Hemp is one of the most talked-about provisions of the new Farm Bill passed earlier this month by Congress and signed by the President on December 20. There’s a lot of excitement about the removal of federal restrictions on hemp production and the economic opportunities for growing hemp. But what exactly does the Farm Bill say about hemp? Can Ohioans now grow, use and sell hemp and hemp products? We dove into the 807 pages of the Farm Bill Conference Report (available here for your reading pleasure) to find answers to your questions about the new legal status of hemp and hemp cultivation.
What is hemp?
Before we go much further in this discussion, it’s important to understand that both hemp and marijuana are species of cannabis, but they have different properties. Of particular note is the fact that marijuana contains much more tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than hemp. THC is the part of a cannabis plant that can cause a psychoactive effect in certain concentrations, but hemp plants generally do not contain enough THC to produce a “high.” Hemp has many uses— it can be used for construction materials, fabrics and clothing, and animal bedding. It has even been discussed as a potential cover crop. Cannabidiol, or CBD, is a very popular extract of the hemp plant that is alleged to help those with anxiety, pain, inflammation, and other ailments, but not much research has been done to verify its effectiveness for medical use. Note that CBD is also an extract of the higher THC marijuana plant.
Hemp is removed from the federal list of controlled substances—but only if it meets certain requirements
First and foremost, the Farm Bill removes hemp from the federal list of controlled substances. Section 12619 of the bill removes hemp from the definition of marijuana, which is still an illegal drug under federal law. In the same section, the bill federally decriminalizes tetrahydrocannabinols (THC) in hemp. Not all hemp, however, is subject to this exemption. Only hemp and THC as defined in the Farm Bill and as grown under the conditions set forth in the Farm Bill are accorded the exemption.
So, how does the Farm Bill change the definition of hemp? The main hemp provision of the bill, Section 10113, separates hemp from the definition of marijuana and redefines hemp as “the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of that plant, including the seeds thereof and all derivatives, extracts, cannabinoids, isomers, acids, salts, and salts of isomers, whether growing or not with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis.”
Coming soon: state and federal hemp production plans
The new law doesn’t allow a producer to start growing hemp today. Instead, Section 10113 of the Farm Bill describes the two situations under which a producer will be able to engage in legal hemp production in the future. In the first situation, the States or Indian tribes may take charge of the regulation of hemp production within their boundaries. To do this, a State must first submit a plan to the USDA through their state department of agriculture. A State plan must include:
- A way to keep track of land where hemp is produced within the state;
- Methods the state will use to test how much THC is in hemp plants;
- A way to dispose of plants or products that have a higher THC concentration than is legally allowed;
- A procedure for inspecting hemp producers;
- A plan for enforcing the law;
- A system for dissemination of a hemp producer’s information to the USDA; and
- Assurances that the state has the resources to carry out the plan.
A producer who wants to cultivate hemp in a State that has an approved hemp production plan must first comply with the State’s plan before beginning to grow hemp. Predictions are that it may take a State about a year to create its hemp production plan and obtain the required USDA approval for the plan.
The second situation for growing hemp comes into play if a State or Tribe does not submit a hemp plan to USDA. In this case, as long as the State has not limited the regulation or production of hemp under state law, the Secretary of Agriculture for the USDA may establish a plan “to monitor and regulate” hemp production within that State. A plan established by the USDA must meet the same criteria as a plan written by a State, and the law also requires the USDA to establish a licensing procedure for producers. Thus, a producer in a State that doesn’t have a hemp plan could legally grow hemp by obtaining a USDA hemp license through the hemp regulations that the USDA will develop, unless the State has prohibited hemp cultivation. Section 10113 specifically states that it does not preempt or limit any state law that “regulates the production of hemp” as well as any state law that is “more stringent” than federal law in regulating hemp production. Thus, a State can outlaw hemp production within its boundaries or include additional restrictions and requirements in its State plan as long as the plan complies with the federal law requirements.
Handling producer violations
What if a hemp producer doesn’t comply with the new law or with the State or USDA hemp production plan? Section 10113 also describes how violations of the law will be handled. If a hemp producer negligently violates a State or USDA hemp production plan, the producer could be subject to enforcement. One negligent violation of the plan would not trigger criminal punishment, but the violator would have to comply with a corrective action plan prescribed by the State or USDA. However, if a producer negligently violates a plan three times in five years, the producer will be banned from producing hemp for five years. Examples of negligent violations in the law include: not providing a legal description of the land where hemp is produced, growing hemp without obtaining a license “or other required authorization” from the State, Tribe, or USDA, or producing hemp with a THC concentration higher than 0.3 percent. If a producer violates a State or USDA plan “with a culpable mental state greater than negligence” (that is, purposely, knowingly, or recklessly), then the State or USDA must report the violation to law enforcement authorities. Furthermore, persons convicted of a felony relating to a controlled substance under state or federal law are generally barred from hemp production for ten years following the date of their conviction, with the exception of persons convicted of a controlled substances felony but lawfully participating in a pilot program under the 2014 Farm Bill. Finally, if a person falsifies an application to participate in hemp production, that person will be totally barred from producing hemp.
Legal hemp not to be prohibited in interstate commerce
The new law also allows for the interstate commerce of legally produced hemp and hemp products. Section 10114 says that a State or Indian Tribe cannot prevent the transportation or shipment of legally produced hemp through its state or territory. While a State may ban the sale of hemp or hemp products solely within its borders, it must allow hemp products to move freely through the State. For example, imagine that Pennsylvania allows hemp production but Ohio does not. Producers of legal hemp in Pennsylvania could not sell the hemp within Ohio, but Ohio could not prohibit a truck, train, or other type of transport from carrying the hemp through Ohio to a destination outside of Ohio.
Hemp becomes eligible for crop insurance
Importantly, the Farm Bill also addresses hemp production risk by amending the Federal Crop Insurance Act to include hemp. Section 1119 adds hemp to the definition of “agricultural commodities” that can be insured and section 11106 adds legally produced hemp to the list of crops that can be insured even after harvested. Other provisions in Title XI waive marketability requirements for researching hemp.
Making way for hemp research funding
Several provisions in the Farm Bill ensure that it is legally permissible to fund hemp research. Section 7129 amends the National Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching Policy Act to allow the Secretary of Agriculture to award grants for researching hemp and the development of hemp products. In section 7501, the bill amends the Critical Agricultural Materials Act to allow research on hemp, meaning that Congress believes hemp has the “potential of producing critical materials for strategic and industrial purposes.”
Finally, section 7605 amends the hemp pilot program language from the 2014 Farm Bill (for information on the pilot program, see our previous blog post). The Secretary of Agriculture is tasked with conducting a study on the pilot program and submitting a report on the study to Congress within a year. Section 7605 also repeals the hemp pilot programs, but only one year after final regulation on hemp production under section 10113 is published.
How does current Ohio law treat hemp production?
Ohio law defines marijuana as “all parts of a plant of the genus cannabis…” in Ohio Revised Code section 3719.01. Hemp is in the genus cannabis, as discussed earlier in this post. Therefore, under current Ohio law, hemp is the same as marijuana. Marijuana is a controlled substance under Ohio law, and the law states that “[n]o person shall knowingly obtain, possess, or use a controlled substance.”
What about hemp-derived CBD oil? Ohio enacted a medical marijuana law in 2016, although dispensaries in the state have yet to open (so far, only one dispensary in the state has been licensed). In order to obtain medical marijuana in Ohio, it would have to be prescribed by a physician with which the patient has a “bona fide physician-client relationship,” and the patient would have to have a qualifying medical condition. Medical marijuana can be prescribed and used in oil form under the law. Since Ohio law lumps hemp in with marijuana, this means that in order to obtain CBD oil derived from hemp, a person would also have to follow the steps to obtain medical marijuana. Hemp-derived CBD oil also does not fall under any exceptions in Ohio’s definition of marijuana. Ohio’s State Board of Pharmacy specifically stated in a guidance document that CBD oil can only be legally dispensed from a licensed dispensary. In releasing this guidance, the Board of Pharmacy is purporting to act under the rulemaking authority granted under ORC 3796.04.
Note, however, that there are exceptions to Ohio’s definition of marijuana. According to Ohio law, marijuana “does not include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber produced from the stalks, oils or cake made from the seeds of the plant, or any other compound, manufacture, salt, derivative, mixture, or preparation of the mature stalks, except the resin extracted from the mature stalks, fiber, oil or cake, or the sterilized seed of the plant that is incapable of germination.” Since hemp falls under the definition of marijuana, it is possible that some of these exceptions could also apply to certain hemp products made from stalks or seeds. Thus, it is plausible that some hemp products could be sold and used in Ohio. The law also states, however, that no person (other than those licensed under the medical marijuana law) “shall knowingly cultivate” marijuana. Again, since hemp is part of the state’s definition of marijuana, under the law, that means that nobody can “knowingly cultivate” hemp, either.
In sum, it appears as though some excepted hemp products could be sold in Ohio, but not CBD oil, as it does not fall under the exception. Even if some hemp products can be sold in Ohio, hemp itself cannot currently be cultivated in Ohio. The new hemp language in the Farm Bill allows states to be more restrictive with hemp than the federal government, so Ohio can continue its ban on certain hemp products even with the new federal law. The State cannot, however, stop the transportation of hemp across the State, as explained above. Conversely, Ohio’s General Assembly could remove hemp from Ohio’s definition of marijuana and redefine hemp according to the Farm Bill’s new definition, which could allow for legal hemp cultivation under the Farm Bill. For the time being, growing hemp in Ohio is not legal, but that is subject to change.
Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog for continuing updates on hemp laws!
The legislative Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) has voted to send the "watersheds in distress" rule revisions back to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA). JCARR reviews administrative rules to make sure they follow legal requirements, which we explained in a previous blog post. The "watersheds in distress" rules seek to address agricultural nutrient impacts on water quality, also explained in an earlier post. At its meeting yesterday, JCARR members voted 8 to 1 to recommend that ODA revise and refile the rules for consideration at JCARR's next meeting on January 22, 2019.
The January 22 meeting date efectively removes Governor Kasich's administration from the rules revision. Kasich issued an executive order last July directing his agencies to prepare the controversial rule package. But the incoming DeWine Administration will control the fate of the rules since DeWine takes office on January 14, 2019. JCARR is apparently counting on the new administration to take a different approach on agricultural nutrient pollution reduction.
"There will be a new administration and we'll have maybe more productive talks," stated JCARR's chair, Sen. Joe Uecker (R-Loveland). "The DeWine Administration has demonstrated an interest on working with stakeholders on this issue."
The lack of stakeholder involvement was a common concern voiced by JCARR members, who stated that the rules had been rushed and did not involve all of the interested parties. Several committee members also suggested that the rules are inconsistent with legislative intent and will have a significant adverse impact on farmers. The Ohio Soybean Association, Ohio Corn & Wheat Growers Association, and Ohio Farm Bureau echoed those criticisms to JCARR members while several local residents, local groups and the Ohio Environmental Council testified that the rules would not sufficiently protect water quality.
If ODA fails to refile the rules proposal for the January meeting, JCARR will have 31 days to recomend that the Ohio General Assembly invalidate the rules. That action would allow each chamber five days to pass a resolution invalidating the rules; if the concurrent resolution does not pass within that time period, the rules would stand. Alternatively, ODA could remove the proposal from JCARR's agenda and refile revised rules at a later date, a likely course of action for the incoming DeWine administration.
Those post cards advising producers of a $1.51 billion settlement in the Syngenta corn seed lawsuits are legitimate, and corn producers seeking compensation from thesettlement must file claims by 11:59 p.m. on October 12, 2018. The settlement is the result of class action and individual lawsuits alleging that Syngenta failed to receive import approval from China before selling its genetically modified Viptera and Duracade seeds in the United States, which led to the rejection of U.S. corn shipments and a lowering of corn prices from 2013 to 2018.
Who can file a claim?
Three types of claimants that were involved in the U.S. corn market between September 15, 2013 and April 10, 2018 may file claims:
- Corn producers, which includes any owner, operator, landlord or tenant who shared in the risk of producing any variety of corn, not just Syngenta varieties. Landlords who operated under fixed cash leases are not eligible.
- Grain handling facilities that purchased, transported, stored, handled and sold any variety of corn.
- Ethanol production facilities that produced, purchased and sold dried distillers' grains from any variety of corn.
How to file a claim?
File electronically through a secure, encrypted portal at www.CornSeedSettlement.com or download a printed form on the same website to file via U.S. mail. Claimants must file using either a federal tax ID number or social security number and must file a separate claim for each Form 578 filed with FSA. Note that the settlement claims administrator states that all claims information is confidential and will be destroyed after the payment of claims.
How much will a claimant receive?
Payments will vary and will depend upon the total number of filed claims. For corn producers, the claims administrator will determine payments based on the following factors: (1) compensable recovery quantity as calculated by number of acres, ownership interest, NASS county yields and predetermined marketing year averages, (2) the year of planting, (3) the producer’s ownership interest, and (4) whether the producer purchased and planted Agrisure Viptera or Duracade seed or a different variety.
When will claimants receive payments?
A claimant might not receive a payment for about a year. A court hearing to approve the settlement will take place in the U.S District Court in Kansas on November 15, 2018. If the court approves the settlement, those who object to the approval can file appeals. Final payments won't occur until the court resolves all appeals, which could take about a year or more.
Must claimants report payments as income?
Class action settlement payments that compensate for the loss of business income should be reported for tax purposes. Claimants should consult with tax advisors to determine IRS reporting requirements.
For more information, an extensive list of frequently asked questions about the Syngenta corn seed settlement is available here.
Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Assoc., Agricultural & Resource Law Program
We often receive questions about the status of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop in Ohio. Historically, growing industrial hemp has been controversial in the United States because of its close relationship to the marijuana plant—both are members of the same species. Plants used for industrial hemp, however, have a much lower amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) than marijuana and do not have the intoxicating qualities of marijuana plants. Uses for industrial hemp are numerous; ranging from fabrics, to car parts, to bedding for animals. Because of potential usefulness, Congress authorized the growing of industrial hemp in individual states for “purposes of research” in the 2014 Farm Bill.
The 2014 Farm Bill and industrial hemp
The 2014 Farm Bill included a section codified at 7 U.S.C. § 5940 that allows industrial hemp to be grown under certain circumstances. Specifically, industrial hemp can be grown in a state if:
- It is grown for research purposes;
- The research is conducted under an agricultural pilot program or other agricultural or academic research; and
- State law permits the growth of industrial hemp.
The federal law only permits hemp to be grown, cultivated, studied, and marketed under the guidance of institutions of higher education located in the state or the state department of agriculture. Furthermore, the state must certify and register the sites permitted to grow industrial hemp because any substance containing THC is a Schedule I controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 812 (c). This means that without a license issued by a state that allows industrial hemp to be grown for research, someone in possession of the plant would be violating federal drug law.
It is also important to note that under the federal law, “industrial hemp” is defined as the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a THC concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis. Any concentration over that amount is not legal. Even those plants with a THC concentration less than or equal to 0.3 percent are illegal unless the grower has a state license.
State action on industrial hemp research
Since the passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, 26 states have implemented legislation allowing industrial hemp research or pilot programs. Ohio is not one of these states, but all of the states bordering Ohio have passed laws allowing industrial hemp research. The National Conference of State Legislatures provides a compilation of the state laws here.
Kentucky is an example of a state that is carrying out an industrial hemp pilot program. The program, codified in the Kentucky Revised Statutes §§ 260.850-260.869, allows universities, the state department of agriculture, and those who hold a license from the department of agriculture “to study methods of cultivating, processing, or marketing industrial hemp.” In order to obtain a license, a person must give the Kentucky Department of Agriculture both the legal description and the GPS coordinates of the area where they will grow industrial hemp. Furthermore, applicants for licenses must agree in writing to allow the State to enter the premises for inspection, and receive a yearly background check. Any convicted felon or person with a “drug-related misdemeanor” is barred from becoming licensed.
By implementing this industrial hemp program under state law, Kentucky has stated that it intends to be at the “forefront” of the industry. The state hopes to be in a position to profit from industrial hemp if and when the federal government removes the restrictions on growing and selling industrial hemp. Information from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture is here and here.
Will the U.S. soon allow hemp to be legally grown as a crop? A bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last July, H.R. 3530, calls for industrial hemp to be removed from the federal definition of marijuana, which would in turn remove it from the list of illegal controlled substances. A quick search on Congress’ website reveals that similar bills have been introduced many times in the past but have not garnered sufficient support. The possibility that the current proposal will gain enough traction to pass is therefore slim. But it is possible that continued research could prove the value of industrial hemp as an agricultural crop, which could eventually lead to less regulation in the future. Given Ohio’s lack of legislative interest in allowing industrial hemp research, Ohio farmers may be at a disadvantage if that day arrives.
For more information
Our colleague Harrison Pittman, Director of the National Agricultural Law Center, presented a webinar on industrial hemp and it's recorded here. A Congressional Research Service report on "Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity" is available here. A recent article on hemp by Farm and Dairy is available here.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced an agreement with Monsanto, BASF and DuPont to change dicamba registration and labeling beginning with the 2018 growing season. EPA reports that the agreement was a voluntary measure taken by the manufacturers to minimize the potential of dicamba drift from “over the top” applications on genetically engineered soybeans and cotton, a recurring problem that has led to a host of regulatory and litigation issues across the Midwest and South. The upcoming changes might alleviate dicamba drift issues, but they also raise new concerns for farmers who will have more responsibility for dicamba applications.
The following registration and labeling changes for dicamba use on GE soybeans and cotton will occur in 2018 as a result of the agreement:
- Dicamba products will be classified as “restricted use” products for over the top applications. Only those who are certified through the state pesticide certification program or operating under the supervision of a certified applicator may apply the product. Training for pesticide certification will now include information specific to dicamba use and application, and applicators will be required to maintain records on the use of dicamba products.
- The maximum wind speed for applications will reduce from 15 mph to 10 mph.
- There will also be greater restrictions on the times during the day when applications can occur, but details are not yet available on those restrictions.
- Tank clean-out instructions for the prevention of cross contamination will be on the label.
- The label will also include language that will heighten the awareness of application risk to sensitive crops.
Farmers should note that the additional restrictions and information on dicamba labels shifts more responsibility for the product onto the applicator. An applicator must take special care to follow the additional label instructions, as going “off label” subjects an applicator to higher risk. If drift occurs because of the failure to follow the label, the applicator is likely to be liable to the injured party for resulting harm and may also face civil penalties. Producers should take care to assess the new dicamba labels closely when the manufacturers issue the revised labels for 2018.
To learn more about legal issues with pesticide use, be sure to sit in on the Agricultural & Food Law Consortium’s upcoming webinar, “From Farm Fields to the Courthouse: Legal Issues Surrounding Pesticide Use.” The webinar will take place on Wednesday, November 1 at Noon EST and will feature an examination of regulatory issues and litigation surrounding pesticide use around the country by attorneys Rusty Rumley and Tiffany Dowell Lashmet. To view the free webinar, visit http://nationalaglawcenter.org/consortium/webinars/pesticide/
Noxious weed law questions are common in the midst of the growing season and this year is no different. Below is a sampling of frequently asked questions we've received about noxious weed law. Learn more about the laws in our new law bulletin, Ohio's Noxious Weed Laws, available here.
My neighbor doesn’t keep his fence row clear of noxious weeds. What can I do about it?
First, talk to the neighbor. If your neighbor doesn’t respond favorably, the second step is to provide a written notice to the neighbor stating that he has ten days to clear the fence row of the noxious weeds. Third, if the neighbor still doesn’t take action, provide a written notice of the situation to the township trustees, which will initiate a process that could result in the trustees determining that there is a valid need to clear the fence row and hiring some to do the work. Your neighbor will be legally obligated to pay for the costs on his property tax bill.
I’ve been notified by my township trustees that I have noxious weeds on my property. What should I do?
Be aware that you must respond within five days of the date the trustees notified you about the weeds or the trustees will have the authority to destroy. Your options are to destroy or cut the weeds or to provide information to the township trustees showing that there is no need to take action. For example, such information might include showing that noxious weeds don’t exist on the property or showing that plants were incorrectly identified as noxious weeds.
Do I have to destroy my crop if noxious weeds are on my land?
No, Ohio law states that you must only “cut or destroy the weeds” if you have been notified by the township trustees that noxious weeds are on your property.
Noxious weeds are growing in the road right-of-way. Can I remove them myself and charge the township for my costs?
You may remove the noxious weeds, but you will probably not receive reimbursement for your costs unless the township trustees violated their duty to cut the weeds even after you followed the proper legal process for demanding their action. Ohio law requires the township trustees to cut road right-of-way weeds in early June and August, in early September if necessary, and at other times if public safety is at issue. If they fail to do so, you should formally complain to the township trustees in writing or by speaking at a township meeting. If the trustees still fail to take action, the next step is to file a “writ of mandamus” action that asks the court to order the clearing. Seeking reimbursement for your work prior to following this legal process is not the proper method for enforcing the township’s duty, according to the Second District Court of Appeals in Mezger v. Horton, 2013 Ohio 2964.
How do I know which weeds are “noxious”?
The director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture conducts rulemaking to designate a plant as a prohibited noxious weed. The list of plants that the director has formally designated as noxious weeds is in the Ohio Administrative Code and is available at http://codes.ohio.gov/oac/901:5-37-01.
Congress has enacted legislation to address security threats to the country’s food and agricultural systems. The “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act” enrolled on June 22, 2017, authorizes the government to coordinate efforts to defend U.S. food, agriculture, and veterinary systems against terrorism and other high-consequence events to create risks to homeland security. The bill has been forwarded to President Trump for approval.
The bi-partisan bill, sponsored by Rep. Young (R-Iowa) with co-sponsors Rep. Payne (D-NJ) and Rep. Donovan (R-NY), amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002. House Bill 1238 requires the Assistant Secretary for Health Affairs in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate an agriculture and food security program with federal departments and agencies that includes:
- Managing DHS responsibilities established by President George W. Bush in his 2004 Presidential Directive 9, which created a national policy for defending food and agricultural systems against terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies.
- Overseeing and integrating DHS activities related to veterinary public health, food dense, and agricultural security.
- Leading policy initiatives relating to domestic preparedness for and response to agricultural terrorism.
- Coordinating activities on food and agriculture security and screening procedures for domestic and imported products with other departments, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Rep. Young drafted the bill following Iowa’s 2015 avian influenza outbreak, which resulted in the loss of millions of chickens and turkeys in his home state. According to Rep. Young, the event raised concerns about the federal government’s ability to quickly react to animal disease outbreaks and whether the nation would be able to respond capably to agro-terrorism threats.
“We don’t always think of a terrorist attack as a deliberate, mass food contamination, or the danger a major disease outbreak could pose,” stated Sen. McCaskill (D-MO), when the bill was introduced in the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Congress needs to think forward about the wide array of threats we face and take action before there’s a tragedy, not afterwards.”
The “Securing our Agriculture and Food Act,” H.B. 1238, is available here.
Farmers are receiving a lot of attention from law firms these days, from video mailers to offers of free consultations, dinners, hats and more. The purpose of these marketing efforts is to entice farmers away from participating in the current class action lawsuit against Syngenta. Law firms want farmers to exclude themselves from the class action litigation and participate in individual lawsuits their firms would bring against Syngenta. With a deadline of April 1 looming, farmers must decide whether to remain in or step away from the class action lawsuit.
The class action lawsuit, known as “In re Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation,” is pending before the U.S. District Court in Kansas. It is one of two major lawsuits regarding corn rejected by China in 2013 because China had not yet approved Syngenta’s Duracade and Viptera brands of genetically-modified corn. The lawsuit consolidated hundreds of similar federal court cases that all claimed that Syngenta should be liable for the drop in corn prices that followed China’s rejections because Syngenta stated that it had obtained all necessary regulatory approvals for Duracade and Viptera, but instead released the seed before receiving China’s approval.
Last September, the court certified the litigation as a class action lawsuit, which allows the case to commence on behalf of all class members. Any farmer that fits within the class definitions is automatically included in the lawsuit and does not have to pursue individual litigation against Syngenta. The court established a nationwide class of “producers,” defined as any person or entity listed as a producer on an FSA-578 form filed with the USDA who priced corn for sale after November 18, 2013 and who did not purchase Viptera or Duracade corn seed (farmers who used Syngenta’s seed have different legal claims). The nationwide class is for producers bringing claims under federal law. The court also certified eight state classes for producers bringing claims under state laws, including Ohio. Syngenta appealed the class certification, but the Tenth District Court of Appeals denied the appeal.
Ohio farmers who fit the definition of “producers” are now automatically members of both the nationwide and Ohio classes. This means that every Ohio producer can receive a share of any award or settlement that results from the litigation, with required documentation. However, Ohio producers may choose to exclude themselves from or “opt out” of their classes and bring their own individual actions against Syngenta. The district court required attorneys for the class action suit to notify all potential producers of the lawsuit and of a producer’s right to be excluded from the litigation. A producer must send an exclusion request by April 1, 2017, following the process for exclusion stated in the court’s order, available here.
Pros and Cons of Staying in the Class
A major benefit of remaining in the class action lawsuit is convenience. Class members in the lawsuit have no responsibility for the proceedings, which falls upon the attorneys who represent the entire class. However, convenience comes at the cost of deferring decision making authority and losing a share of the award or settlement to court-ordered attorney fees, although class members may file objections to such decisions. Exclusion from the class gives producers freedom to pursue their own actions, which will likely lead to a stronger role in decision making and the ability to negotiate attorney fees. Exclusion also allows a farmer who may not agree with the litigation on principal to dissociate from the lawsuit.
The court has scheduled “bellwether” cases in the lawsuit, which will go to trial in June. Bellwether cases are chosen to be representative of the class. Allowing these cases to go to trial gives an indication of how the litigation will play out—the strength of each side, how juries react and how the law applies to the situation. Upon completion of the bellwether cases, both sides should be better able to decide whether to settle the lawsuit or continue with litigation.
The U.S. District Court’s website for the Syngenta class action lawsuit is http://www.ksd.uscourts.gov/syngenta-ag-mir162-corn-litigation/
Update: For a full explanation of the rule, refer to our new Law Bulletin, The New FAA Rule for Using Drones on the Farm
Part 2: Rules for Operating Drones
The FAA’s long awaited rule for drones or “small unmanned aircraft systems” (sUAS) weighing less than 55 pounds will be effective on August 29, 2016. Our previous post explained the rule’s process for obtaining certification as a Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) that will apply to those who operate a sUAS for commercial uses or incidental to a business, such as for farming purposes. In this post, we focus on the new rule's operational requirements and limitations. Farmers who want to use a drone in the farm operation need to understand and comply with these provisions.
- Registration. A person may not operate a sUAS over 0.55 pounds unless it is registered with FAA. An online registration is available at https://registermyuas.faa.gov/
- Pre-flight inspection. The Remote PIC must inspect the sUAS prior to a flight to ensure that it is in a condition for safe operation, which includes inspecting for equipment damage or malfunctions. The FAA advises operators to conduct the pre-flight inspection in accordance with the sUAS manufacturer’s inspection procedures and provides a list of the elements to address in a pre-flight inspection in section 7.3.4 of this guideline.
- Pre-flight information. The Remote PIC must make sure that all persons directly involved in the flight are informed about roles and responsibilities, operating conditions, emergency and contingency procedures and potential hazards.
- Flight operators. Only a Remote PIC may fly the sUAS, or someone under the direct supervision of a Remote PIC if the PIC is easily able to gain control of the sUAS. A Remote PIC may only operate or observe one drone at a time.
- Airspace. Flights of sUAS are allowed in Class G airspace, the airspace that is not controlled by Air Traffic Control (ATC) communications, which encompasses a majority of agricultural lands. A flight in Class, B, C, D and E controlled airspace requires permission from the appropriate ATC prior to flight. The FAA will establish a web portal that will allow an operator to apply for ATC permission online.
- Waiver process. The operator may apply for a “certificate of waiver” that allows deviation from some of the operational requirements if the FAA determines that the flight would be safe. The operator must receive the waiver prior to the flight, so should file the request about 90 days in advance of the proposed flight. The FAA will post the waiver applications, which are not yet available, at http://www.faa.gov/uas/.
Operating rules during flight
- Weather visibility. There must be a minimum visibility of three miles from the sUAS control station.
- Visual line of sight. The Remote PIC or the authorized person operating the drone must maintain a constant visual line of sight with the sUAS, without the aid of a device other than glasses or contact lenses. The operator may use a visual observer to help maintain the line of sight, but using an observer cannot extend the line of sight.
- See and avoid. The operator must yield the right of way and avoid collision with another use of the national air space.
- Height. The sUAS may not fly more than 400 feet above ground level.
- Time of day. Flights may occur only during daylight hours or no more than 30 minutes before official sunrise or after official sunset if the sUAS has anti-collision lighting.
- Speed. The sUAS speed may not exceed 100 miles per hour.
- People. A flight may not occur over persons who are not involved in the flight or are not under a covered structure or inside a covered stationary vehicle.
- Base of operation. Operation of the sUAs may not occur from a moving aircraft. Operation from a moving land or water vehicle is permissible if in a sparsely populated area and not transporting property for hire.
- External load and towing. A sUAS may carry or tow an external load if the load is securely attached, does not affect control of the aircraft, is not a hazardous substance and the combined weight of the sUAS and its load does not exceed the 55 pound weight limit.
- Aerial applications. Use of a sUAS for dispensing herbicides, pesticides and similar substances must also comply with the “agricultural aircraft operation” regulations in 14 CFR 137.3.
- Dropping objects. An operator may not create an undue hazard that poses a risk of injury to persons or property when dropping an object from a sUAS.
- Careless or reckless operation. A person must not operate a sUAS carelessly or recklessly. The FAA provides the example of failing to consider weather conditions when flying near structures, trees or rolling terrain in a densely populated area as an example of careless or reckless operation.
- Production of records and vehicle. If requested by FAA, a person must make the sUAS or its records available for testing or inspection.
- Accident reporting. Within 10 days of occurrence, a Remote PIC must report to the FAA a flight operation that results in loss of consciousness or serious injury to a person or creates property damage of at least $500. Reporting can occur online at www.faa.gov/uas or by telephone to the appropriate FAA field office or regional center.
Penalties for noncompliance with the rule
The FAA will have enforcement authority over the new regulations. Depending upon the type and violation, civil penalties could be up to $27,500. An operator could also be subject to criminal penalties for violations that are reckless, destroy property or threaten public safety; those penalties could be up to $250,000.
Learn more about the sUAS rule at http://www.faa.gov/uas/
Update: For a full explanation of the rule, refer to our new Law Bulletin, The New FAA Rule for Using Drones on the Farm
Part 1: Drone Pilots Must Obtain FAA Certification
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) yesterday filed its final rule in the Federal Register for the Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (sUAS). The new rule allows for the non-recreational operation of sUAS less than 55 pounds in the national airspace. Farmers and professionals planning to use UAS or “drones” for agricultural purposes must comply with the rule beginning on August 29, 2016. An important first step toward compliance is to obtain the proper license to operate a sUAS, referred to as “remote pilot certification” by the FAA.
The Remote Pilot Certification Requirement
The Remote Pilot in Command (Remote PIC) is the person who is directly responsible for the operation of the sUAS. The new rule requires the Remote PIC to obtain a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. To do so, an applicant must meet eligibility requirements, pass a knowledge test and complete the application process.
1. Eligibility requirements. An applicant for a Remote PIC must be at least 16 years old, proficient in the English language, and in a physical and mental condition that would not interfere with safe operation of a sUAS.
2. Knowledge test. An applicant must pass the unmanned aircraft general (UAG) knowledge test before applying for the remote pilot certificate. The knowledge test, which will be available beginning August 29, 2016, will contain 60 multiple choice questions on:
- Federal regulations for sUAS.
- Airspace classification and operating requirements.
- Weather sources and effects of weather on sUAS.
- Loading and performance of sUAS.
- Emergency procedures.
- Crew resource management.
- Radio communication procedures.
- Determining performance of sUAS.
- Effects of drugs and alcohol.
- Aeronautical decision-making.
- Airport operations and maintenance.
- Preflight inspection procedures.
The FAA provides a free online learning course for knowledge test preparation, available through www.faasafety.gov or here. The FAA also presents a sample exam on its website, available here. Applicants must take the knowledge test at an FAA-approved Knowledge Testing Center. A list of Ohio’s 23 test centers is available at www.faa.gov/training_testing/testing/media/test_centers.pdf . Passing the test requires a score over 70%; an applicant who fails the test may retake the test after 14 days.
Applicants already holding a pilot certificate, other than a student pilot, must follow a different process that includes completing a two-hour online course. The course, which includes an exam, is available through www.faasafety.gov or here.
3. Application. An applicant who passes the UAG knowledge test must complete the application for a remote pilot certificate, FAA Form 8710-13. The form will be available as a paper application or online through the FAA’s Integrated Airmen Certificate Rating Application System at https://iacra.faa.gov. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) will then conduct a background security screening of the applicant to determine if the applicant represents a security threat. If the screening is successful, an applicant will receive the remote pilot certificate. An unsuccessful security screening will disqualify the applicant, who would have a right to appeal the security screening decision. Note that an applicant who uses the online application can obtain a temporary certificate online upon successful completion of the security screening, while an applicant who submits a paper application must wait to receive the permanent remote pilot certificate through U.S. mail. The FAA has announced that it hopes to issue a temporary remote pilot certificate within 10 business days after submission of an online application.
What Happens After Certification?
A certified Remote PIC may legally fly a sUAS and may also directly supervise persons who do not hold a remote pilot certificate, as long as the Remote PIC maintains the ability to take control of the sUAS. This provision will allow Remote PICs to teach, demonstrate and train uncertified operators. The Remote PIC has several responsibilities:
- Register the sUAS with the FAA.
- Conduct pre-flight inspections.
- Abide by operational limitations in the new sUAS rule.
- Maintain records on the sUAS and its flights.
- Upon request, make the sUAS and records available to the FAA for inspection or testing.
- Report any operation that results in injury, loss of consciousness or property damage of at least $500 to the FAA within 10 days of occurrence.
Recurrent knowledge test. A person who receives the remote pilot certificate must take a recurrent knowledge test within 24 months to retain the certification.
Part 2 of this Series
In our next post in this series on implications of the new rule for sUAS in agriculture, we’ll explain the operational limitations and requirements for sUAS. To read the new rule or access up-to-date information on sUAS, go to www.faa.gov/uas.