the protocol and be issued credits ( i.e., what is the lag time between protocol publication and first credit generation)?

Question 4: Which protocol(s) for generating voluntary carbon credits from agriculture and forestry projects should USDA evaluate for listing through the Greenhouse Gas Technical Assistance Provider and Third-Party Verifier Program?

Question 5: Additional information for any protocol(s) identified under Question 4.

Question 6: How should USDA evaluate technical assistance providers (TAP)? What should be the minimum qualifications, certifications, and/or expertise for a TAP to qualify for listing under the Program?

Question 7: Should the qualifications and/or registration process be different for entities and individuals that seek to register as a TAP?

Question 8: What should be the minimum qualifications and expertise for a third-party verifier to qualify for registration under the Program?

The agency will accept comments on the questions until June 28, 2024.

Part of a broader policy initiative

USDA announced the Request for Information on the same day that Secretary Vilsack, Energy Secretary Granholm, and Treasury Secretary Yellen, published a Joint Statement of Policy and Principles for Voluntary Carbon Markets, which outlines seven principles for the government’s approach to advancing “high-integrity voluntary credit markets,” summarized in a White House Fact Sheet:

  1. Carbon credits and the activities that generate them should meet credible atmospheric integrity standards and represent real decarbonization.
  2. Credit-generating activities should avoid environmental and social harm and should, where applicable, support co-benefits and transparent and inclusive benefits-sharing.
  3. Corporate buyers that use credits should prioritize measurable emissions reductions within their own value chains.
  4. Credit users should publicly disclose the nature of purchased and retired credits.
  5. Public claims by credit users should accurately reflect the climate impact of retired credits and should only rely on credits that meet high integrity standards.
  6. Market participants should contribute to efforts that improve market integrity.
  7. Policymakers and market participants should facilitate efficient market participation and seek to lower transaction costs.

The recent USDA announcements once again suggest that there are many issues for farmers considering engaging in the carbon market.  Caution is usually warranted when dealing with a new, developing market.  For farmers who do want to enter into the carbon market, be sure to refer to our posts on Carbon as a commodity for agriculture? and Considering carbon farming? Take time to understand carbon agreements.  The Farmers Legal Action Group also has an excellent publication on Farmers Guide to Carbon Market Contracts in Minnesota, also useful for Ohio farmers.

 

Farm field covered in snow with pine trees and sunset in background
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, February 19th, 2024

Co-authored by Glen Arnold, OSU Extension Field Specialist in Manure and Nutrient Management

This week’s snow was a reminder that we’re still in the middle of winter in Ohio, with more cold weather yet to come.  Winter weather is a challenge for those who handle manure, and it’s equally challenging to know the laws for applying manure on frozen and snow covered ground.  Those laws vary according to several important factors:  whether ground is frozen or snow covered, whether a farm is operating under a permit, and the geographical location of the land application.  Here’s a summary of the different winter application rules and standards in effect this winter.

What is frozen ground?  Ohio’s rules don’t define the term frozen ground, but generally, ground is considered frozen if you cannot inject manure into it or cannot conduct tillage within 24 hours to incorporate the manure into the soil.

Farms with Permits.  Farms with permits from the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) or Ohio EPA operate under different rules than other manure applications in Ohio, and they cannot apply manure in the winter unless it is an extreme emergency.  Movement to other suitable storage is usually the selected alternative.  Several commercial manure applicators have established manure storage ponds in recent years to help address this issue. 

Applications in the Grand Lake St. Marys (GLSM) watershed.  There is a winter manure application ban from December 15 to March 1 for the GLSM watershed,  8ODA has the authority to allow an application, but that is not likely during the winter period.  After March 1, applications on frozen ground or ground covered in more than one inch of snow may occur only if the manure is injected or incorporated within 24 hours of surface application. The rule is in OAC 901:13-1-11

Grand Lake St. Marys Watershed Map

Applications in the Western Lake Erie Basin (WLEB) watershed.  In those parts of western Ohio that are in the WLEB watershed, below, the House Bill 1 restrictions established in 2016 are still in effect.  The law prohibits any manure application on frozen ground.  Applications are permissible on snow-covered soil if the manure is injected into the ground or incorporated within twenty-four hours of surface application.  The law is in ORC 939.08.

Western Lake Erie Basin

Other parts of Ohio.  It’s important to note that the NRCS Nutrient Management Conservation Practice Standard Code 590 (NRCS 590) now applies statewide in Ohio (but does not replace the GLSM and WLEB restrictions).  NRCS 590 was revised in 2020 and states that the surface application of manure on frozen and snow-covered soil is not acceptable unless it is an emergency.  An emergency is a temporary situation created by unforeseen causes and only after all other options have been exhausted. In this emergency situation only, limited quantities of liquid manure may be applied to address manure storage limitations only until non-frozen soils are available for manure application. The Ohio Department of Agriculture will enforce NRCS 590 in counties outside of GLSM and WLEB only if there is a manure discharge from the field. If a citation is issued for a discharge, liability for the discharge will be based on the 590 standards.

All applications of liquid manure to frozen and snow-covered soils must be documented in the producers’ records and must be applied in accordance with ALL of the following criteria:

  • The rate of application shall not exceed the lesser of 5,000 gallons/acre or P removal for the next crop.
  • Applications are to be made on land with at least 90% surface residue cover (cover crop, good quality hay or pasture field, all corn grain residue remaining after harvest, all wheat residue cover remaining after harvest).
  • Manure shall not be applied on more than 20 contiguous acres. Contiguous areas for application are to be separated by a break of at least 200 feet.
  • Applications should be in areas of the field with the lowest risk of nutrient transport such as areas furthest from streams, ditches, waterways, and with the least amount of slope.
  • Application setback distances must be a minimum of 200 feet from grassed waterways, surface drainage ditches, streams, surface inlets, water bodies and 300 feet from all wells, springs and public surface drinking water intakes. This distance may need to be increased due to local conditions.
  • For fields exceeding 6% slope, manure shall be applied in alternating strips 60 to 200 feet wide generally on the contour, or in the case of contour strips on the alternating strips.

Stockpiling.  For farmers with solid manure, stockpiling could be an option. There are two different types of stockpiles: short-term and long-term.

The short-term stockpile standards are in NRCS Field Office Technical Guide 318,  Short Term Storage of Animal Waste and Byproducts Standard (“NRCS 318”). Essentially, short- term stockpile is a pile of solid manure being kept temporarily in one or more locations. It is considered a temporary stockpile as long as the pile is kept at the location for no more than 180 days and stockpiled in the field where the manure will be applied. Setback distances listed in NRCS 318 should be followed to prevent discharge to waters of the state. There are multiple recommendations listed in NRCS 318 that speak to location, timing, and preventative measures to use while stockpiling the manure short term.

The long-term stockpile standards are in NRCS Field Office Technical Guide 313 Waste Storage Facility Standard (“NRCS 313”). A long-term stockpile is directly related to solid manure being piled and kept at a facility for longer than 180 days at a permanent location. It is recommended that all permanent long term storage stockpiles follow the guidelines in NRCS 313 with the utilization of a stacking facility and the structural designs of fabricated structures. A stacking facility can be open, covered or roofed, but specific parameters should be in place to prevent manure runoff from the site—these recommendations are in NRCS 313.

Check with your SWCD office.  Regardless of where you are in Ohio, it’s probably best to check with your county Soil and Water Conservation District office before considering winter manure application in Ohio. The rules have changed, and you should become aware of those that affect your operation in your area.

 

 

First page of U.S. EPA existing stocks order for dicamba products.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, February 15th, 2024

A federal court decision last week vacated the registrations of dicamba products XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium for over-the-top applications on soybean and cotton crops, making the use of the products unlawful (see our February 12, 2024 blog post).  The decision raised immediate questions about whether the U.S. EPA would exercise its authority to allow producers and retailers to use "existing stocks" of dicamba products they had already purchased.  Yesterday, the U.S. EPA answered those questions by issuing an Existing Stocks Order that allows the sale and use of existing stocks of the products that were packaged, labeled, and released for shipment prior to the federal court decision on February 6, 2024 For Ohio, the EPA's order allows the sale and distribution of existing stocks until May 31, 2024 and the use of existing stocks until June 30, 2024.

Here is the EPA's order:

  1. Pursuant to FIFRA Section 6(a)(1), EPA hereby issues an existing stocks order for XtendiMax® with VaporGrip® Technology (EPA Reg. No. 264-1210), Engenia® Herbicide (EPA Reg. No. 7969-472), and A21472 Plus VaporGrip® Technology (Tavium® Plus VaporGrip® Technology) (EPA Reg. No. 100-1623). This order will remain in effect unless or until subsequent action is taken. The issuance of this order did not follow a public hearing. This is a final agency action, judicially reviewable under FIFRA § 16(a) (7 U.S.C. §136n). Any sale, distribution, or use of existing stocks of these products inconsistent with this order is prohibited.
  2. Existing Stocks. For purposes of this order, “existing stocks” means those stocks of previously registered pesticide products that are currently in the United States and were packaged, labeled, and released for shipment prior to February 6, 2024 (the effective date of the District of Arizona’s vacatur of the dicamba registrations). Pursuant to FIFRA section 6(a)(1), this order includes the following existing stocks provisions:

a.  Sale or Distribution by the Registrants. As of February 6, 2024, sale or distribution by the registrants of these products is prohibited, except for the
purposes of proper disposal or to facilitate lawful export.
b.  Sale or Distribution by Persons other than the Registrants. Persons other than the registrants, including but not limited to co-ops and commercial distributors, who are already in possession of these products as of February 6, 2024, may sell or distribute these products until the end date for sale and distribution of existing stocks identified in Table 1; except that such persons may distribute these products after the date identified in Table 1 solely for purposes of proper disposal, lawful export, or to facilitate return to the manufacturer.
c.  Distribution or Sale by Commercial Applicators. Notwithstanding paragraph 2.b, for the purpose of facilitating use no later than the relevant end date for use of existing stocks identified in Table 1, distribution or sale of existing stocks of these dicamba products that are in the possession of commercial applicators is permitted
until the relevant end date for use in Table 1.
d.  Use of Existing Stocks. As of the date of this order, use of XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium is permitted until the relevant date identified in Table 1, provided that such use of existing stocks is consistent in all respects with the previously approved labeling accompanying the product.

What happens next? 

The Existing Stocks Order addresses dicamba over-the-top applications for the current growing season, but it's not the end of the dicamba controversy.  One potential next step could come from the petitioners in the federal case that vacated the dicamba product registrations, Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA.  The petitioners could file a motion asking the Court to review the Existing Stocks Order--an action that took place in the previous dicamba cancellation case, National Family Farm Coaltion v. EPA (Monsanto).  The petitioners in that case unsuccessfully sought an Emergency Motion to enforce the vacatur and hold the EPA Administrator in contempt for issuing an Existing Stocks Order.  A second next step that may yet play out is an appeal of the recent federal decision by the EPA, which has 30 days from the February 6 decision date to file an appeal.  At least one thing is clear at this point:  the long-term future of dicamba over-the-top products will continue to exist in a state of uncertainty.

Read the full text of the EPA's Existing Stocks Order.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

As we enter the 2024 crop season, it's time for an update on economic and legal information that affects Ohio farmland leasing. Join our Farm Office team members on March 1, 2024 from 10 a.m. until noon for a special edition of our Farm Office Live webinars.  In the Ohio Farmland Leasing Update, we'll share the latest information on these leasing topics:

  • Cash Rent Outlook – Key Issues and Survey Data
  • Negotiating Capital Improvements on Leased Farmland
  • Dealing with Conservation Practices in a Farmland Lease
  • Executing and Recording Farm Leases
  • Legal updates and new Farmland Leasing Resources

Our speakers for the webinar include:

  • Barry Ward, Leader, OSU Production Business Management
  • Peggy Hall, Attorney, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program
  • Robert Moore, Attorney, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

There is no cost to attend the Ohio Farmland Leasing Update, but registration is necessary unless you're already registered for our Farm Office Live webinars.  To register, visit go.osu.edu/register4fol.

 

Field of soybeans
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, February 12th, 2024

A federal district court in Arizona has vacated the registrations for dicamba products XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium, finding that the U.S. EPA violated pesticide registration procedures when it approved the product registrations in 2020.  As a result of the decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, the dicamba products are no longer legally authorized for use and application in the U.S.  Although there will likely be appeal of the decision, the new ruling creates uncertainty over the use of dicamba products for the upcoming crop season.

History of the case

If the court’s ruling feels familiar, that’s because it is a repeat of a 2020 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  In that case, the court vacated the first “conditional” dicamba product registrations granted by the EPA in 2018.  The court found that the EPA had “substantially understated” and failed to acknowledge the risks of dicamba’s volatility and its effects on non-users.  The EPA then cancelled the product registrations in June of 2020, but allowed producers to use “existing stocks” of already purchased products to apply the products until July 31, 2020.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture shortened that timeline in Ohio due to growing conditions within the state, prohibiting applications of dicamba after June 30, 2020.

Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta immediately revised the label application instructions and restrictions for their dicamba products and resubmitted their registration requests to the EPA. In October of 2020, the EPA granted the applications and issued “unconditional” five-year registrations for over-the-top applications (OTT) of the products on cotton and soybean crops.  The EPA did not provide a notice and opportunity for the public to submit comments before it made the registration decision. The National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity filed the current lawsuit, claiming that the EPA violated federal law by granting the unconditional registrations without a notice and comment period.

The court’s reasoning in this case

EPA’s error.  The primary basis for the court’s decision is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Section 136a(c)(4), which contains the notice and comment requirement for registration of a “new use” of a pesticide or herbicide.  It states that the EPA:

“. . . shall publish in the Federal Register. . . a notice of each application for registration of any pesticide that contains any new active ingredient or if it would entail a changed use pattern. The notice shall provide for a period of 30 days in which any Federal agency or any other interested person may comment.”

FIFRA further states that a “new use” of a product means, in part, “any additional use pattern that would result in a significant increase in the level of exposure, or a change in the route of exposure, to the active ingredient of man or other organisms.”

The EPA took the position that it did not have to provide the FIFRA notice and a comment period because the 2020 registration requests were not applications for a “new use” since EPA had previously approved the products.  The court strongly disagreed, however, emphasizing the previous court decision that had vacated those registrations because the EPA had failed to fully consider the risks of the products.  The EPA’s conclusion that the 2020 registrations were not for a new use “is so implausible that the Court cannot ascribe it to be a mere difference in view,” the court stated.  Stakeholders who would be affected by the dicamba registrations should have had an opportunity to “meaningfully weigh in during the decision-making process before EPA concluded whether OTT dicamba has unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” said the court.

Remedy for the error.  The court explained that upon finding an agency has violated federal law, the presumed remedy a court must grant is to vacate the agency’s action.  The law requires that only in limited circumstances, when equity requires it, should a court remand without vacating an agency decision.  There are two factors the law requires a court to review in determining the remedy:  the seriousness of the agency’s error and the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision.  The court’s next step was to review those two factors and determine whether it should remand the issue with or without vacating the dicamba registrations.

Examining the first factor, the court concluded that the EPA’s error was “very serious” because it was likely that, had the agency considered field studies, data, and other information that would have been submitted during the comment period, the EPA’s registration decision likely would have differed from the decision it made to grant the five-year unconditional registration.  The history of the dicamba registrations were important to the court, and the judge noted that there had not been a notice and comment period for stakeholders who were opposed to approving dicamba products since 2016, when the EPA considered the original registration.  The court reiterated a long list of field studies, incident reports, and data generated since 2016 that the agency could have considered had it provided a comment period.  Noting that the EPA was “highly confident that control measures would eliminate dicamba offsite movement to only a minimal effect,” the court pointed to years of incident reports on dicamba offsite movement and concluded:

“This Court believes hearing from all stakeholders is likely to change the OTT dicamba registrations at least from unconditional to conditional, with data gathering requirements reinstated. Hearing from non-users of OTT dicamba may change the EPA’s circular approach to assessing costs for risks from OTT dicamba offsite movement. Instead of simply concluding there is no risk and, therefore, no costs to these stakeholders, EPA is likely to include the costs to these stakeholders when balancing the risks and benefits for OTT dicamba. Accordingly, the Court finds the EPA’s procedural error to unconditionally issue the “new use” 2020 dicamba registration, without notice and comment, was serious.”

The court then examined the second factor, the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision. The court recognized the benefits of dicamba products to the agricultural industry and that growers, through no fault of their own, would be in the difficult position of finding legal herbicides to protect their crops if the dicamba registrations were vacated.  Nevertheless, the court agreed with the reasoning in the previous dicamba case, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto), that the seriousness of the EPA’s failure to assess the risks and costs for non-users of dicamba warranted vacating the registration despite the disruptive consequences.

What happens next?

There are two issues to watch now in the wake of the court’s decision. First is whether the EPA will appeal the federal district court’s decision.  The appeal would go the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same appellate court that reviewed the decision in the first dicamba appeal, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  If the EPA also requests a stay, the appeal would put the federal district court’s decision on hold.

If there is not an appeal, the second issue to watch for is how the EPA and state agencies will direct the use of existing stocks of dicamba products.  The EPA could use its authority to allow continued use of existing stocks of dicamba products until a certain date, as it did in the previous case.  If the EPA does issue an existing stocks order, states could also address the extent of existing stocks use within their borders, as Ohio did in the previous case.

Follow the Ohio Ag Law Blog for continued legal information about Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA and review the federal district court’s opinion through this link.  Ohio growers should also refer to information from OSU’s Weed Science Extension Specialist, Dr. Allyssa Essman, available through OSU’s C.O.R.N. newsletter.

 

By: Barry Ward, Wednesday, February 07th, 2024

Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management

Large increases in the Current Ag Use Value (CAUV) of farmland throughout Ohio in 2023 has resulted in higher property taxes (some have seen significant increases) for farmland owners in 2024. Forty-one of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties will see property tax increases in 2024 due to higher CAUV. Several factors have led to this increase in ag use valuation.

The Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) Program is a differential real estate tax assessment program for owners of farmland. The program allows for the farmland parcels to be taxed according to their use value in agriculture (or their value related to income from agriculture) rather than the market value (defined as the value if the land were sold by a willing seller to a non-related willing buyer). To arrive at this “use value”, a formula is used that includes several variables to capitalize the net income from agricultural products.

Landowners with farmland and woodlands in Ohio are eligible to sign-up for the CAUV program through their county auditor’s office if they meet the requirements.

There are two paths for a parcel to qualify for the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) Program. To qualify for CAUV, land must meet one of the following requirements during the three years preceding an application.

•             Ten or more acres must be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use; or

•             If under ten acres are devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use, the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500.

Each of the approximately 3500 different soil types in Ohio is assigned a CAUV value each tax year. The value represents the expected net present value of an acre of land devoted solely to agricultural production for the dominant field crops in Ohio. To determine this value, an average of yields and prices for corn, soybeans, and wheat is used to determine gross income. Non-land costs are then subtracted from gross income for a measure of net income. Finally, this net income is divided by a capitalization rate based upon recent values of farm interest and equity rates.

Large increases in the Current Ag Use Value (CAUV) of farmland in Ohio in 2023 has resulted in higher property taxes (some have seen significant increases) for farmland owners in 2024. Counties are subject to an update in CAUV every 3 years so only a portion (41 of the 88 Ohio counties) have been updated in 2023 that have impacted 2024 property taxes. As counties see updated values only every three years, there is the opportunity for large changes as many farmland owners will see this year.

Several factors have led to much of this increase in ag use valuation. Higher crop market prices and increased crop yields included in the formula have been significant drivers in the higher current ag use values. Price increases have been substantial as compared to the prices used in the 2020 calculations.

Corn price increased 16%, soybean price increased 12% and wheat price increased 7.4%. Yields used to determine values for each soil type increased 7.3% for corn, 5.4% for soybeans and 7.2% for wheat as compared to the yields used for the 2020 calculations. These are substantial increases in both prices and yields in an historical context.

Low interest rates (capitalization rate) have also contributed to the increasing current ag use values as recent higher interest rates aren’t yet fully represented in the formula. The capitalization rate used in the formula in 2023 CAUV calculations was 8.0% as compared to the rate of 7.9% used in 2020, the last time these counties saw an update in CAUV. Recent higher interest rates will increase the capitalization rate (denominator in the CAUV calculation) in future years which will likely help to moderate current ag use values.

For a detailed look at the variables and calculations that are used to determine CAUV for farmland, access the Ohio Department of Taxation online publication “2023 Current Agricultural Use Value of Land Tables Explanation of the Calculation of Values for Tax Year 2023”.

The Ohio Department of Taxation annually publishes this explanation of the CAUV valuation method complete with the measures used to calculate CAUV and examples of the calculations for certain soil units for the present year. This year’s document is titled “2023 Current Agricultural Use Value of Land Tables Explanation of the Calculation of Values for Tax Year 2023” and is available online at:

https://tax.ohio.gov/government/real-state/cauv

 

Posted In: Business and Financial, Crop Issues, Tax
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Pile of tree limbs burning in open farm field
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, November 30th, 2023

With the warm, dry, and windy months of October and November behind us, Ohio farmers will soon have legal clearance to conduct open burning during the daylight hours.  Ohio law prohibits all open burning from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. during October and November, and then again in March, April, and May.  That’s because ground cover and weather conditions create high fire risk and volunteer firefighters with daytime jobs aren’t readily available to fight the fires. 

December 1 marks the end of the daytime burn restriction, but other open burning laws remain in effect. Farmers can burn “agricultural waste,” but must follow conditions in the open burning laws.  Burning wastes that aren't agricultural waste might require prior permission or notification, and it is illegal to burn some wastes due to the environmental harms they cause. Don't get burned by failing to know and follow the open burning laws.  Here’s a summary of important provisions that affect farmers and farmland owners.

What you can burn.  Ohio law allows the burning of “agricultural wastes” under certain conditions.  Ohio law defines what is and is not “agricultural waste” as follows:

  • Agricultural waste is any waste material generated by crop, horticultural, or livestock production practices, and includes such items as woody debris and plant matter from stream flooding, bags, cartons, structural materials, and landscape wastes that are generated in agricultural activities.
  • Agricultural waste does not include buildings; dismantled or fallen barns; garbage; dead animals; animal waste; motor vehicles and parts thereof; or "economic poisons and containers," unless the manufacturer has identified open burning as a safe disposal procedure.
  • Agricultural waste does not include"land clearing waste," which is debris resulting from the clearing of land for new development for agricultural, residential, commercial or industrial purposes.  Burning of “land clearing waste” requires prior written notification to Ohio EPA.
  • If an agricultural waste pile is greater than 20 ft. wide x 10 ft. high (4,000 cubic feet), permission from Ohio EPA is necessary.

Where you can burn.  Laws that affect the burning location relate to where the waste is generated and whether the burn is in or near a village, city, or buildings:

  • It is legal to burn agricultural waste only if it is generated on the property where the burn occurs.  It is illegal to take agricultural waste to a different property for burning and to receive and burn agricultural waste from another property.
  • Burning inside a “restricted area” requires providing a ten day written notice to Ohio EPA.  A restricted area is any area inside city or village limits, within 1,000-feet of a city or village with a population of 1,000 to 10,000, or within one-mile of a city or village with a population of more than 10,000. 
  • A burn must be located more than 1,000 feet from any neighboring inhabited building.

How to manage the burn.  Ohio laws impose practices a person must follow when conducting open burning, which includes:

  • Remove all leaves, grass, wood, and inflammable materials around the burn to a safe distance.
  • Stack waste to provide the best practicable condition for efficient burning.
  • Don’t burn in weather conditions that prevent dispersion of smoke and emissions.
  • Take reasonable precautions to keep the fire under control. 
  • Extinguish or safely cover an open fire before leaving the area.

Local laws matter too. A local government can also have laws that regulate burning activities, so it’s important to check with the local fire department to know whether any additional regulations apply to a burn.

A bad burn can burn you.   Violation of state and local open burning laws creates several risks for farmers and farmland owners. First is the risk of enforcement by the Ohio EPA, which has the authority to issue fines of up to $1,000 per day per offense for an illegal burn.  According to the EPA, the most common violations by farmers include burning substances that are not “agricultural wastes,” such as tires and plastics, failing to meet the 1,000 foot setback requirement, and burning waste from another property. EPA enforcement officers regularly patrol their districts, investigate fires they see, and investigate complaints from neighbors or others who report burning activities, so “getting caught” is quite possible.

An illegal burn might also bring in the Ohio Division of Forestry or local law enforcement.  Beyond the environmental provisions, other violations of the open burning laws can result in third degree misdemeanor charges.  Penalties of up to $500 and 60 days of jail time per violation could result.  

A final risk to consider is liability for harm to yourself, other people, or other property if a burn goes wrong.  It’s possible for a fire to escape and burn unintended property, to reduce roadway visibility and cause an accident, or to interfere with people, animals, crops, or buildings.  These situations can cause personal injuries, property harm, and could result in insurance claims or a negligence or nuisance lawsuit.  Using common sense and taking reasonable safety precautions when conducting a burn can go a long way toward reducing the risk of harm and resulting liability for harm.

To learn more about Ohio’s open burning laws, visit the Ohio EPA website at https://epa.ohio.gov/divisions-and-offices/air-pollution-control/permitting/open-burning.

By: Barry Ward, Tuesday, August 29th, 2023

Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management

Continued high crop prices, reasonable crop margins and relatively healthy farm balance sheets over the last 2 years have given strength to farmland markets. Higher input costs over the last two years together with rising interest rates have offset some of this support but farmland values continue to increase. Many of these same factors have given support to the farmland rental markets which have also seen increases last year and are expected to see additional increases in 2023.

Results from the Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents Survey show cropland values in western Ohio are expected to increase in 2023 by 6.1 to 10.7 percent depending on the region and land class. This follows increases ranging from 6.9 to 13.8 percent from ’21 to ’22.

Cash rents are expected to increase from 5.0 to 6.7 percent in 2023 depending on the region and land class. This is on top of rental increases of 1.3 to 3.8 percent from 2021 to 2022.

Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rent

Ohio cropland varies significantly in its production capabilities and, consequently, cropland values and cash rents vary widely throughout the state. Generally, western Ohio cropland values and cash rents differ from much of southern and eastern Ohio cropland values and cash rents. The primary factors affecting these values and rents are land productivity and potential crop return, and the variability of those crop returns. Soils, fertility and drainage/irrigation capabilities are primary factors that most influence land productivity, crop return and variability of those crop returns.

Other factors impacting land values and cash rents may include field size and shape, field accessibility, market access, local market prices, field perimeter characteristics and potential for wildlife damage, buildings and grain storage, previous tillage system and crops, tolerant/resistant weed populations, USDA Program Yields, population density, and competition for the cropland in a region. Factors specific to cash rental rates may include services provided by the operator and specific conditions of the lease. This fact sheet summarizes data collected for western Ohio cropland values and cash rents.

Study Results 

The Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents study was conducted from January through April in 2023. This opinion-based study surveyed professionals with a knowledge of Ohio’s cropland values and rental rates. Professionals surveyed were rural appraisers, agricultural lenders, professional farm managers, ag business professionals, OSU Extension educators, farmers, landowners, and Farm Service Agency personnel.

The study results are based on 190 surveys. Respondents were asked to group their estimates based on three land quality classes: average, top, and bottom. Within each land-quality class, respondents were asked to estimate average corn and soybean yields for a five-year period based on typical farming practices. Survey respondents were also asked to estimate current bare cropland values and cash rents negotiated in the current or recent year for each land-quality class. Survey results are summarized below for western Ohio with regional summaries (subsets of western Ohio) for northwest Ohio and southwest Ohio.

The complete survey summary can be accessed and downloaded at our Farm Management Page:

https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farm-management-tools/farm-management-publications/cash-rents

 

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By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, November 08th, 2022

It’s a common problem in Ohio: a dispute between two neighbors over connecting to a subsurface drainage tile system that crosses property lines.  Can one neighbor cut off the other neighbor's access to a tile?  Can one go onto the other’s property to maintain the tile?  If one replaces their system, can they still connect to the other’s tile?  Answers to neighbor drainage questions can be, like subsurface water, a little murky.  But a recent appeals court decision on a Licking County drainage dispute provides a few clear answers.

The drainage system at issue.  Landowner Foor’s clay subsurface drainage system had been on his farm for over fifty years.  Foor’s system connected to a larger drainage tile that ran across neighbor Helfrich’s property and eventually emptied into a pond on Helfrich's land. Foor and his predecessors had used and maintained the line on Helfrich’s property prior to Helfrich’s ownership.

The dispute.  Foor planned to replace his old system and also offered to replace the tile he connected to on neighbor Helfrich’s property.  Helfrich refused the replacement.  During installation of Foor’s tile, Helfrich dug up the tile area near the boundary and filled the hole with rocks and refuse, after which water welled up and flowed over the properties rather than through the tile on Helfrich’s property.  Foor installed a standpipe on his side of the boundary.  Helrich filed a complaint against Foor, claiming that Foor’s drainage was excessive and harmful.  Foor responded by asking the court to establish his rights to a drainage easement and irrevocable license to use the property where the tile ran across Helfrich’s property. A jury ruled in favor of Foor, awarding him $30,000 in damages and both an easement and irrevocable license where the tile ran across Helfrich’s property.

The appeal.  The Fifth District Court of Appeals affirmed two conclusions on the drainage rights of the two neighbors:

  • First, the court held that Foor’s replacement of the pre-existing subsurface drainage system was not an "alteration" of the flow of surface water that would trigger Ohio’s “reasonable use” rule for drainage.  The reasonable use rule allows a legal claim when an alteration of surface water flow causes an unreasonable interference with someone’s property.  Because the newly installed tile did not increase the amount of water draining from Foor’s property and maintained the same amount of drainage that had occurred for over fifty years, the court concluded there was no “alteration” of surface water flow. Without an alteration, the reasonable use rule did not apply and Helfrich did not have a claim against Foor based on the reasonable use rule.
  • Second, the court refused to overturn the jury’s award of a drainage easement and irrevocable license across Helfrich’s land to Foor.  Helfrich argued there was not sufficient evidence for the jury’s verdict but the court disagreed. The jury determined that an “easement by estoppel” existed when Helfrich purchased the property, based on evidence that the easement was apparent and not hidden to Helfrich when he purchased the property; that Foor and his predecessors relied on the drainage access and had previously repaired the tile on the neighboring property; and that the prior owners of the Helfrich property had gone along with Foor’s maintenance and use of the drainage tile on their land.  Likewise, the court held there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that the previous owners of the Helfrich property had granted the prior owners of the Foor property a “license” or right to enter their property and maintain the tile.  The jury determined that substantial investment by Foor and his predecessors suggested that the license was intended to be permanent, and the appeals court found that sufficient evidence also existed to support that conclusion.

How does this affect future drainage disputes between neighbors?  The Fifth District decision provides useful precedent for the difficult questions neighbor drainage disputes raise. The case supports the argument that a landowner has a legal right to maintain a subsurface drainage system that crosses property lines.  As long as there is not an “alteration” of surface water flow and history shows prior use, reliance, and maintenance of the connecting tile line on a neighbor’s property, a landowner can be in a strong legal position for continued use and maintenance of the tile.  Will other appellate courts agree with the Fifth District’s analysis, or will Helfrich ask the Ohio Supreme Court to review the decision?  Answers to those questions, like subsurface water, are a little murky.

Read the Fifth Appellate District's decision in Helfrich v. Foor Family Investments.

Ohio farm and rural road
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

Did you know yellow grove bamboo is on Ohio’s “noxious weeds” list?  We’ve seen an increase in legal questions about bamboo, a plant that can cross property boundaries pretty quickly and create a neighbor dispute.  Weeds often cause neighbor issues, which is why Ohio has a set of noxious weed laws.  The laws aim to resolve problems around yellow grove bamboo and other species designated as “noxious weeds.”

The noxious weeds list

The Ohio legislature designated shatter cane and Russian thistle as noxious weeds years ago, then granted the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) the authority to determine other noxious weeds that could be prohibited in Ohio.  Since that time, the noxious weed list has grown to include 31 weed species.   Two of the species, yellow grove bamboo and grapevines, are noxious weeds only if not managed in a certain way.  The list includes the following:

  • Shatter Cane
  • Kudzu
  • Russian Thistle
  • Japanese knotweed
  • Johnsongrass
  • Field bindweed
  • Wild parsnip
  • Heart-podded hoary cress
  • Canada thistle
  • Hairy whitetop or ballcress
  • Poison hemlock
  • Perennial sowthistle
  • Cressleaf groundsel
  • Russian knapweed
  • Musk thistle
  • Leafy spurge
  • Purple loosestrife
  • Hedge bindweed
  • Mile-A-Minute Weed
  • Serrated tussock
  • Giant Hogweed
  • Columbus grass
  • Apple of Peru
  • Musk thistle
  • Marestail
  • Forage Kochia
  • Kochia
  • Water Hemp
  • Palmer amaranth
  • Yellow Grove Bamboo, when spread from its original premise of planting and not being maintained
  • Grapevines: when growing in groups of 100 or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for 2 consecutive years

Talking about noxious weeds

Since noxious weeds can be harmful to all, the hope is that all landowners will manage noxious weeds effectively and reduce the possibility that the weeds will invade a neighbor’s property.  But for many reasons, that isn’t always the case.  When it appears that noxious weeds on a neighbor’s property are getting out of hand, first try to address the issue through neighbor communications.  A “friendly” discussion about the weeds might reveal helpful information that can reduce the neighbor conflict.  Maybe the neighbor has recently sprayed the weeds or isn’t aware of the weeds. Maybe the neighbor’s tenant is responsible for managing the land. Or, as is sometimes the case, maybe the suspected plants aren’t actually noxious weeds.  Good communication between the neighbors could bring a quick resolution to the situation.

Agronomic help with noxious weeds

Knowledge and management might be the solution to a noxious weeds problem between neighbors. For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.

Help with noxious weeds

Knowledge and management might be the solution to a noxious weeds problem between neighbors. For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.

Legal procedures might be necessary

If communication isn’t helpful or possible, the laws establish procedures for dealing with noxious weeds. Different procedures in the law apply for different weed locations.

  • If the weeds are in the fence row between two properties, a landowner has a right to ask the neighbor to clear the row of weeds within four feet of the line fence.  If the neighbor doesn’t do so within 10 days, the landowner may notify the board of township trustees.  Once notified, the trustees must visit the property and determine whether the fence row should be cleared.  If so, the trustees must hire someone to clean up the fence row.  The costs of the clearing are then assessed on the neighbor’s property taxes.
  • If the weeds are on private land beyond the fence row, a landowner can send written notice of the noxious weeds to the township trustees.  A letter describing the type and location of the weeds, for instance, would serve as written notice.  Once the trustees receive a written notice, they must notify the neighbor to cut or destroy the weeds or alternatively, to show why there is no need for such action.  If the neighbor doesn’t respond to the trustees and take action within 5 days of the notice being given, the trustees must order the weeds to be cut or destroyed.  The cost of destroying the weeds is then assessed on the neighbor’s property taxes.
  • If the neighbor is a railroad, the railroad must cut or destroy noxious weeds along the railway between June 1 and 20, August 1 and 20, and if necessary, September 1 and 20.  If a railroad fails to do so and the township trustees are aware of the problem, the trustees may remove the weeds and recover costs in a civil action against the railroad.  While the law doesn’t state it, a landowner may have to document whether the railroad follows the required cutting schedule and notify the trustees if it does not.
  • If the neighbor is the Ohio Department of Natural Resources or a park owned by the state or a political subdivision, the landowner must provide information about the noxious weeds to the township trustees.  The trustees then notify the county Extension educator, who must meet with a park authority and a representative of the soil and water conservation district within five days to consider ways to deal with the problem.  The Extension educator must report findings and recommendations back to the township trustees, but the law doesn’t require the trustees to take action on the report.  Apparently, the hope is that the problem would be resolved after considering ways to deal with it.

What if the neighbor leases the land?

We mentioned that sometimes a neighbor might not be tending to noxious weeds because it’s actually the responsibility of the neighbor’s tenant under a leasing arrangement, such as a farmland lease or a solar lease.  These types of leases should state which party is responsible for noxious weeds.  Note that the law recognizes the possibility of a leasing situation by requiring the trustee to notify the “owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” when the weeds are on private land and the “owner or tenant” when the weeds are in the fence row.  The “or” in these provisions can be problematic though, as that doesn’t require the township to notify both the neighbor and tenant.  A landowner might need to ask the trustees to communicate with both the neighbor and its tenant so that the parties are both aware and can resolve which is responsible for managing the noxious weeds according to the leasing arrangement. 

For more information about noxious weeds, refer to our law bulletins in the property law library on https://farmoffice.osu.edu.  For assistance identifying and managing noxious weeds, check out OSU’s guide on Identifying Noxious Weeds of Ohio at https://ohiostate.pressbooks.pub/ohionoxiousweeds/ and refer to helpful articles posted on OSU’s Agronomic Crops Network at https://agcrops.osu.edu.

Posted In: Crop Issues, Property
Tags: noxious weeds, Property, neighbor law
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