ag law harvest

By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, June 20th, 2019

The OSU Extension Farm Office team has returned from the National Farm Business Conference in Wisconsin.  We gained some fresh perspective on events beyond Ohio’s borders, but are happy to be back in slightly warmer weather.  Our colleagues from across the nation presented on a variety of farm management topics, and we had a chance to discuss some of our recent projects.  We also toured a number of dairy and agritourism farms, and of course ate lots of cheese curds.  The fresh perspective means that it is time for a fresh Ag Law Harvest.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

OSU Extension Ag Law Team featured on Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast.  Recently we had a chance to talk with OSU Extension Educators Amanda Douridas and Elizabeth Hawkins, who together moderate the bi-weekly Agronomy and Farm Management Podcast for OSU Extension.  We discussed the status of Ohio’s hemp bill and what we expect to happen in the near future with hemp regulation and production.  Then we provided an update on the Drewes Farm Partnership v. City of Toledo lawsuit, which grapples with the legality of the Lake Erie Bill of Rights.  Click HERE to listen to the podcast, and look for episode 28.

Minnesota focuses new commercial nitrogen fertilizer regulations on drinking water quality.  In an effort to protect public drinking water sources, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture has chosen to regulate the commercial application of fertilizer.  The state has long regulated the application of manure, but not commercial nitrogen.  The regulations focus on two types of geographic areas: regions with vulnerable soil (coarse soils, karst geology, or shallow bedrock) and farms located in Drinking Water Supply Management Areas.  These management areas are designated based upon nitrate levels found in the drinking water.  Starting in 2020, the state will ban the application of commercial nitrogen in these areas during the fall months and on frozen ground.  Farms in any of the 30 Drinking Water Supply Management Areas would have to follow best management practices to start, but if nitrate levels continue to exceed state limits, then the state may impose additional restrictions in an area to reduce nitrogen pollution.  For more information on Minnesota’s Groundwater Protection Rule, click HERE.

Federal court puts a hold on Bud Light’s “100 percent less corn syrup” ads.  If they missed seeing it live during the Super Bowl, most people in the agricultural industry have at least seen the recent Bud Light advertising campaign that claims the beer uses no corn syrup while its competitors do.  Shortly after the initial release of the ad, MillerCoors sued Anheuser-Busch, which makes Bud Light.  MillerCoors wants a permanent injunction that would stop Bud Light from continuing its corn syrup advertising campaign, arguing that the advertisements are false and misleading to consumers.  The first step to a permanent injunction is often a preliminary injunction, which makes a party act or not act in a certain way only while the case is pending.  The judge presiding over the lawsuit granted MillerCoors’ motion for a preliminary injunction in part.  The judge ordered Anheuser-Busch to temporarily stop using ads mentioning corn syrup if those ads do not contain language explaining that Bud Light does not use corn syrup in the brewing process.  The judge’s act does not ban the ad that premiered during the Super Bowl.  Rather it only blocks ads released later that claim Bud Light uses 100 percent less corn syrup than competitors like MillerCoors.  Click HERE to view the complaint, and HERE to view the judge’s order.

It’s (mostly) official: USDA’s ERS and NIFA are headed to Kansas City.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the USDA’s selection of the Kansas City, Missouri region as the new headquarters for the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture.  The location changed caused a great deal of controversy as some viewed it as a political move.  However, the USDA has maintained that relocation will save millions of dollars over the next few years and put the agencies closer to a number of other USDA offices in Kansas City, such as the Farm Service Agency’s Commodity Operations Office.  The Secretary reduced some of the controversy by scrapping plans to place the agencies under the USDA’s Chief Economist, who is a political appointee.  Before we call the move a done deal, we must note that Congress could stop the plans.  The U.S. House of Representatives might block the move via a Department of Agriculture-FDA spending bill currently under consideration.  Click HERE to read Secretary Perdue’s press release.

Bayer announces multi-billion dollar hunt for glyphosate replacement.  Somewhat buried in a press release titled “Bayer raises the bar in transparency, sustainability and engagement,” Bayer recently announced a substantial investment in its weed management research.  Over the next ten years, the company plans to spend 5 billion euros, or roughly 5.6 billion U.S. dollars, to develop weed control products as alternatives to glyphosate.  The announcement comes at a time with thousands of plaintiffs across the United States have claimed that the widely-used glyphosate caused their cancer.  As we have previously discussed in the Ag Law Blog, the first three juries have in total awarded plaintiffs billions of dollars in damages.  Bayer continues to fight the allegations and defend its product, but the press release marks the first time that Bayer has publically announced a search for an alternative to glyphosate.  It remains to be seen whether the press release could have an impact in the lawsuits, but Bayer will likely try to keep the press release out of the trials by using court rules of evidence.

Ohio House passes amusement ride safety bill.  County fair season has officially kicked off in Ohio, and some state lawmakers want to make sure that amusement rides at those fairs are safe.  House Bill 189 seeks to heighten Ohio’s amusement ride safety inspection standards and impose additional duties on amusement ride owners.  The bill would require the Ohio Department of Agriculture to adopt ride classification rules that identify types of rides needing more comprehensive inspection, along with the minimum number of inspectors and number of inspections for each ride.  Further, the bill would require amusement ride owners to keep a manual for each amusement ride, and make it available upon request of an inspector.  Amusement ride owners would also have to keep records, including documents and photographs, of all major repairs along with all locations where the owner stored or operated each ride.  The bill includes an emergency clause, which would allow it to take effect as soon as the Governor signs it.  Lawmakers named the bill “Tyler’s Law” after the young man who died following an equipment breakdown at the Ohio State Fair in 2017.  Click HERE for more information about the bill.

By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, May 10th, 2019

We might be in the middle of planting season, but it’s time for another harvest!  Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

Hemp bill completes third hearing in Ohio House committee.  The Agriculture and Rural Development Committee in the Ohio House of Representatives completed its third hearing regarding Senate Bill 57 on Tuesday.  The bill would decriminalize hemp produced under the regulatory system proposed in the bill.  The committee heard testimony from nearly two dozen individuals and organization representatives.  None of the witnesses gave testimony in opposition to the bill.  Nearly all of the testimony, including the testimony given on behalf of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and Ohio Chamber of Commerce, was offered in support of the bill.  The Ohio Farmers Union submitted testimony only as an “interested party” rather than as a “proponent,” saying that it supports the principle of hemp decriminalization, but does not believe that the hemp marketing program established in the current version of the bill would be necessary.  Click HERE to view the witness testimony regarding Senate Bill 57 on the Ohio General Assembly’s webpage.

Food and Drug Administration sets public hearing on cannabis in food and drinks.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has set May 31, 2019 as the date of its first hearing on whether to legalize the use of cannabis derived compounds like CBD in foods and drinks.  According to the Federal Register, the hearing is open to the public, and intended for the FDA to obtain scientific data and information about the safety, manufacturing, product quality, marketing, labeling, and sale of products containing cannabis or cannabis-derived compounds.  The hearing will be held in Maryland on May 31st, but those wishing to submit written or electronic comments may do so until July 2nd.  Click HERE for more information from the Federal Register about the hearing.

Cattle ranchers file class action suit against major meatpacking companies.  The Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) and six other named parties brought suit against major meatpackers, including Tyson Foods, JBS USA, Cargill, and National Beef Packing Company.  Filed in federal court in the Northern District of Illinois, the plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that these meatpackers colluded to suppress the price of fed cattle since at least 2015, and that as a result, the plaintiffs suffered significant economic harm from the deflated prices.  When companies agree to set prices for an industry, they engage in collusion, which could violate U.S. antitrust laws.  The 121 page complaint includes a number of charts, graphs, and visuals that explain the alleged economic manipulation, along with a thorough history of an alleged pattern of collusion.  If the federal judge certifies the class as requested, other cattle ranchers will have the choice of whether to be included in the class or not.  This is important in determining whether the unnamed members of the class are bound by a final decision or able to participate in any settlement or final award.  Click HERE to view the complaint and learn more about this lawsuit.

Indiana Right-to-Farm law upheld by Court of Appeals of Indiana.  When a federal court in North Carolina decided that that state’s right-to-farm law did not protect hog barns operated by Smithfield Foods in lawsuits alleging agricultural nuisance, there was concern that right-to-farm laws in the United States may be in trouble.  However, those fears have begun to subside in other states.  As we explained in a previous blog post, Ohio’s right-to-farm law provides greater protections from a nuisance lawsuit than North Carolina’s law.  Further, the Court of Appeals of Indiana recently upheld the use of Indiana’s Right to Farm Act.  In doing so, it upheld a lower court decision that granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant livestock operators.  At the start of the case, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendants created a nuisance, acted negligently, and caused a trespass when the defendants constructed and began to operate a new concentrated animal feeding operation in 2013.  However, the defendants cited Indiana’s Right to Farm Act as a defense and won.  The plaintiffs sought to challenge the constitutionality of the Indiana’s Right to Farm Act, but the appellate court found that the law was within the legislature’s proper authority, did not constitute a taking, and did not improperly set farmers apart for preferential treatment.  The original plaintiffs have a few more days to file an appeal with the Indiana Supreme Court.  Click HERE to read the appellate court’s opinion.

State of Washington passes cage-free egg production law.  Washington is set to join states like Massachusetts and California in requiring egg-laying hens to live free of cages.  Once signed into law by the governor, Substitute House Bill 2049 would require poultry operators to use a cage-free housing system that would allow hens to roam within the confined area by 2023.  Further, hens must be “provided enrichments that allow them to exhibit natural behaviors including, at minimum, scratch areas, perches, nest boxes, and dust bathing areas.”  Farm employees must be able to provide care while standing in the hens’ usable floor space.  The bill would also make it illegal to buy, sell, or transport eggs and egg products that were not produced in compliance with the state’s cage free egg production law.  The Humane Society of the United States spearheaded the legislative effort on this bill, which initially passed the Washington House of Representatives 90-6 and the Senate 40-6.  Click HERE for more information about the bill’s status, and HERE to read the final text of the bill.

Missouri legislature considers ending local regulation of CAFOs.  The Missouri General Assembly is considering a pair of bills that would 1) limit the ability of county commissions and health boards from imposing restrictions on confined animal feeding operations that are more stringent than state law, and 2) eliminate the authority of county commissions and health boards from inspecting livestock operations.  So far, each bill has passed one chamber of the Missouri General Assembly, and is being considered in the other chamber.  Supporters argue that the bills would provide for regulatory consistency across the state in light of varying local regulations.  Opponents argue that the bills would harm local jurisdictions from enacting restrictions that better protect the environment than current state law.  This debate is similar to recent and ongoing debates in states like Tennessee and Wisconsin over which entities can regulate confined animal feeding operations, and how much.  Click HERE for more information about Missouri’s Senate Bill 391, and HERE for more information about Missouri’s House Bill 951.

By: Evin Bachelor, Monday, February 18th, 2019

As our readers can probably tell by now, there has been a lot happening in the agricultural law world over the past couple of weeks.  From the Lake Erie Bill of Rights going on the ballot in Toledo to a new court decision on wedding barns, we’ve done our best to keep you in the know.  While the legislative sessions in Congress and the Ohio General Assembly have started to shift into a higher gear, covering those bills will take up a lot of space, so be on the lookout for a legislative update soon.

For now, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

Yep, more WOTUS.  The U.S. EPA has announced new public hearings regarding its proposed revised definition of Waters of the United States.  The hearing will be held on Wednesday, February 27th and Thursday, February 28th at the Reardon Convention Center in Kansas City, Kansas.  For those who wish to provide input, but are unable to make the trip, the U.S. EPA will accept written comments from the public online at http://www.regulations.gov with the docket ID number: EPA-HQ-OW-2018-0149.  The online comment portal will accept new submissions until April 14th.  The text of the proposed rule, which the U.S. EPA released just in time for Valentine’s Day, is available on the online comment portal page as well as in the Federal Register.  For more information about either attending the meeting or submitting a comment to the U.S. EPA, visit the Federal Register’s webpage here.  For more information about WOTUS rulemaking, see our most recent WOTUS blog post, or visit the U.S. EPA’s webpage here.

Conservation funding for federal lands could be restored under U.S. Senate bill.  In a sign of bipartisanship, the U.S. Senate passed the National Resources Management Act by a vote of 92-8.  If the House approves and it receives the President’s signature, the bill would modify a number laws addressing the management and conservation of federal lands, and would also restore funding to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which had expired last fall.  This fund primarily supports the protection of federal public lands and waters, but it also promotes voluntary conservation on private lands and awards grants to states for the acquisition and development of parks and outdoor recreation sites.  Also in the bill are two specific changes of note for Ohio.  First, section 6004(c) of the bill would increase the cap on total spending for the Ohio & Erie National Heritage Canalway from $10 million to $20 million.  Second, section 2502 of the bill would extend the Lewis and Clark National Historic Trail from Illinois to Pennsylvania, which will include portions in Ohio.  You can read the full text of the bill and see the official analyses on Congress’s website here.

FFA charter amendments approved by Congress and the President.  Citing issues arising from the U.S. Department of Education’s not filling seats on the National FFA Board of Directors, the National FFA sought an amendment to its charter.  Congress originally granted the charter in 1950, and any changes to the charter must be done so by an act of Congress.  One of the major changes sought by National FFA was a reduction in the number of seats on the board of directors that must be appointed by the Department of Education.  By not filling all of the seats on the Board of Directors, the National FFA faced difficulty making decisions because it often could not meet its quorum for meetings.  The new amendments reduce the organization’s reliance on an appointment to its board of directors by the U.S. Department of Education, which increases the organization’s ability to self-govern.  You can read the text of the bill on Congress’s website here, or visit the National FFA’s webpage on frequently asked questions about the charter revision here.

The PACT Act is back.  The Prevention of Animal Cruelty and Torture Act has been reintroduced into the U.S. House of Representatives.  The act would allow for significant fines and up to seven years in prison for those convicted of animal crushing, creating animal crushing videos, or distributing animal crushing videos.  The bill defines crushing as “actual conduct in which one or more living non-human mammals, birds, reptiles, or amphibians is purposely crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or otherwise subjected to serious bodily injury.”  However, the bill does contain exceptions for conduct that is related to “customary and normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice[s];” “the slaughter of animals for food;” legal hunting, trapping, and fishing activities; research; defense of a human; and euthanizing an animal.  Many in the agriculture community have opposed the bill, arguing that it is duplicative in light of animal protections created by the states and that it risks courts and juries interpreting the language too broadly.  At this time, the bill has only been introduced in the U.S. House and referred to the Judiciary Committee.

Nebraska wind farms sue to enforce contract and keep utility from flying off into the sunset.  Three Nebraska windfarms in a power supply contract with the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) have filed suit to prevent the utility from backing out of the contract.  The wind farms filed a complaint in federal court in Nebraska on January 30th, alleging that NPPD expressed its intention to terminate a power purchase agreement, and that doing so would be wrongful.  The complaint explains NPPD’s position that the wind farms materially violated the contract by investing in other businesses and operations.  The plaintiffs disagree that there was a breach, but say that even if there was, NPPD cannot terminate the contract because it knew of the transactions.  The plaintiffs also note that NPPD has eminent domain power.  They argue that by terminating the contract, NPPD knows that the wind farms will likely enter default with creditors.  This could allow NPPD to acquire the rights of the wind farms through a foreclosure sale or eminent domain.  To prevent NPPD from terminating the contract, the parties requested, and were granted, a temporary restraining order until March 1st that requires NPPD to honor the contract.  The case is cited as Laredo Ridge Wind, LLC v. Nebraska Pub. Power Dist., No. 8:19-cv-45 (D. Neb.).

Wisconsin Supreme Court asked to decide scope of agency power to regulate agriculture.  A Wisconsin court of appeals has certified two cases to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, asking the court to determine the extent of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s authority to regulate agriculture in order to protect groundwater.  A certification represents a lower court seeking guidance on an issue that the lower court believes it is not in the best position to decide without knowing what the higher court thinks.  These cases are important for Wisconsin because they pertain to a law passed in 2011 that restrained authority of state agencies to act beyond express grants of authority by the state legislature.  Specifically, the cases ask whether the Wisconsin DNR can impose conditions on issuing a permit beyond the conditions stated in a statute.  The affected parties in the cases range from dairy farms to manufacturers and from food processors to municipal water utilities.  Environmental groups hope that state agencies may take a more expansive look at environmental impacts when reviewing permit applications.  The two certification orders are available here and here.

By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, January 11th, 2019

Written by: Evin Bachelor, Law Fellow

Welcome to 2019 from all of us at the OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law Program!  With a new Congress, a new Ohio General Assembly, and a new slate of leaders atop Ohio’s executive offices, we are expecting a flurry of activity in the new year.  Our resolution this year is to keep you in the know about agricultural law news, and maybe find some time to exercise.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

U.S. Supreme Court declines to hear state livestock standard lawsuits.  In a previous blog post, we noted that California and Massachusetts had adopted laws that would require sellers of certain meats and eggs to follow heightened animal care standards in order to sell those products within California or Massachusetts.  Thirteen states, led by Indiana, quickly sued Massachusetts to stop its law from taking effect.  Missouri led another group of thirteen states in suing California.

Indiana and Missouri had attempted to have their cases brought directly before the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the U.S. Supreme Court has “original jurisdiction” over claims between states.  After the states filed their arguments with the Supreme Court, the justices asked the U.S. Solicitor General whether he believed these cases were appropriate for the Court’s original jurisdiction.  The Solicitor General filed briefs in the Indiana v. Massachusetts and Missouri v. California maters, and suggested that the Supreme Court should not exercise original jurisdiction because, among other things, the states lack the proper standing to sue.  Here, this argument essentially means that the resulting harm from enforcement of the statutes would not harm the states as states, but only some of their citizens, and that those citizens may still sue California or Massachusetts for their individualized harm.

The Supreme Court took the position of the Solicitor General and denied the requests of Indiana and Missouri to have the cases brought before the Court.  Any further action will have to be taken through the lower courts.  For more information about the Missouri v. California matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here.  For more information about the Indiana v. Massachusetts matter as argued to the Supreme Court, click here.

USDA not required to adopt Obama-era “Farmer Fair Practice Rules,” according to federal appeals court.  In December 2016, the USDA published the Farmer Fair Practices Rules as an interim final rule, and published two amendments to its rules that deal with the Packers and Stockyards Act.  The amendments addressed the ease of bringing a lawsuit for unfair and uncompetitive business practices under the Packers and Stockyards Act.  The rule was set to take effect at the end of February 2017, although the amendments were only proposals that had not fully gone through the required notice and comment process.  In early February 2017, citing the President’s regulatory freeze, and arguing that the rule would cause more litigation and confusion, the USDA postponed, and ultimately withdrew, the rule.  The USDA also did not take action on the two proposed amendments.  The Organization for Competitive Markets sued to stop the USDA from withdrawing the interim final rule, and to compel the USDA to promulgate the two amendments, arguing that the 2008 Farm Bill requires action by the USDA.

On December 21, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit denied the Organization for Competitive Markets’ request for review.  The court explained that the USDA did not fail to fulfill its mandate, describing Congress’s language as ambiguous.  Further, the court said that the USDA’s withdrawal of the interim final rule followed the proper notice and comment procedures.  Ultimately the court believed that Congress has been monitoring this issue and if Congress wishes for a more specific action, then Congress should act.  The court’s opinion in Organization for Competitive Markets v. USDA, No. 17-3723 (8th Cir. 2018) is available here.

Funding for National Weather Service and National Algal Bloom Program receives President’s signature.  On Monday, January 7th, President Trump signed Senate Bill 2200, which passed during the previous Congress.  The bill increases funding for the National Weather Service’s agriculture related weather monitoring and forecasting from $26.5 million in 2019 to $28.5 million by 2023.  The Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, the research arm of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), will see an increase in funding from $136.5 million in 2019 to $154 million by 2023.  The bill also instructs NOAA to “plan the procurement of future data sources and satellite architectures,” essentially instructing NOAA to think about cost-effective ways to upgrade weather monitoring systems both on the ground and in space.  The National Integrated Drought Information System will also see an increase in funding from $13.5 million this year to $14.5 million by 2023.  The program is to use some of the funding to “develop a strategy for a national coordinated soil moisture monitoring network” within the next year.  Finally, the bill also reauthorizes $20.5 million each year through 2023 for relief from hypoxia or harmful algal blooms “of national significance,” which the bill defines as “a hypoxia or harmful algal bloom event that has had or will likely have a significant detrimental environmental, economic, subsistence use, or public health impact on an affected state.”  For the text of the act, visit Congress’s webpage here.


Ohio Case Law Update

  • Ohio Power Citing Board cannot extend construction certificate for wind farm by simple motion, but must follow amendment process, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.  Black Fork Wind Energy filed an application with the Ohio Power Citing Board (“the board”) to construct a wind farm in Crawford and Richland Counties in 2011, and the board approved the application in January 2012.  Black Fork had five years, until January 2017, to begin construction on the project.  The project was delayed due to a lawsuit challenging the project, and Black Fork sought an additional two years to begin construction.  The board granted Black Fork’s motion without a full application to amend and investigation.  The board argued that it regularly grants such extensions and that extensions do not amount to an “amendment” that would require an application because an extension is not “a proposed change to the facility.”  The majority of the Ohio Supreme Court disagreed, and held that the board acted improperly.  Because the commencement of construction was a term in the certificate, granting an extension amounts to an amendment in the certificate.  As such, the board should not have acted on the request without requiring an application for amendment and investigation.  The Court reversed the order and remanded the issue back for further proceedings.  Justices Fischer and O’Donnell dissented, arguing that the Court should defer to the board in how it reads “amendment” under Ohio Revised Code § 4906.07(B).  For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion from In re application of Black Ford Wind Energy, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5206, click here.
  • Creditors must first seek payment of unpaid bills from estate of deceased spouse before attempting to collect from a surviving spouse, according to the Ohio Supreme Court.  In Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Mr. Robert Bell received care at a nursing home operated by Embassy Healthcare.  Embassy sent a letter for collection to his wife, Mrs. Bell, six months and three days after he had passed away, but no estate for Mr. Bell had been opened.  In Ohio, creditors have six months to request an estate administrator be appointed in order to collect a debt from an estate, but Embassy did not make such a request.  Since it missed the six month statute of limitations, Embassy tried to seek collection from Mrs. Bell under Ohio’s “necessaries” law, as provided in Ohio Revised Code § 3103.03.  This law requires spouses to support their spouse with money, property, or labor if their spouse cannot do so on their own; however, the Ohio Supreme Court has said that a person is responsible for their own debts first, and that under this statute their spouse will only be liable if that person cannot pay for their debts.  In this case, the Ohio Supreme Court said that Embassy had to seek payment from Mr. Bell’s estate before it could require payment from his spouse.  Since the statute of limitations had run to bring a claim against Mr. Bell’s estate, Embassy would be unable to demonstrate that Mr. Bell’s estate could not cover his personal debts.  Therefore, Embassy would not be able to prove an essential requirement of Ohio’s necessaries law, and cannot recover from his spouse.  For the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion in Embassy Healthcare v. Bell, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4912, click here.
  • Trial court may determine width of easement as a question of fact, and will not be reversed by appellate court unless the evidence shows it clearly lost its way, according to Ohio Court of Appeals for the 7th District.  A property owner signed an express easement to a neighbor so that the neighbor could cross the property owner’s land to access the public road.  The written easement did not specify the width of the easement, but the neighbor cleared a path approximately 10 feet wide.  The property owner eventually sold the property, and the new owner laid gravel on the path from the public road to their garage, and the neighbor extended the gravel all the way to his own property.  Disputes later arose regarding the easement, and the neighbor sued the new property owners for breach of easement, and sought a declaration that the easement was thirty feet wide.  Ohio case law allows trial courts to establish the dimensions of an easement if the writing does not specify any dimensions if the trial court examines: 1) the language of the granting document, 2) the context of the transaction, and 3) the purpose of the easement.  The trial court found the easement to be ten feet wide.  The neighbor appealed, but the Seventh District found the trial court’s decision to be reasonable given the evidence and Ohio law.  Since the width of an easement is a question of fact, an appellate court will not reverse the trial court absent evidence that the trial court clearly lost its way given the weight of the evidence.  For the Seventh Districts’ opinion in Cliffs and Creek, LLC v. Swallie, 2018-Ohio-5410 (7th Dist.), click here.
By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, December 28th, 2018

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

The end of the year is here, and there is a flurry of news coming across our desks.  We wish you a prosperous 2019 and look forward to keeping you up to date on what is happening in the agricultural law world.

Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news that you may want to know:

GMO labeling rule released by USDA.  The Agricultural Marketing Service posted the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard rule on the Federal Register, located here, on Friday, December 21, 2018.  According to the rule page, the rule “establishes the new national mandatory bioengineered (BE) food disclosure standard (NDFDS or Standard).”  The standards require foods labeled for retail sale to disclose certain information either through a new symbol, inclusion of a QR code that provides a link to a website, including a phone number to text for more information, or including the term “bioengineered” on the label.  The rule defines bioengineered food as food that contains genetic material modified through changing DNA or other modifications that could not be done through conventional breeding or otherwise found in nature.  Exemptions for foods served in restaurants and very small food manufacturers with gross receipts of less than $2.5 million limit the rule’s applicability.  The rule will take effect on February 19, 2019, with compliance becoming mandatory by January 1, 2022.  For more information, or to see the new label, visit the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s BE Disclosure webpage here.

Farm Bill provides good news for dairy farmers.  Under the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report, available here, the Margin Protection Program (MPP) was renamed the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC).  The name was not the only change made to the program.  Per the USDA, the program “is a voluntary risk management program… offer[ing] protection to dairy producers when the difference between the all milk price and the average feed cost (the margin) falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer.”  The Farm Bill lowers the premium rates for risk coverage.  Furthermore, the bill adds coverage levels of $8.50, $9.00 and $9.50 for a dairy operation’s “first five million pounds of participating production.”  If a farmer covers his first five million pounds at $8.50, $9.00, or $9.50, he then has the option to cover anything in excess of five million pounds at coverage levels of $4.00-$8.00 (in fifty cent increments).  Another notable change—the Farm Bill allows farmers who maintain “their coverage decisions, including coverage level and covered production, through 2023,” to “receive a 25% discount on their premiums each year.”  The DMC language can be found in section 1401 of the Farm Bill.

Missouri farmer pleads guilty to wire fraud for falsely marketing grains as organic.  Federal prosecutors charged Mr. Randy Constant with wire fraud, alleging that since 2008 he and his associates improperly marketed millions of dollars worth of grain as certified organic while knowing that it was not.  Mr. Constant operated certified organic farms as part of his larger operation, but “at least 90% of the grain being sold was actually either entirely non-organic or a mix,” according to the information filed by the federal prosecutors.  Federal prosecutors sought full restitution of approximately $128 million for victims/purchasers, in addition to the forfeiture of 70 pieces of equipment, ranging from pickup trucks to combines and semi-trucks to GPS yield mapping systems.

On December 20, 2018, Mr. Constant entered a plea of guilty.  The magistrate filed a report indicating that Mr. Constant understood what his plea meant, and that the one count of wire fraud is punishable by (1) a maximum of 20 years in prison, (2) a maximum of 3 years of supervised release following prison, and (3) a maximum fine of $250,000.  Further, Mr. Constant will be barred from receiving USDA benefits, including those from USDA Farm Service Agency, Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program, and Federal Crop Insurance Program.  Additionally, Mr. Constant could face restitution to all victims/purchasers of approximately $128 million.  For more information, search for United States v. Constant, 6:18-cr-02034-CJW-MAR (N.D. Iowa 2018).

Japan set to lower tariffs on agricultural commodities from TPP members and the EU.  The United States exports a significant share of the beef, pork, wheat, and other farm products imported by Japan.  However, two major trade agreements set to take effect early in 2019 will result in reduced tariffs for imports into Japan from a number of other countries.  The United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, but 11 other nations continued to pursue the agreement, which is set to begin taking effect at the start of 2019.  On February 1st, the Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement takes effect, and will result in lowered tariffs for a number of agricultural products, especially for beef.  Under the new agreements, chilled or frozen beef from EU and TPP exporters will face a 26.6% tariff, while tariffs on American beef will remain at 38.5%.  Prepared pork from EU and TPP exporters will face a 13.3% tariff, while tariffs on American pork will remain at 20%.  For more information on Japan’s participation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s TPP webpage here.  For more information on Japan’s agreement with the European Union, visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan’s EU agreement webpage here.

Ohio Case Law Update

  • Signing a mortgage is enough to bind signatory despite not being named in the mortgage if the signature demonstrates an intent to be bound by the mortgage.  The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel for the United States Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the Ohio Supreme Court to clarify “whether a mortgage is invalid and unenforceable against the interest of a person who has initialed, signed, and acknowledged the mortgage agreement but who is not identified by name in the body of the agreement.”  In this case, Vodrick and Marcy Perry filed for bankruptcy.  At issue was a piece of property subject to a promissory note and mortgage.  The bank held the promissory note, which was signed and initialed by Mr. Perry only, while the mortgage was signed by both Mr. and Mrs. Perry.  The Ohio Supreme Court held that “the failure to identify a signatory by name in the body of a mortgage agreement does not render the agreement unenforceable as a matter of law against that signatory.”  The focus is on the signor’s intent to be bound by the mortgage, even if the mortgage itself does not mention the signor by name.  The case is cited as Bank of New York Mellon v. Rhiel, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-5087, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
  • Specific reference in a deed to a mineral interest preserves the interest despite Marketable Title Act when the reference includes the type of interest created and to whom the interest was granted.  Generally, Ohio’s Marketable Title Act allows a landowner with an unbroken chain of title for forty years or more to take an interest in the land free and clear of other claims that arose before the “root of title.”  However, there is an exception where prior interests will still apply if there is a specific identification of a recorded title transaction, rather than a general reference to an interest.  In this case, Nick and Flora Kuhn conveyed a 60-acre tract of land in 1915, but retained an interest in royalties from any oil and gas extracted from the parcel, specifically naming Nick and Flora Kuhn and their heirs and assigns.  Then in 1969, the Blackstone family purchased the 60-acre parcel, and received a deed that included language “[e]xcepting the one-half interest in oil and gas royalty previously excepted by Nick Kuhn, their [sic] heirs and assigns in the above described sixty acres.”  The Blackstone family sought to quiet title and have the Kuhn heirs’ interest extinguished or deemed abandoned in 2012.  The Ohio Supreme Court interpreted the language in the deed as sufficient to survive Ohio’s Marketable Title Act, which preserves the Kuhn heirs’ oil and gas interest that dates back to 1915.  The case is cited as Blackstone v. Moore, Slip Opinion No. 2018-Ohio-4959, and the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.
By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, December 19th, 2018

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

We have a Farm Bill.  After months of waiting, the United States Congress has passed the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill.  Members of Congress have been working for months trying to reconcile a House version and a Senate version in what is known as a Conference Committee.  On Monday, December 10th, the Conference Committee submitted a report to members of Congress.  Both the House of Representatives and the Senate approved the report by bipartisan majorities within a matter of days.  The bill will become law once signed by President Trump, which analysts expect him to do by the end of this week.

The Ohio Ag Law Blog will explore some of the major provisions that will affect Ohio from a legal perspective, rather than restate what other news outlets and other sources have already said about the Farm Bill.  First up will be a blog post about what the Farm Bill means for hemp in Ohio, so stay tuned for an in-depth analysis.

Syngenta settlement approved by federal judge.  As previously reported in the Ohio Ag Law Blog here and here, the major multi-year class action lawsuit against Syngenta for failing to receive import approval from China before selling its Viptera and Duracade seeds in the United States has been settled for $1.51 billion.  On December 7th, Judge John Lungstrum of the U.S. District Court for the District Kansas issued a final order granting the settlement.  In the order, the court overruled a number of objections from class members who opposed the settlement.  It also awarded one third of the settlement amount to the plaintiffs’ attorneys as attorney fees, valued at $503,333,333.33.  The next step could involve appeals by those opposed to the settlement.  According to a statement posted by one of the co-lead counsels for the plaintiffs, payments to eligible parties could begin as early as the second quarter of 2019, depending upon whether any appeals are filed.

Lawsuit centered on definition of “natural” allowed to proceed in California.  Sanderson Farms labels its chicken products as “100% Natural.”  However, the environmental groups Friends of the Earth and the Center for Food Safety have alleged that Sanderson Farms’ labeling is misleading, false, and unfair to competition.  The lawsuit hinges around Sanderson Farms’ use of antibiotics in light of its “100% natural claims,” as the plaintiffs have argued that the reasonable consumer would believe “100% natural” to mean that the chickens were antibiotic free.  Sanderson Farms has repeatedly countered that its chickens were cleared of any antibiotics before processing.

Sanderson Farms has asked Judge Richard Seeborg of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to dismiss the case multiple times.  Each time the court has either allowed the plaintiffs to amend their complaint or rejected Sanderson Farms’ motions.  The most recent denial came days after Sanderson Farms issued a press release announcing that it would no longer routinely use antibiotics considered medically important for humans by March 1, 2019.  The judge’s denial of the motion to dismiss does not mean that the plaintiffs are correct, it only means that the plaintiffs have presented enough facts for the case to continue.

The controversy stems from labeling and consumer expectations.  We previously talked about the “what is meat” and “what is milk” debates in a previous blog post, and this issue is not much different.  Again there is a word that has not been thoroughly regulated by a governing entity such that companies have used it to mean different things.  As more labeling questions arise, the Ohio Ag Law Blog will keep you posted on trends and updates.


Ohio legislation on the move:

Lake Erie shoreline improvement bill passes.  Last Thursday, the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives agreed to modifications to Senate Bill 51, which addresses Lake Erie shoreline improvements, along with multiple amendments.  The primary purpose of the bill is to add projects for Lake Erie shoreline improvement to the list of public improvements that may be financed by a special improvement district (SID).  According to the Legislative Service Commission’s analysis when the bill was introduced, a SID is “an economic development tool” that facilitates improvements and services in the district “through a special assessment levied against property in the district.”

The bill as passed also would remove a requirement, previously included in Senate Bill 299, for the Ohio Department of Agriculture to establish rules regarding the Soil and Water Phosphorous Program.  Instead, the department would now be instructed to “establish programs to assist in reducing” phosphorous in the Western Lake Erie Basin.

Further, the House added amendments that change a previously passed spending bill, House Bill 529.  The bill would authorize $15 million for a flood mitigation project in the Eagle Creek Watershed.  The Columbus Crew would also receive $15 million for construction of a new stadium in Columbus.  The Armstrong Air & Space Museum in Wapakoneta would receive $250,000 for improvements.  A few other tax items were addressed.

The bill as passed is available for download from the Ohio General Assembly’s website here.  An analysis of the bill as most recently referred from the House Finance Committee is available here.  As of the time of posting, the Governor still has to sign Senate Bill 51 for it to take effect.

Ohio township bill passes.  Last Thursday, the Ohio House of Representatives and Senate agreed to modifications to House Bill 500, which would make a number of changes to Ohio’s township laws.  Some of the highlights of the most recent version include:

  • A boards of township trustees must select a chairperson annually.
  • Petitions to change the name of township roads will result in an automatic name change if the county commissioners do not adopt a resolution regarding the petition within 60 days.
  • County commissioners will not be able to vacate township roads unless the applicable board of township trustees have adopted a resolution approving the vacation.
  • A board of township trustees will have the authority to charge a fee against a person who appeals a zoning decision to the board of zoning appeals in order to defray costs associated with advertising, mailing, and the like.
  • A board of township trustees may suspend a member of a township zoning commission or township board of zoning appeals after charges are filed against a member, but must provide a hearing for removal no later than 60 days after the charges are filed.
  • In limited home rule townships, the current requirement that a township must submit a proposed zoning amendment or resolution to a planning commission will be optional.

This list comes from the Ohio Legislative Service Commission’s bill analysis as of the bill’s re-reporting by the Senate Finance Committee.  The bill analysis has a full list of the changes that House Bill 500 would make.  For more information on the bill, visit the bill’s webpage on the Ohio General Assembly website.

Importantly for agriculture, the Ohio Senate removed language from the bill that would have changed Ohio Revised Code § 519.21(B), which limits the authority of townships to restrict agricultural uses via zoning.  Currently, townships may only regulate agricultural uses in platted subdivisions created under certain statutory procedures, and only if certain conditions are met.  The House had passed a version that would have allowed townships to regulate agricultural uses in any platted subdivision, but the language would not have changed the certain conditions that would have to be met.

By: Evin Bachelor, Tuesday, November 20th, 2018

The midterm elections are over, and Thanksgiving is upon us.  A lot of activity is expected out of Washington and Columbus as the legislative sessions wind up.  The OSU Extension Agricultural and Resource Law team will continue to keep you up to date on the legal issues affecting agriculture as we enter into the holiday season.

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

State of Ohio sued over wind turbine setbacks.  Four farmers in Paulding County have joined with The Mid-Atlantic Renewable Energy Coalition to sue the State of Ohio over wind turbine setbacks added to the 2014 biennial budget that some allege curtailed wind energy development in Ohio.  In that budget bill, lawmakers included provisions late in the lawmaking process to amend Ohio Revised Code § 4906.20, which establishes the setback requirements for wind turbines.  Those provisions more than doubled the distance that wind turbines must be located away from the nearest residential structures.  The plaintiffs in this lawsuit allege that including these restrictions in the budget bill violated the single-subject provisions of the Ohio Constitution because the setbacks lack a “common purpose or relationship” to the rest of the budget bill.  On this issue, the Ohio Supreme Court said in the case In re Nowak (cited as 2004-Ohio-6777) that the single-subject rule is a requirement that legislators must abide by, but that only a “manifestly gross and fraudulent” violation will result in the law being struck down.  The plaintiff’s complaint is available here.  Stay tuned to the Harvest for updates.

Department of Labor proposes rule requiring H-2A advertisements be posted online.  The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) published a notice of proposed rulemaking in the Federal Register on November 9th that would change how employers must advertise available positions before they may obtain H-2A worker permits.  H-2A permits are work visas for temporary agricultural workers who are non-U.S. citizens.  Currently, employers must advertise work in a local newspaper of general circulation for at least two consecutive days, one of which must be a Sunday.  This requirement is located in the Code of Federal Regulations at 20 C.F.R. § 655.151.  The DOL now proposes to modernize the recruitment advertising rule by requiring employers to post the jobs online instead of in print.  The DOL’s notice explained that it believes online postings would more effectively and efficiently give U.S. workers notice of job opportunities.  Further, the notice explained that the DOL intends to only require online advertisements, which would render newspaper advertisements unnecessary.  U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue issued a press release in support of the DOL’s proposal.  The public may submit comments to the DOL about the proposed rule.  Those wishing to comment may do so until December 10th, 2018, by visiting the proposed rule’s webpage in the Federal Register.

LLC agreement to adjust member financial contributions must be in writing.  The Ohio Fourth District Court of Appeals recently affirmed a decision finding a verbal agreement to adjust contributions between members of a Limited Liability Company (LLC) to be unenforceable, even if the other party admitted to making the statements.  Ohio Revised Code § 1715.09(B) requires a signed writing in order to enforce a “promise by a member to contribute to the limited liability company,” and therefore the court could not enforce an oral agreement to adjust contributions.  The Fourth District Court of Appeals heard the case of Gardner v. Paxton, which was originally originally filed in the Washington County Court of Common Pleas.  The plaintiff, Mr. Gardener, argued that his business partner breached an agreement to share in LLC profits and losses equally.  In order to share equally, both parties would have needed to adjust their contributions, but Mr. Paxton only made verbal offers that were never reduced to writing.  Because there was no writing, Mr. Paxton’s statements were not enforceable by his business associate against him.

Ohio legislation on the move:

The Ohio General Assembly has returned from the midterm elections with a potentially busy lame duck session ahead of it.  Already a number of bills that we have been monitoring have seen activity in their respective committees.

  • Ohio Senate Agriculture Committee held first hearing on multi-parcel auction bill.  State senators heard testimony on House Bill 480 last Tuesday, November 13th.  The bill would authorize the Ohio Department of Agriculture to regulate multi-parcel auctions, which are currently not specifically addressed in the Ohio Revised Code.  The bill also defines “multi-parcel auction,” saying such an auction is one involving real or personal property in which multiple parcels or lots are offered for sale in part or in whole.  The bill would also establish certain advertising requirements.  The bill’s primary sponsor, Representative Brian Hill of Zanesville, says that he introduced the bill in an effort to recognize by statute what auctioneers are already doing, and to do so without interrupting the industry.  The bill passed the Ohio House of Representatives 93-0 in June.  For more information on the legislation, visit the House Bill 480 page on Ohio General Assembly’s website or view this bill analysis prepared by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.
By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, November 02nd, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ohio legislation on the move:

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

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