CFAES Give Today
Farm Office

Ohio State University Extension

CFAES

Property

A group of ferrets laying next to each other.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, December 30th, 2021

Did you know that a group of ferrets is called a business?  Ironically, we are in the business of ferreting out agricultural and resource law issues and providing you updates.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest provides an update on recent court decisions from across the country that deal with the right to farm, food labeling, and conditional use permits for solar gardens. 

Right to Farm Act upheld in North Carolina.  Earlier this month, a three-judge panel on the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the constitutionality of North Carolina’s right to farm law.  In 1979, the North Carolina legislature enacted the Right to Farm Act (the “Act”).  In 2017 and 2018 the North Carolina legislature amended the Act by passing House Bill 467 and Senate Bill 711 (collectively referred to as “the Amendments”).  The Amendments sought to clarify and strengthen North Carolina’s right to farm law. The Plaintiffs argued that the Amendments violated North Carolina’s equivalent of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause and that the Act exceeded the scope of North Carolina’s police power.  The Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court recognized North Carolina’s interest in promoting and preserving agriculture and that North Carolina has the authority to regulate such an interest. The Court found that the Act’s limitation on potential nuisance claims against those engaged in agriculture, forestry, and other related operations helps to protect North Carolina’s interest, and encourages North Carolina’s goal to encourage the availability and continued “production of food, fiber, and other products.”   The Plaintiffs also argued that the Amendments were “private laws” to specifically protect the swine industry in violation of North Carolina’s Constitution.  The Court found, however, that the Act and the Amendments are laws of general applicability that apply to all agricultural and forestry operations, not just swine producers.  Lastly, the Plaintiffs argued that because the language in House Bill 467 limited the amount of compensation that can be recovered in a nuisance action against agricultural and forestry operations, the Plaintiffs’ right to a trial by jury had been impaired and/or abolished.  The Court ruled, however, that North Carolina has the authority to “define the circumstances under which a remedy is legally cognizable and those under which it is not.”  The Court found that there are many examples where compensation and remedies are limited within North Carolina law and that House Bill 467 did not “impair nor abolish the right to a jury trial.” 

Where is the cacao?  A California man (“Plaintiff”) is suing Costco Wholesale Corporation (“Costco”) for allegedly mislabeling Costco’s “Chocolate Almond Dipped Vanilla Ice Cream Bars” (the “Product”).  Plaintiff argues that because of the Product’s packaging and name, he expected the Product’s chocolate would have been predominately derived from cacao beans.  Plaintiff asserts that chocolate is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) and California law “as prepared from ground roasted cacao bean” and that it must be “made chiefly from cacao beans with a small amount of optional ingredients.”  Based on this definition, Plaintiff claims that Costco’s packaging is misleading because the Product’s chocolate contains mostly vegetable oils and small amounts of ingredients derived from cacao beans.  In his Complaint, Plaintiff argues that federal regulations require Costco to label the Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating” rather than just “chocolate.”  However, the court found that neither of Plaintiff’s cited regulations support a viable theory of liability against Costco.  First, the court could not find Plaintiff’s definition of chocolate anywhere in the Code of Federal Regulations.  Secondly, the court held that there are no federal regulations that require a certain amount of cacao bean ingredients as opposed to vegetable oils to be used in “chocolate” and that there is no language mandating the labeling of Costco’s Product as “milk chocolate and vegetable oil coating almond dipped ice cream bars.” The court also dismissed Plaintiff’s claim that Costco engaged in consumer deception with its Product’s label.  The court found that a reasonable consumer would not have been deceived by the Product’s label and that if there were any questions about the ingredients of the Product, a consumer could have resolved those questions by looking for the ingredients list on the back of the Product’s packaging. 

Conditional use permits at the center of the Minnesota’s “solar system.”  Move over Sun because conditional use permits are at the center of attention in Minnesota, for now.  The Minnesota Court of Appeals has recently ruled against a county’s decision to deny two conditional use permits to build solar gardens in McLeod County, Minnesota.  Two subsidiary companies of Nokomis Energy LLC (“Plaintiff”) each applied for a conditional use permit (“CUP”) to build separate, one-megawatt solar energy facilities.  McLeod County considered the two CUP applications at public hearings.  Two neighboring landowners expressed concerns about stray voltage and the number of fetal deaths among their livestock.  The landowners claimed that the number of fetal deaths increased after other solar facilities were constructed nearby.  Plaintiff did not deny that solar gardens can produce stray voltage but proposed to alleviate those concerns by hiring only licensed professionals and to allow third-party oversight during construction.  Plaintiff also offered to conduct stray voltage testing before and after construction and indicated that it would accept any conditions set forth by county officials.  The county, however, denied both applications on the basis that the proposed sites are “prime farmland” and because the stray voltage would negatively affect livestock.  The court rejected the county’s assessment.  First, the court held that preserving prime farmland is not a sufficient legal basis for denying a CUP.  Second, the court ruled that the county cannot deny a CUP without first considering whether any proposed conditions would eliminate any concerns about the application.  Here, the court found that McLeod County’s failure to address Plaintiff’s proposals to eliminate the stray voltage concerns amounts to an unjust denial of Plaintiff’s CUPs.    

 

Thanks for reading and Happy New Year! 

Mailbox on side of the road covered in snow.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, December 09th, 2021

In Ohio, we are no strangers to the dreaded “black ice.”  You probably know someone that has fallen victim to this invisible nuisance.  We see it time and time again.  Someone hits a patch of black ice and inevitably swerves off the road. Sometimes, a motorist may hit a mailbox, a tree, or a telephone pole and suffer serious injury.  A common question that arises after such an incident is whether the owner or the party responsible for that tree or pole can be held liable for the motorist’s injuries.  After all, had they removed the off-road object the motorist may have just slid into a ditch without any serious injury, right?  

Well, in a recent decision, the Ohio Supreme Court clarified the duty owed to motorists by landowners or occupiers of land adjacent to a public roadway with respect to off-road objects.  The case arises after a motorist hit a patch of black ice causing him to veer off the road and hit a mailbox, which then caused his truck to roll.  The central issue of the case revolved around the landowner’s potential liability for the mailbox being within the right-of-way and causing the motorist’s truck to flip.  Below we review the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision in Snay v. Burr and the duty owed to motorists by landowners or occupiers of land.  

Background.  On December 19, 2016, Cletus Snay was driving from his home in Norwalk, Ohio to his place of work in Bellevue, Ohio.  Mr. Snay was traveling along a two-lane country road when he hit a patch of black ice that caused him to veer off the road.  Ohio Highway Patrol found Mr. Snay’s truck rolled over.  The state trooper had concluded that Mr. Snay’s truck went off the right side of the road, struck the first mailbox, owned by Matthew and Diane Burr, and began to flip, hitting the second mailbox and eventually ending up overturned further down the road.  As a result of the accident, Mr. Snay suffered damage to his spine, rendering him quadriplegic.  

After the accident, it was discovered that the Burrs’ mailbox post remained in the ground, while the second mailbox post that Mr. Snay’s truck hit was destroyed.  Mr. Burr installed his mailbox approximately 20 years before Mr. Snay’s accident.  Before installing the mailbox, Mr. Burr obtained guidelines for mailbox installation published by the United States Postal Service.  The guidelines recommended, but did not require, that a metal mailbox support be two-inch-diameter standard-steel or aluminum pipe and be buried no more than 24 inches deep.  Mr. Burr, however, used an eight-inch-diameter metal pipe that he buried 36 inches deep. 

Mr. Snay and his wife hired an accident reconstructionist that agreed with the state trooper that Mr. Snay’s truck began to roll over after hitting the Burrs’ mailbox.  However, the accident reconstructionist was of the opinion that the Burrs’ unyielding mailbox post was the mechanism that caused Mr. Snay’s truck to overturn.  The accident reconstructionist characterized the Burrs’ mailbox support as a “dangerous hazard to motorists.”  

The Snays filed suit alleging that the Burrs were negligent in constructing their mailbox because “it was supported by a thick, non-breakaway metal pipe.”  The Burrs moved for summary judgment, arguing that they owed no duty of care to Mr. Snay and that Mr. Snay’s failure to control his vehicle was the cause of Mr. Snay’s injuries, not the mailbox.  Both the trial court and the appellate court agreed with the Burrs.  The Snays then brought the case before the Ohio Supreme Court. 

What is the duty that a landowner owes to motorists traveling on a roadway with respect to off-road objects and obstructions? The Snays asked the Ohio Supreme Court to hold the Burrs liable for breaching the duty of care owed to motorists traveling on the road adjacent to their property.  The Snays argued that the Burrs negligently misused the right-of-way by creating an unreasonable hazard that a motorist might encounter when they veer off the road.  The Court disagreed. 

The Court went through a historical analysis of Ohio’s law as it relates to off-road objects and the duty owed to motorists by landowners or occupiers.  The Court found that under Ohio law “the effect that an object or obstruction in a right-of-way has on the ordinary use of the roadway” controls when determining the existence of a duty owed to motorists.  The Court reasoned that if any duty is owed to a motorist by a landowner, it is the duty to ensure that any off-road hazard does not make “the roadway unsafe for the usual and ordinary course of travel.” Examples of off-road objects that may make the roadway unsafe for the usual course of travel include corn growing in the right-of-way that obstructs a motorist’s view of cross traffic or a large sign that obstructs a motorist’s view of the road.  

The Court also found that there is no precedent to impose a duty on a landowner to remove an off-road hazard that makes only off-road travel unsafe, unless the off-road travel is shown to be an aspect of the ordinary and usual course of travel on that particular roadway.  Here the Court held that the Burrs’ mailbox did not make ordinary travel on the road adjacent to the Burrs’ property unsafe.  The Court found that the motorists traveling on the roadway usually drove on the paved area of the road.  The Court recognized that motorists are not free to drive on a right-of-way as they please and found that the Burrs’ mailbox only presented a hazard to a motorist once the motorist errantly left the road.  

So, if a landowner has an off-road object in the right-of-way, the Ohio Supreme Court has now ruled that the landowner’s duty is to ensure that the off-road object does not make the ordinary or usual travel of the roadway unsafe for motorists, otherwise all fixed objects like mailboxes or trees could impose liability on a landowner.   

Do landowners owe a duty of care to motorists that leave the roadway?  The Snays also argued that the Burrs’ “unreasonably dangerous construction” of the mailbox and deviation from the nonbinding guidelines of the United States Postal Service, gave rise to a duty of care to motorists that might leave the road and hit the mailbox.  Again, the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed.  

The Court again reiterated the fact that in order for a landowner or occupier to be liable there must first “be a condition or obstruction that jeopardizes the safety of traffic on the ordinarily traveled portion of the road.”  The Court reasoned that the right-of-way beyond the paved portion of the road adjacent to the Burrs’ property was not used for ordinary travel.  Therefore, the Court stated that a “vehicle traveling ordinarily and with due care on the road would not come in contact with the Burrs’ mailbox.”  The Court also reasoned that adjacent landowners are entitled to presume that motorists will observe the law and exercise ordinary care while driving on a roadway and that a motorist hitting a patch of black ice is neither normal or expected.

The Court concluded that Mr. Burr’s construction of the mailbox, even though inconsistent with the United States Postal Service guidelines, “does not warrant a departure from the general rule that the duty to motorists owed by an adjacent landowner or an occupier of land adjacent to the road extends only to conditions in the right-of-way that render ordinary travel on the regularly traveled portion of the road unsafe.”  Therefore, a landowner owes no duty to a motorist that errantly veers off the road and hits an off-road hazard.  

Conclusion.  As a landowner, or an occupier of land adjacent to a public roadway, it is your duty to ensure that any off-road object or obstruction does not make the ordinary and usual travel of the roadway unsafe.  Only then can a landowner, or occupier of land, be liable for injuries caused by an off-road object or obstruction.  Ohio does not impose a duty on landowners or occupiers of land to keep a right-of-way free of objects that may pose a danger to wayward vehicles. To read the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision, visit the Ohio Supreme Court’s website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turkey looking straight into camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Wednesday, November 24th, 2021

Did you know that female turkeys can lay a fertilized egg without mating?  This process is called parthenogenesis, a type of asexual reproduction that can also occur in other types of animals including invertebrates, fish, and lizards.  In turkeys, this process always produces a male chick.  The likelihood of an embryo from parthenogenesis surviving to chick-hood is small, but possible.  

In this edition of the Ag Law Harvest and in the spirit of Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the opportunity to present to you the newly proposed definition of “waters of the United States”, Kansas’s battle to protect agricultural facilities, and food labeling cases from across the country.  

EPA and Army Corps of Engineers propose rule to establish the definition of “waters of the United States.”  The EPA and Army Corps of Engineers announced proposed rule to return the definition of “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”) to the pre-2015 definition with a few updates to reflect Supreme Court decisions.  In 2020, the Navigable Waters Protection Rule went into effect and interpreted WOTUS to include: “(1) territorial seas and traditional navigable waters; (2) tributaries of such waters; (3) certain lakes, ponds, and impoundments of jurisdictional waters; and (4) wetlands adjacent to other jurisdictional waters (other than jurisdictional wetlands).”  On January 20, 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 13990 directing all executive agencies to review and address any federal regulations that went into effect during the previous administration. After reviewing the Trump Administration’s Navigable Waters Protection Rule, the agencies determined that the rule is significantly reducing clean water protections.  The new rule proposed by the agencies seeks to interpret WOTUS to include: (1) traditional navigable waters; (2) interstate waters; (3) the territorial seas and their adjacent wetlands; (4) most impoundments of WOTUS; (5) tributaries to traditional navigable waters, interstate waters, the territorial seas, and impoundments, that meet either the relatively permanent standard of the significant nexus standard; (6) wetlands adjacent to impoundments and tributaries, that meet either the relatively permanent standard or the significant nexus standard; and (7) “other waters” that meet either the relatively permanent standard or the significant nexus standard.  The agencies will be taking comment on the proposed rule for 60 days once the rule is published in the Federal Register.  

Kansas Attorney General asks Supreme Court to review Kansas “Ag Gag” Law.  Derek Schmidt, Attorney General of Kansas, has asked the United States Supreme Court to review the Kansas Farm Animal and Field Crop and Research Facilities Protection Act (the “Act”) which criminalizes the unauthorized access to agricultural facilities without consent of the owner of the facility with the intent to damage the business of the facility.  Under the Act, consent is not effective if it is “[i]nduced by force, fraud, deception, duress or threat.”  Earlier this year, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals found the Kansas law to be unconstitutional by violating the free speech clause in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and prohibited Kansas from enforcing the Act.  Now, Derek Schmidt has petitioned the Supreme Court to review the Kansas law arguing that the Act does not violate the First Amendment because the Act regulates conduct not speech.  The Attorney General goes on to argue that even if trespass by deception were to be considered a form of speech, it is a form of speech that is not protected by the First Amendment.  The Attorney General reasoned that the Act protects a private property owner’s right to exclude and that the First Amendment does not provide a license to violate a person’s property rights.   

Oklahoma’s meat labeling law on trial.  Earlier this month, the Plant Based Foods Association and the Tofurky Company (“Plaintiffs”) filed an amended complaint challenging Oklahoma’s Meat Consumer Protection Act (the “Act”) alleging that the Act violates the dormant commerce clause, the due process clause, and the supremacy clause of the United States Constitution.  Plaintiffs allege that the Oklahoma law “institutes a protectionist trade barrier” that is contrary to and preempted by federal law.  According to Plaintiffs, the Act “forbids plant-based meat producers from using meat terms unless they include a disclaimer on their product labels in the same type size and prominence to the ‘name of the product’ that their plant-based products are not actually meat derived from animals.”  Plaintiffs argue that the Oklahoma law would require plant-based meat producers to develop Oklahoma specific labels or abandon the Oklahoma market which is essentially interfering with interstate commerce and in violation of established federal law. This case is set for trial in 2022.  But, this is not the first time the Oklahoma law has been challenged on constitutional grounds.  Plant Based Foods Association and Upton’s Naturals Company also filed suit alleging the Oklahoma law violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution.  However, a Federal District Court in Oklahoma denied an injunction to prevent Oklahoma from enforcing the law.  The court found that the disclosure requirement in the Act is reasonably related to Oklahoma’s interest in preventing the confusion or deception of consumers.  The court reasoned that the commercial speech at issue could potentially be misleading to reasonable consumer.  The court argued that “the possibility of deception flowing from the use of meat-related terms for the plant-based products is self-evident from the natural inference a consumer would draw from the meat-related terms used.”  This not the end of the battle for the Oklahoma law, there will likely be appeals to higher courts to help settle the dispute. 

Pepperidge Farm sued over “Golden Butter” cracker label.  Hawa Kamara decided to file a lawsuit against Pepperidge Farm, Inc. after purchasing “Golden Butter” crackers at a local Target store in New York. According to the ingredients list attached to Kamara’s complaint, the crackers were made with butter but also included vegetable oils.  Kamara asserted that the presence of vegetable oils makes the “Golden Butter” packaging misleading and/or deceptive because a reasonable consumer would conclude the crackers were “all or predominantly made with butter.”  A Federal District Court in New York, however, did not find the packaging misleading or deceptive.  The court reasoned that “the packaging accurately indicated that the product contained butter, and the ingredients list confirmed that butter predominated over other oils and fats.”  Further, the court argued that a reasonable consumer could believe the “Golden Butter” labeling described the product’s flavor and not the ingredient proportions.  Ultimately, the court decided to dismiss the case against Pepperidge Farm because Kamara’s complaint did not plausibly allege that the “Golden Butter” packaging materially misrepresented the ingredients in the crackers.  

 

Thank you for reading and we hope that everyone has a happy and safe Thanksgiving!! 

Hippopotamus in water.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, October 29th, 2021

Did you know that Hippopotamuses cannot swim?  It’s true.  When hippos submerge themselves underwater, they don’t swim back up to the surface, instead they walk along the bottom until they reach shallow water.  That is unless the hippo decides to chase you out of its territory, then it will gladly run, jump, and charge right at you. 

Like the hippo, this week’s Ag Law Harvest is a little territorial.  We bring you recent Ohio court decisions, a federal order allowing Colombian hippos to take the testimony of Ohio residents, and the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s directives as it ramps up its fight against Ohio’s newest pest.

Well, well, well.  A recent Ohio case demonstrated the complex issues a landowner can run into when dealing with an oil and gas lease.  The Plaintiff in this case owns land in Hebron, Ohio and brought suit against his neighbors and the Ohio Department of Taxation claiming that he was not the owner of a gas well located on his property or that he was responsible for paying taxes and maintaining the well under Ohio law.  The Hebron, Ohio property at issue in this case passed through many hands before becoming the property of the Plaintiff.  One of the prior owners was a man named William Taggart (“Taggart”).  As mentioned earlier, the property also has a gas well which was subject to an oil and gas lease.  The oil and gas lease passed to multiple parties and ended up with Taggart while he owned the Hebron property.  After having both the property and the oil and gas lease, Taggart deeded the property to Plaintiff’s parents which eventually passed onto Plaintiff.  Plaintiff argued that he is not the rightful owner of the well because the last person that was assigned the oil and gas lease was Taggart, making him the owner of the well.  The Fifth District Court of Appeals disagreed.  The court found that Plaintiff’s parents registered as owners of the well under Ohio Revised Code § 1509.31 which requires a person to register a well before they can operate it.  Further, the court determined that when the oil and gas lease was assigned to Taggart the rights of the landowner and the lessee merged, essentially making Taggart the only individual with any property interest in the well.  Relying on § 1509.31, the court found that when the entire interest of an oil and gas lease is assigned to the landowner, the landowner then becomes responsible for compliance with Chapter 1509 of the Ohio Revised Code.   Therefore, when the property passed to Plaintiff’s parents, they became the owners of the well and were responsible for making sure the well was in compliance with Chapter 1509.  Because this responsibility passed onto Plaintiff, the court found Plaintiff to be liable for the taxes and ensuring that the well is compliant with Ohio law.  The court also denied Plaintiff’s attempt to argue that Taggart was the responsible party because the oil and gas lease was still in effect due to the fact that Plaintiff’s neighbors use the gas well for domestic purposes.  The court found that the oil and gas lease had expired by its own terms, pursuant to the habendum clause contained within the lease.  A habendum clause essentially defines the property interests and rights that a lessee has.  The specific habendum clause in this case stated that the lease would terminate either within three years or when the well no longer produced oil and gas for commercial purposes.  The lease at issue was well beyond the three-year term and, as the court found, the lease expired under Taggart because the well no longer produced oil or gas for commercial purposes.  The use of the well for domestic purposes did not matter.  The Fifth District ultimately held that because Plaintiff could not produce any evidence to show that another party had an interest in the well, Plaintiff is ultimately responsible for the well.   

Amending a contract doesn’t always erase the past.  Two companies (“Plaintiffs”) recently filed suit against a former managing member (“Defendant”) for allegedly using business funds and assets for personal use during his time as managing member.  The primary issue in this case was whether or not an arbitration clause in the original operating agreement is enforceable after the operating agreement was amended to remove the arbitration clause.  Defendant’s alleged misconduct occurred while the original operating agreement was in effect.  The original operating agreement would require the parties to settle any disputes through the arbitration process and not through the court system.  However, shortly before filing suit, the original operating agreement was amended to remove the arbitration provision.  Plaintiffs filed suit against the Defendant arguing that the arbitration provision no longer applied because the operating agreement had been amended.  Defendant, however, argued that his alleged misconduct occurred while the original operating agreement was in effect and that the amended operating agreement could not apply retroactively forcing him to settle the dispute in a court rather than through arbitration.  The trial court, however, sided with the Plaintiffs and allowed the case to move forward.  Defendant appealed the trial court’s decision and the Ninth District Court of Appeals agreed with him.  The District Court found that the amended operating agreement did not expressly state any intention for the terms and conditions of the amended operating agreement to apply retroactively.  Further, the court held that Ohio law favors enforcing arbitration provisions within contracts and any doubts as to whether an arbitration clause applies should be resolved in favor of enforcing the arbitration clause.  The Ninth District reversed the trial court and found that the dispute of Defendant’s alleged misconduct should be resolved through arbitration.  

Animal advocates claim victory in pursuit of recognizing animals as legal persons.  A recent order issued by a federal district court in Ohio allows an attorney for Colombian Hippopotamuses to take the testimony of two expert witnesses residing in Ohio.  According to U.S. law, a witness may be compelled to give testimony in a foreign lawsuit if an “interested person” applies to a U.S. court asking that the testimony be taken.  The Animal Legal Defense Fund (“ALDF”) applied to the federal court on behalf of the plaintiffs, roughly 100 hippopotamuses, from a lawsuit currently pending in Colombia.  According to the ALDF, the lawsuit seeks to prevent the Colombian government from killing the hippos.  The interesting thing about this case is that hippos are not native to Colombia and were illegally imported into the country by drug kingpin Pablo Escobar.  After Escobar’s death the hippos escaped his property and relocated to Colombia’s Magdalena River and have reproduced at a rate that some say is unsustainable.  In Colombia, animals are able to sue to protect their rights and because the plaintiffs in the Colombian lawsuit are the hippos themselves, the ALDF argued that the hippos qualify as an “interested person” under U.S. law.  After applying for the authorization, the federal court signed off on ALDF’s application and issued an order authorizing the attorney for the hippos to issue subpoenas for the testimony of the Ohio experts.  After the federal court’s order, the ALDF issued a press release titled “Animals Recognized as Legal Persons for the First Time in U.S. Court.”  The ALDF claims the federal court ruling is a “critical milestone in the broader animal status fight to recognize that animals have enforceable rights.”  However, critics of ALDF’s assertions point out that ALDF’s claims are a bit embellished.  According to critics, the order is a result of an ex parte application to the court, meaning only one side petitioned the court for the subpoenas and the other side was not present to argue against the subpoenas.  Further, critics claim that all the federal court did was sign an order allowing the attorney for the hippos to take expert testimony, the court did not hold that hippos are “legal persons” under the law.  

Ohio Department of Agriculture announces quarantine to combat the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly.  According to the Ohio Department of Agriculture (“ODA”) the Spotted Lanternfly (“SLF”) has taken hold in Jefferson and Cuyahoga counties.  The ODA announced that the SLF is now designated as a destructive plant pest under Ohio law and that the ODA was issuing quarantine procedures and restricting the movement of certain items from infested counties into non-infested areas of Ohio.  The ODA warns that the SLF can travel across county lines in items like tree branches, nursery stock, firewood, logs, and other outdoor items.  The ODA has created a checklist of things to look for before traveling within or out of infested counties.   Nurseries, arborists, loggers, and other businesses within those infested counties should contact the ODA to see what their obligations and rights are under the ODA's new quarantine instructions.  Under Ohio law, those individuals or businesses that fail to follow the ODA’s quarantine instructions could be found guilty of a misdemeanor of the third degree on their first offense and a misdemeanor of the second degree for each subsequent offense.  For more information visit the ODA’s website about the SLF.

By: Barry Ward, Friday, October 22nd, 2021

Farmland prices have strengthened in recent months and there are a number of key fundamentals that will likely continue to support land values in the near term. High crop prices and margins along with last year’s COVID-19 related government payments and continued low interest rates have all contributed to stronger land markets. Higher production costs and recent minor decreases in crop prices may decrease profit margins this next year and take some strength out of the market but farmland will likely continue to see increases in value through the end of this year and into the next year. Similar factors have impacted cash rental markets in Ohio and will likely continue to pressure rental rates higher in the near term.

Recent data from the United States Department of Agriculture National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) August Land Values 2021 Summary shows Ohio Farm Real Estate increasing 3.9% from 2020 to an average of $6,600 per acre in 2021. Ohio Cropland (bare cropland) showed an increase of 5.3% from 2020 to 2021. Average Cropland value is $6,800 per acre in 2021 according to this survey. Pastureland value in Ohio increased 2.1% to $3,440 per acre in 2021. Average cash rents in Ohio increased 2.6% in 2021 to $160 per acre according to this survey. The National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) also summarizes average cash rental rates by county available through Ohio NASS: www.nass.usda.gov/Statistics_by_State/Ohio/Publications/County_Estimates/2021/OH_2021_cashrent_CE.pdf

Each year, Ohio State University Extension (The Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences) conducts an Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents Survey. The Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents study was conducted from January through April in 2021. The 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.

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 cropland in a region. Factors specific to cash rental rates may include services provided by the operator and specific conditions of the lease.

According to the Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents Survey, cropland values in western Ohio are expected to increase in 2021 by 3.8 to 5.3 percent from 2020 to 2021 depending on the region and land class. Cash rents are expected to increase from 3.6 to 3.9 percent depending on the region and land class. For the complete survey research summary go to: https://farmoffice.osu.edu/farm-management-tools/farm-management-publications/cash-rents

This survey and the results are reflective of the thoughts of survey participants in early 2021. Recent farmland sales would lead us to believe that farmland value has likely increased more than the 3.8 to 5.3 percent that the summary indicates for 2021. Continued high crop prices along with relatively strong predicted yields throughout much of Ohio have lent more strength to farmland markets in Ohio.

Others survey results in the eastern Corn Belt may be useful in gauging the magnitude of Ohio farmland value change thus far in 2021. The Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago (7th Fed District) surveys ag lenders in their districts each quarter. (The 7th Fed District includes parts of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and all of Iowa.) Their survey in July showed the value of good farmland in their district had increased by 14 percent from July 1, 2020 to July 1, 2021. The mid-year survey conducted by the Illinois Society of Professional Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers of their members revealed an increase of 20% in farmland values from the beginning of 2021. While Ohio is not Illinois nor does Ohio sit in the 7th Fed District, these surveys may give some guidance on the level of change in farmland values in Ohio in 2021.

Posted In: Business and Financial, Crop Issues, Property
Tags:
Comments: 0
Peregrine Falcon flying straight at camera.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, October 15th, 2021

Did you know that the fastest animal in the world is the Peregrine Falcon?  This speedy raptor has been clocked going 242 mph when diving.

Like the Peregrine Falcon, this week’s Ag Law Harvest dives into supply chain solutions, new laws to help reduce a state’s carbon footprint, and federal and state case law demonstrating how important it is to be clear when drafting legislation and/or documents, because any ounce of ambiguity could lead to a dispute.      

Reinforcing the links in the supply chain.  President Joe Biden announced that ports, dockworkers, railroads, trucking companies, labor unions, and retailers are all coming together and have agreed to do their part to help reduce the supply chain disruption that has left over 70 cargo ships floating out at sea with nowhere to go.  In his announcement, President Biden disclosed that the Port of Los Angeles, the largest shipping port in the United States, has committed to expanding its hours so that it can operate 24/7; labor unions have announced that its workers have agreed to work the additional hours; large companies like Walmart, UPS, FedEx, Samsung, Home Depot and Target have all agreed to expand their hours to help move product across the country.  According to the White House, this expanded effort will help deliver an extra 3,500 shipping containers per week.  Port and manufacturing disruptions have plagued retailers and consumers since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Farming equipment and parts to repair farming equipment are increasingly in short supply.  The White House hopes that through these agreements, retailers and consumers can finally start to see some relief.  

California breaking up with gas powered lawn equipment.  California Governor Gavin Newsom recently signed a new bill into law that would phase out the use of gas-powered lawn equipment in California.  Assembly Bill 1346 requires that new small off-road engines (“SOREs”), used primarily in lawn and garden equipment, be zero-emission by 2024.  The California legislation seeks to regulate the emissions from SOREs which have not been as regulated as the emissions from other engines.  According to the legislation, “one hour of operation of a commercial leaf blower can emit as much [reactive organic gases] plus [oxides of nitrogen] as driving 1,100 miles in a new passenger vehicle.”  The new law requires the State Air Resources Board to adopt cost-effective and technologically feasible regulations to prohibit engine exhaust and emissions from new SOREs.  Assembly Bill 1346 is a piece of the puzzle to help California achieve zero-emissions from off-road equipment by 2035, as ordered by Governor Newsome in Executive Order N-79-20

U.S. Supreme Court asked to review E15 Vacatur.  A biofuel advocacy group, Growth Energy, filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review a federal court’s decision to abolish the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (“EPA”) rule allowing for the year-round sale of fuel blends containing gasoline and 15% ethanol (“E15”).  Growth Energy argues that the ethanol waiver under the Clean Air Act for the sale of ethanol blend gasoline applies to E15, the same as it does for gas that contains 10% ethanol (“E10”).  Growth Energy also claims that limiting the ethanol waiver to E10 gasolines contradicts Congress’s intent for enacting the ethanol waiver because E15 better achieves the economic and environmental goals that Congress had in mind when it drafted the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy asks the Supreme Court to overturn the lower court’s decision and instead interpret the ethanol waiver as setting a floor, not a maximum, for fuel blends containing ethanol that can qualify for the ethanol waiver.  Growth Energy now awaits the Supreme Court’s decision on whether or not it will take up the case. Visit our recent blog post for more background information on E15 and the waivers at issue.  

When in doubt, trust the trust.  A farm family in Preble County may finally be able to find some closure after the 12th District Court of Appeals affirmed the Preble County Court of Common Pleas’ decision to prevent a co-trustee from selling farm property.  Dorothy Wisehart (“Dorothy”), the matriarch of the Wisehart family established the Dorothy R. Wisehart Trust (the “Trust”) in which she conveyed a one-half interest in two separate farm properties, both located within Preble County to the Trust.  Dorothy retained her one-half interest in the two farms which passed to her son, Arthur, upon her death.  Furthermore, upon Dorothy’s death, the Trust became an irrevocable trust with Arthur as the sole trustee.  The Trust had five income beneficiaries – Arthur’s wife and four kids.  The Trust specifically allowed for removal and replacement of the trustee upon the written request of 75% of the income beneficiaries.  In 2010, four of the five income beneficiaries executed a document removing Arthur as the sole trustee and instead placed Arthur and Dodson, Arthur’s son and one of the income beneficiaries, as co-trustees.  Arthur, however, argued that only Dorothy had the power to remove and appoint a new trustee and once Dorothy passed, no new trustee could be appointed.  In 2015, Dodson filed suit against his father after Arthur allegedly tried to sell the two farms and further alleged that Arthur breached his fiduciary duty by withholding funds from the Trust.  Dodson also asked the court to determine the issue of whether Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee.  The common pleas court sided with Dodson and found that (1) the Trust held an undivided one-half interest in the farms, (2) Dodson was validly appointed as co-trustee, and (3) Arthur wrongfully withheld funds from the Trust, breaching his fiduciary duty as a trustee.  Arthur appealed, arguing that the case was not “justiciable” because the harms alleged by Dodson were hypothetical and no real harm occurred.  However, the 12th District Court of Appeals disagreed with Arthur.  The court found that the Trust expressly provided for the removal and appointment of trustees by 75% of the income beneficiaries.  Further, the court ruled that this case was justiciable because Dodson’s allegations needed to be resolved by the courts or else real harm would have occurred to the income beneficiaries of the Trust.  This case highlights perfectly the importance of having well drafted estate planning documents to help clear up any disputes that may arise once you’re gone.  

No need to cut the “GRAS” today.  Consumer advocates, Center for Food Safety (“CFS”) and Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”), brought suit against the Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) asking the court to overturn the FDA’s rule regarding “Substances Generally Recognized as Safe (the “GRAS Rule”).  According to the plaintiffs, the GRAS Rule subdelegated the FDA’s duty to ensure food safety in violation of the United States Constitution, the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”), and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (“FDCA”).  In 1958, Congress enacted the Food Additives Amendment to the FDCA which mandates that any food additive must be approved by the FDA.  However, the definition of “food additive” does not include those substances that are generally recognized as safe.  Things like vinegar, vegetable oil, baking powder and many other spices and flavors are generally recognized as safe to use in food and not considered to be a food additive.  Under the GRAS Rule, anyone may voluntarily, but is not required to, notify the FDA of their view that a substance is a GRAS substance.  There are specific guidelines and information that must be presented to back up a manufacturer’s claim that a substance is GRAS.  In any case, the FDA retains the authority to issue warnings to manufacturers and to stop distribution when the FDA believes that a substance is not a GRAS substance.  Plaintiffs claim that under the GRAS Rule, the FDA is subdelegating its duty by allowing manufacturers to voluntarily notify the FDA of a GRAS substance rather than requiring it.  However, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York found that the FDA did not subdelegate its duties because the FDCA does not require the FDA provide prior authorization that a substance is GRAS.  Further, the court held that the FDA has done nothing more than implement a process by which manufacturers can notify the FDA of GRAS determinations and the FDA can choose to agree or disagree.  The court reasoned that even if a mandatory GRAS notification procedure or prior approval process were in place, manufacturers could simply lie about what’s in their products and the FDA would be none the wiser.  The court also noted that mandatory submissions would consume the FDA’s resources which would be better spent evaluating higher priority substances.  The court ultimately concluded that the FDA’s GRAS Rule does not highlight a constitutional issue, nor does it violate the FDCA or APA.

Electric transmission tower in a field.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

You may have been involved in or known someone that was involved in an eminent domain dispute with a utility company or other state agency.  When the government tries to take an individual’s property, emotions are understandably heightened.  In Ohio, state agencies and other specific entities – like a public utility company – can appropriate or “take” a person’s property, but only if the taking is necessary and for a public use.  If the government or governmental agency does appropriate a landowner’s property, then the landowner is entitled to compensation for the taking.  

In the case below, a group of landowners disputed a power company’s ability to appropriate their property and the ability of the power company to assume it is entitled to an appropriation simply because a project for public use was approved by state authorities.  The landowners also sought to clarify when a landowner is entitled to recover the costs associated with defending their property interests against an attempted appropriation by the state or state agency.

Ohio Power Company v. Burns, et al. 


In 2017, the Ohio Power Board of Directors (“Ohio Power Board”) gave initial approval for a project located in Marietta, Ohio to enhance the electric transmission network (the “Project”).  The Project included miles of new transmission lines and required siting, rights of ways, and some property purchases.  In 2018 the Ohio Siting Board (“Siting Board”) issued a certificate of environmental compatibility and public need for the Project.  In 2019, the Project was given final approval by the Ohio Power Board.  

After failed easement negotiations, the Ohio Power Company (Plaintiff) filed petitions for appropriation against several landowners (“Defendants”) to take easements on the Defendants’ property.  As required by Ohio law, the trial court held a hearing on the appropriation petitions (the “Appropriation Proceedings”).  Plaintiff argued that it currently possesses an easement across the property of each Defendant, but it was seeking to replace the existing easement with a new, wider easement for the Project.  Plaintiff claimed that the new easements were necessary for a public good and that the Siting Board recognized the necessity of the Project and of acquiring easements, rights of way, and other interests in property along the new power line. 

Defendants, however, responded by saying that the Siting Board declared the Project a necessity, not the appropriations.  Further, Defendants argued that the easements sought by Plaintiff were overly broad and that the terms of the proposed easements went beyond the necessity to promote the public use. Lastly, Defendants claimed that when Plaintiff was ordered to remove distribution line rights from its appropriation petition, Plaintiff voluntarily abandoned its appropriation which required the trial court to enter a judgement against Plaintiff for the costs associated with defending against the distribution line rights contained within the proposed easements.

The trial court determined that the Siting Board’s certification of the Project and the testimony presented at the hearing established that the appropriations were necessary under Ohio law.  Additionally, the trial court found that even if the Siting Board’s certificate did not create an irrebuttable presumption, the appropriations were still necessary because Plaintiff, as a public utility company, is in the best position to determine what is necessary and what is not. The trial court also held that Plaintiff did not abandon the appropriations simply by removing certain provisions from the petitions.  Defendants then appealed to the 4th District Court of Appeals.

The following is brief explanation of the 4th District’s opinion that both agreed and disagreed with the trial court. 

Rebuttable and irrebuttable presumption


Normally under Ohio law, a public utility company, like the Plaintiff, has to prove that it has the right to make an appropriation and/or that the appropriation is necessary.  Plaintiff can do this by presenting evidence at an appropriation hearing and if the judge is persuaded, then Plaintiff will be allowed to take the property. The important part is that the burden of proof is on the public utility company.  

However, there are a few situations where the law assumes that a public utility company or other state agency has the right to make an appropriation.  Further, those presumptions are either rebuttable or irrebuttable.  If the state agency has a rebuttable presumption, then the law will assume that agency has the right to make the appropriation or that the appropriation is necessary unless another party, like a landowner, can prove otherwise.  In these situations, the burden of proof switches from the state agency to the landowner to prove that the state agency does not have the right to an appropriation or that the appropriation is not necessary.  A state agency gets a rebuttable presumption when:

  1. A resolution or ordinance of the governing or controlling body, council, or board of the agency declares the necessity for the appropriation; or 
  2. The public utility company presents evidence of the necessity for the appropriation. 

A public utility company can also get an irrebuttable presumption about its right to an appropriation or the necessity of an appropriation.  This means that no evidence can be presented to prove that the state agency does not have the right to an appropriation or that the appropriation is not necessary.  A state agency receives an irrebuttable presumption when it receives approval by a state or federal regulatory authority of an appropriation.

In this case, the Defendants claimed that the Siting Board, which is a state regulatory authority, and the Ohio Power Board, the board of the agency, approved the project, not the appropriation. Therefore, Defendants argued that the rebuttable or irrebuttable presumptions did not apply to Plaintiff.  Plaintiff on the other hand thought that both the rebuttable presumption and the irrebuttable presumption applied, and because the irrebuttable presumption applied, Plaintiff argued that the trial court did not need to review the easements. Plaintiff maintained judicial review of the easements was not necessary because a jury would decide the scope of the easement at a compensation hearing for the taking. 

The trial court agreed with the Plaintiff and found that Plaintiff was entitled to an irrebuttable presumption of the necessity for the appropriation because of the Siting Board certification. Additionally, the trial court also found that Plaintiff was entitled to a rebuttable presumption because the Ohio Power Board declared the necessity for the appropriation of property interests for the Project. 

However, the appeals court disagreed.  The 4th District noted that the Plaintiff’s argument ultimately allows it to “take whatever property rights it wants. . .”  and the only constraint on Plaintiff’s power to take would be how much a jury determines Plaintiff must pay for the taking. The appellate court found Defendants’ argument to be persuasive.  The appellate court held that because the Siting Board and the Ohio Power Board only approved the project and not the specific appropriations at issue in this case, Plaintiff was not entitled to either a rebuttable or irrebuttable presumption.  Although the Ohio Power Board recognized “the necessity of acquiring easements or rights of way in connection with” the project, the board only recognized such a necessity in a broad sense.  The appellate court held that specific appropriations must be reviewed and approved before a state agency is entitled to the rebuttable or irrebuttable presumption under Ohio law. 

Deference


The Defendants also argued that the trial court erred when it did not review the proposed easements.  The trial court found that the Plaintiff is in the best position to determine the necessity of the easements.  The trial court, therefore, did not review the proposed easments and defered to the expertise of the Plaintiff to determine the legality of the easements.  Additionally, the court deferred any issues regarding the scope of the easements to a jury at the future compensation hearing.    

The court of appeals disagreed with the trial court and held that the trial court should have reviewed the easements and should have made a separate necessity finding as to each one.  The 4th District determined that courts are required to engage in the review of easements under Ohio law to make sure that (1) the state is not taking more property than necessary; and that the state is acting (2) fairly; (3) without bad faith; (4) without pretext; (5) without discrimination; and (6) without improper purpose.  The appeals court reasoned that a trial court’s role is a critical constitutional check on the state’s power.  The appellate court noted that it is a trial court’s duty to determine the extent of the taking and a jury’s duty to determine the amount of damages owed to a landowner as a result of the taking. 

Abandonment


Another issue in this case was whether Plaintiff “abandoned” its appropriation for distribution lines.  If Plaintiff was found to have abandoned its appropriation, then Defendants would be entitled to fees and other costs associated with defending their property interest. 

In its initial appropriation petition, Plaintiff included an appropriation for distribution lines across the Defendants’ properties.  However, during the appropriation hearing, Plaintiff conceded that it did not need an appropriation for distribution lines and only included the distribution line rights in its appropriation petition just in case it was needed.  Plaintiffs admitted that their proposed easement was broader in scope than necessary, and the trial court ordered that Plaintiff remove the distribution line rights from its petitions. However, the trial court did not find that Plaintiff abandoned its appropriation for distribution lines and did not award Defendants any fees and costs for the alleged abandonment.  

On appeal, Defendants argued that the trial court was wrong for not entering a judgment against the Plaintiff for fees and costs associated with defending against the appropriation for distribution lines. Plaintiff claimed that it did not abandon its petition because it essentially amended its petition, it didn’t drop its petition entirely. The trial court agreed with Plaintiff, reasoning that removing the word “distribution” from Plaintiff’s petition did not amount to an abandonment.  

The court of appeals agreed with the trial court that Plaintiff did not abandon its appropriation petition but still found that Defendants were entitled to recover costs associated with defending their property interests.  The 4th district found three scenarios when a landowner would be entitled to the costs associated with defending its property interest against a taking. Those three scenarios are: 

  1. When an agency, like a public utilities company, voluntarily abandons the appropriation proceedings; 
  2. When a trial court determines that the appropriation is not necessary or not for public use; and 
  3. When a trial court determines, at any time during the appropriation proceedings, that the agency is not entitled to appropriate “particular property.” 

Defendants argued that the court ordering Plaintiff to remove the distribution line rights from its petition constituted a voluntary abandonment under scenario 1.  However, the 4th District found that Plaintiff could have only voluntarily abandoned the appropriation proceedings before the trial court’s order. The appellate court reasoned that the voluntary part of scenario 1 is absent once a court orders a party to remove an appropriation from its petition. The 4th District also found that scenario 2 did not apply to this case either.  According to the appellate court, the trial court must dismiss the entire matter because the appropriations are not necessary or not for public use.  Because that did not happen in this case, the 4th District determined that Defendants cannot recover costs under scenario 2. 

Under scenario 3, however, the 4th District did find that Defendants were entitled to costs for defending against the distribution line rights in Plaintiff’s petition.  In this scenario, an agency can bring appropriation proceedings for various parcels, property rights, or other property interests.  Understanding that different rights can be disputed, the appellate court found that if a court determines an agency is not entitled to appropriate “particular property”, or in other words take a particular property interest, then the agency must reimburse the landowner for its costs and fees associated with defending that property interest.  The 4th District determined that because the trial court ordered the Plaintiff to remove the distribution line rights from its petition, the trial court determined that the Plaintiff is not entitled to appropriate the “particular property” – or in this case, the distribution line rights.  Therefore, the 4th District determined that Plaintiff must be ordered to pay Defendants for the costs associated with defending against the distribution line rights.  

Conclusion


Although this ruling doesn’t dramatically change Ohio law, it helps clarify the requirements and procedures that must be followed when a state agency petitions for an appropriation.  This ruling will be closely reviewed by public utility companies and other state agencies to ensure that they have all the required approvals before filing any petition for future appropriations.  View the 4th District’s opinion for more details

By: Barry Ward, Thursday, August 26th, 2021

Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management, Director, OSU Income Tax Schools

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.

The Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents study was conducted from January through April in 2021. The 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 94 surveys. Respondents were asked to group their estimates based on three land quality classes: average, top, and poor. 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 for western Ohio with regional summaries (subsets of western Ohio) for northwest Ohio and southwest Ohio.

According to the Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents Survey, cropland values in western Ohio are expected to increase in 2021 by 3.8 to 5.3 percent depending on the region and land class. Cash rents are expected to increase from 3.6 to 3.9 percent depending on the region and land class.

For the complete survey research summary go to:

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

 

 

 

 

Elephant tossing water with its trunk.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, August 06th, 2021

Did you know that elephants can’t jump?  In fact, it’s impossible for elephants to jump because, unlike most mammals, the bones in an elephant’s leg are all pointed downwards, which eliminates the “spring” required to push off the ground.  

Unlike elephants, we have jumped all over the place to bring you this week’s Ag Law Harvest.  Below you will find agricultural and resource law issues that include, among other things, conspiracy, preemption, succession planning support, ag spending and disaster relief, and Ohio’s broadband and salmon expansion. 

Poultry price fixing conspiracy.  According to a press release from the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) a federal grand jury has decided to indict Koch Foods and four former executives of Pilgrim’s Pride for allegedly engaging in a nationwide conspiracy to fix prices and rig bids for broiler chicken products.  These indictments combine to make a total of 14 individuals charged in the conspiracy that allegedly started in 2012 and lasted until 2019.  The indictments allege that the defendants and co-conspirators conspired to suppress and eliminate competition for sales of broiler chicken products sold to grocers and restaurants.  The DOJ reiterated its commitment to prosecuting price fixing and antitrust violations.  These indictments come on the heels of President Biden’s Executive Order seeking to promote competition within the American Economy, which focused heavily on the agriculture industry.  In addition to Koch Foods, additional companies have been indicted in the conspiracy.  So far, Claxton Poultry and Pilgrim’s Pride have both been indicted in the conspiracy with Pilgrim’s Pride agreeing to pay a $107 million fine.  Koch Foods denies any involvement in the price fixing scheme.  

FIFRA giving Monsanto a little relief.  About a week before the trial of another lawsuit against the Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) and its Roundup products, a California judge dismissed some of the claims filed by the plaintiff.  According to the judge, some of the claims asserted by the plaintiff were preempted by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) and therefore could not be pursued.  The plaintiff claimed that Monsanto had a state-law duty to warn that Roundup causes cancer.  The judge noted that under FIFRA, a state cannot impose or continue to impose any requirement that is “in addition to or different from” those required by FIFRA.  At the time, federal regulations did not require Monsanto to place a cancer warning on its Roundup products.  The judge reasoned that since federal law is supreme (i.e. preempts state law) California cannot impose a state-law duty on Monsanto to warn that Roundup causes cancer.  The judge, therefore, found that the plaintiff cannot pursue her claims against Monsanto for failure to warn under California law.  This ruling is in contrast to a recent 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision which concluded that the failure to warn claims brought by the plaintiff in that suit were not preempted by FIFRA.  Plaintiff has time to appeal the judge’s decision, even beyond the start of the trial and could rely on the 9th Circuit’s opinion to help her argue that her claims should not have been dismissed.

Competitive loans now available for land ownership issues and succession planning.  The USDA announced that it will be providing $67 million in competitive loans through the new Heirs’ Property Relending Program (“HPRP”).  The HPRP seeks to help agricultural producers and landowners resolve land ownership and succession issues.  Lenders can apply for loans up to $5 million at 1% interest through the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) once the two-month signup window opens in late August.  Once the lenders are selected, heirs can apply to those lenders for assistance.  Heirs may use the loans to resolve title issues by financing the purchase or consolidation of property interests and for costs associated with a succession plan.  These costs can include buying out fractional interests of other heirs, closing costs, appraisals, title searches, surveys, preparing documents, other legal services.  Lenders will only make loans to heirs who: (1) look to resolve ownership and succession of a farm owned by multiple owners; (2) are a family member or heir-at-law related by blood or marriage to the previous owner; and (3) agree to complete a succession plan.  The USDA has stated that more information on how heirs can borrow from lenders under the HPRP will be available in the coming months.  For more information on HPRP visit https://www.farmers.gov/heirs/relending.  

House Ag Committee approves disaster relief bill.  The House Agriculture Committee approved an $8.5 billion disaster relief bill to extend the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (“WHIP”).  The bill, known as the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act, provides relief for producers for 2020 and 2021 related to losses from the ongoing drought in the western half of the United States, the polar vortex that hit Texas earlier this year, wildfires that tainted California wine grapes with smoke, and power outages, like the one seen during the polar vortex in Texas, which caused dairy farmers to dump milk.  The bill makes it easier for farmers to recover for losses related to drought, now only requiring a D2 (severe) designation for eight consecutive weeks as well as allowing disaster relief payments for losses related to power outages that result from a qualified disaster event.  With the Committee’s approval the bill makes its way to the house floor for a debate/vote.  Whether it’s a standalone bill or a bill that is incorporated into an appropriations bill or a year-end spending measure remains to be seen.  

Senate Appropriations Committee approves ag spending bill.  The Senate Appropriations Committee voted in favor of a fiscal year 2022 spending bill for the USDA and FDA that includes about $7 billion in disaster relief and $700 million for rural broadband expansion.  The Committee approved $25.9 billion for the FY2022 ag spending bill, which is an increase of $2.46 billion from the current year.  In addition to disaster relief funds and rural broadband, the bill increases research funding to the USDA, increass funding for conservation and climate smart agricultural practices, and increases funding for rural development including infrastructure such as water and sewer systems and an increase in funding to transition rural America to renewable energy.  The ag spending bill is now set for debate and vote by the full Senate. 

Ohio to be the second site for AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon.  Land-based aquaculture company AquaBounty has selected Pioneer, Ohio as the location for its large-scale farm for AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon.  The new farm will be AquaBounty’s first large-scale commercial facility and expects to bring over 100 jobs to northwestern Ohio.  According to AquaBounty’s press release, the plan for the new farm is still contingent on approval of state and local economic incentives.  Ohio is still finalizing a package of economic incentives for the new location and AquaBounty hopes to begin construction on the new facility by the end of the year.  AquaBounty has modified a single part of the salmon’s DNA that causes them to grow faster in early development.  It raises its fish in what it calls “Recirculating Aquaculture Systems,” which are indoor facilities that are designed to prevent disease and protect wild fish populations.  According to AquaBounty, its production methods offer a reduced carbon footprint and no risk of pollution of marine ecosystems as compared to traditional salmon farming.  AquaBounty anticipates commercial production to begin in 2023. 

DeWine orders adoption of emergency rules to speed up the deployment of broadband in Ohio. Governor Mike DeWine signed an executive order which will help speed up the launch of the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program (the “Program”) which was recently signed into law by Governor DeWine.  The Program is Ohio’s first-ever residential broadband expansion program which grants the Broadband Program Expansion Authority the power to review and award Program grant money for eligible projects.  The Program requires a weighted scoring system to evaluate and select applications for Program grants.  Applications must be prioritized for unserved areas and areas located within distressed areas as defined under the Urban and Rural Initiative Grant Program.  The Program hopes to provide high-speed internet to Ohio residences that do not currently have access to such services.  With DeWine’s executive order, the Program can start immediately rather than waiting until the lengthy administrative rule making process is complete.  Normally, rules by a state agency must go through a long, drawn out process to ensure the public has had its input on any proposed rules and those affected the most can challenge or argue to amend the rules.  However, the Governor does have the ability to suspend the normal rule making process when an emergency exists requiring the immediate adoption of rules.  According to Governor DeWine’s executive order, the COVID-19 pandemic, the increase in telework, remote learning, and telehealth services have created an emergency that allows DeWine to suspend the normal rule making process to allow the Program to be enacted without delay.  Although emergency rules are in place, they are only valid for 120 days.  New, permanent rules must be enacted through the normal rule making procedure.  

Farm Office Team on Zoom Webinar
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Wednesday, July 14th, 2021

"Farm Office Live" returns this summer as an opportunity for you to get the latest outlook and updates on ag law, farm management, ag economics, farm business analysis, and other related issues.  Targeted to farmers and agri-business stakeholders, our specialists digest the latest news and issues and present it in an easy-to-understand format.

The live broadcast is presented monthly.  In months where two shows are scheduled, one will be held in the morning and one in the evening.  Each session is recorded and posted on the OSU Extension Farm Office YouTube channel for later viewing.

Current Schedule:

July 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  December 17, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am 
August 27, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 19, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
September 23, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  January 21, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
October 13, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  Februrary 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
October 15, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  February 18, 2022 10:00 - 11:30 am 
November 17, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  March 16, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 
November 19, 2021 10:00 - 11:30 am  March 18, 2022  10:00 - 11:30 am 
December 15, 2021 7:00 - 8:30 pm  April 20, 2022 7:00 - 8:30 pm 

Topics we will discuss in upcoming webinars include:

  • Coronavirus Food Assitance Program (CFAP) 
  • Legislative Proposals and Accompanying Tax Provisions
  • Outlook on Crop Input Costs and Profit Margins 
  • Outlook on Cropland Values and Cash Rents 
  • Tax Issues That May Impact Farm Businesses 
  • Legal Trends
  • Legislative Updates
  • Farm Business Management and Analysis
  • Farm Succession & Estate Planning
 

To register or to view a previous "Farm Office Live," please visit https://go.osu.edu/farmofficelive. You will receive a reminder with your personal link to join each month. 

The Farm Office is a one-stop shop for navigating the legal and economic challenges of agricultural production. For more information visit https://farmoffice.osu.edu or contact Julie Strawser at strawser.35@osu.edu or call 614.292.2433

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Property