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The Federal Trade Commission Website.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Monday, April 29th, 2024

As April comes to a close, we bring you another edition of the Ag Law Harvest. This month’s harvest brings you laws and regulations from across the country regarding a national drinking water standard, the Endangered Species Act, Ag-Gag laws, noncompete agreements, and pollution. 

EPA Finalizes First-Ever PFAS Drinking Water Standards
Earlier this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) announced a final rule, issuing the “first-ever national, legally enforceable drinking water standard to protect communities from exposure to harmful per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as ‘forever chemicals’”. The final rule sets legally enforceable maximum contaminant levels for six PFAS chemicals in public water systems. The EPA also announced nearly $1 billion in new funding to “help states and territories implement PFAS testing and treatment at public water systems and to help owners of private wells address PFAS contamination.” The EPA suggests that this final rule “will reduce PFAS exposure for approximately 100 million people, prevent thousands of deaths, and reduce tens of thousands of serious illnesses.” 

Interior Deptartment Finalizes Rule to Strengthen Endangered Species Act
The Department of the Interior has announced that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized revisions to the Endangered Species Act (ESA). These revisions aim to enhance participation in voluntary conservation programs by promoting native species conservation. They achieve this by clarifying and simplifying permitting processes under Section 10(a) of the ESA, encouraging greater involvement from resource managers and landowners in these voluntary initiatives. For more information about Section 10 of the ESA visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s website.

Kentucky Passes Ag-Gag Statute
On April 12, 2024, the Kentucky legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass Senate Bill 16 into law. The new law, titled “An Act Relating to Agricultural Key Infrastructure Assets,” expands the definition of “key infrastructure assets” to include commercial food manufacturing or processing facilities, animal feeding operations, and concentrated animal feeding operations. It criminalizes trespassing on such properties with unmanned aircraft systems, recording devices, or photography equipment without the owner's consent. The first offense is a Class B misdemeanor with up to 90 days imprisonment and a $250 fine, while subsequent offenses are Class A misdemeanors with up to 12 months imprisonment and a $500 fine.

Federal Trade Commission Bans Non-Compete Agreements
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) announced a final rule banning noncompete agreements and clauses nationwide. This move aims to promote competition by safeguarding workers’ freedom to change jobs, increasing innovation and the formation of new businesses. Under the FTC’s new rule, existing noncompetes for the vast majority of workers will no longer be enforceable after the rule’s effective date. However, existing noncompetes for senior executives – those earning more than $151,164 annually and in policy making positions – remain enforceable under the new rule. Employers will have to notify workers bound to an existing noncompete that the noncompete agreement will not be enforced against the worker in the future. The final rule will become effective 120 days after publication in the Federal Register.  

EPA Announces New Rules to Reduce Pollution from Fossil Fuel-Fired Power Plants 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) unveiled a set of final rules designed to decrease pollution from fossil fuel-fired power plants. These rules, developed under various laws such as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, aim to protect communities from pollution and improve public health while maintaining reliable electricity supply. They are expected to substantially reduce climate, air, water, and land pollution from the power industry, aligning with the Biden-Harris Administration's goals of promoting public health, advancing environmental justice, and addressing climate change.

 

Template Contract
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Thursday, February 29th, 2024

In this rendition of the Ag Law Harvest, we bring you some contracts! Over the course of February, there were three Ohio cases that demonstrate the importance of having a written contract, the ability to form a contract through your actions, and the need to make sure specific terms within a contract can be enforceable. 

Handshake Agreements Can Be a Double-Edged Sword.
In this case we are introduced to two brothers (the “Plaintiffs”), who were equal partners in a farming business that included buying and selling livestock. As part of their business, Plaintiffs sold cattle to Defendants between 2009 and 2017. The parties did not have a formal contract in place and conducted business on a “handshake agreement.” 

The Plaintiffs claim that the Defendants acted as intermediaries, purchasing heifers from them, and reselling them to other dairy farmers or at market. According to Plaintiffs, it was customary for the Defendants to pay for the cattle immediately upon delivery or within 30 days. However, around 2016, Defendants allegedly wrote checks for seven transactions but asked Plaintiffs not to cash them due to insufficient funds. Plaintiffs assert that Defendants never honored these checks, resulting in an outstanding amount of $128,950. Despite Plaintiffs' attempts to collect, Defendants denied owing any money, arguing that Plaintiffs were fully paid through later payments or third-party transactions. This disagreement led to the filing of Plaintiffs' lawsuit.

In February of last year, the trial court granted Plaintiffs summary judgment and awarded them $120,150. Defendants appealed the trial court’s decision arguing that summary judgment was inappropriate because whether or not Defendants owed Plaintiffs any money was in dispute. The appellate court agreed. 

In its opinion, the appellate court stated that it was clear that “the trial court weighed the credibility of the parties. . .” The appellate court also made it clear that “[s]ince resolution of the factual dispute will depend, at least in part, upon the credibility of the parties or their witnesses, summary judgment in such a case is inappropriate.” Furthermore, the court noted that because there was no written contract between the parties, the only evidence to demonstrate the particulars and common practices of the handshake agreement comes from the personal knowledge of the Plaintiffs and Defendants. Therefore, because both parties disagree as to whether Defendants owe any money to Plaintiffs, the trial court should not have ruled in favor of Plaintiffs on summary judgment. Consequently, the case is remanded to the trial court for further proceedings, potentially including a trial.

This case shows us two things, the importance of having a written contract and the importance of recordkeeping. The parties to this lawsuit must now argue that their recollection of events is the true and accurate recollection. Both parties will likely be judged by a group of jurors and one party is bound to be out a large sum of money. A written contract could have avoided much of the dispute by including language about the process for payment, record keeping requirements, and other terms and conditions that would have governed the relationship of the parties. Now, because there is no written contract, this case becomes a case of “he said-he said.”  

Implied Contracts Can Be Formed Based on a Tacit Understanding.
The second case demonstrates that the surrounding facts and circumstances can create an implied contract even when no signed contract exists. In this case Plaintiff, a residential construction company, provided the Defendant-homeowners with two written quotes for roofing and other work at their home. The quotes included various services and specified a 30% upfront payment with the remainder due upon completion of the work. Although the Defendants did not sign or date the quotes, they paid Plaintiff $6,815, which was stated to be a 30% prepayment for the total quoted amount of $22,717. 

After completing the roof, Plaintiff submitted a bill to the Defendants for the balance due on the roof. The Defendants took issue with the invoice for two reasons: (1) the price did not match the quotes, and (2) Defendants believed that payment would not be due until all items on both quotes were completed. Ultimately, the parties parted ways and Defendants asked Plaintiff to not return to their home leaving the remainder of the work listed on the two quotes uncompleted. 

Plaintiff sued the Defendants alleging breach of contract, seeking payment for the finished roof. The matter proceeded to a bench trial where the trial court found that the two quotes and the 30% payment operated as an implied contract and not an express one. The trial court also held that Plaintiff did partially perform the agreement and should be paid for the roof installation. 

The Defendants appealed, arguing that Plaintiff could not recover in this case because Plaintiff only alleged a breach of an express contract and did not seek recovery for breach of an implied contract. The appellate court disagreed. The court noted that under Ohio law there are three types of contracts: (1) express contracts, (2) implied in fact contracts, and (3) implied in law contracts. 

The court went on further to explain when the three different kinds of contracts are created. An express contract is created when there is an offer and acceptance of written terms. An implied in fact contract requires a “meeting of the minds” and that “is shown by the surrounding circumstances which [make] it inferable that [a] contract exists as a matter of tacit understanding.” Lastly, with an implied in law contract “there is no meeting of the minds” but the law will create civil liability for a person in receipt of benefits which they are not justly entitled to retain.   

The appellate court held that the trial court correctly found there was no express contract between the parties, rather there was an implied in fact contract. The court reasoned that the two written quotes and the 30% prepayment created a tacit understanding amongst the parties. Furthermore, the court concluded that because an implied contract existed amongst the parties, Plaintiff is entitled to recover for the work they did do. Lastly, the trial court noted that Defendants should have been aware that Plaintiff’s breach of contract claim would not only apply to express contracts but also to implied contracts. 

Noncompetition Agreement Found to be Unenforceable. 
In our final case we are introduced to a salesman that was being sued by his former employer for breach of a non-competition agreement (the “NCA”) after going to work for a direct competitor. Plaintiff, Kross Acquisition Co., LLC (“Kross”), is a basement waterproofing contractor. Kross provides service in southwestern Ohio, southeastern Indiana, and northern and eastern Kentucky. Kross’s former employee Roger Kief left to work for Groundworks Ohio, LLC (“Groundworks”). Groundworks is engaged in substantially the same business as Kross and serves the entire state of Ohio as well as Kentucky, Indiana, and many other states. 

Kief began working for Kross in 2017 and signed the NCA. The NCA prohibits Kief from disclosing confidential information and from working anywhere in Ohio or Kentucky for any competing company for a period of two years after leaving Kross. In February of 2022, Groundworks offered Kief an identical position with a start date of March 2022. 

Kross filed lawsuit against Kief for failing to adhere to the NCA. The trial court found the NCA unenforceable and granted summary judgment in favor of Kief. Kross filed an appeal arguing that the trial court erred when it found the NCA unenforceable. The appellate court disagreed. The court noted that the following factors are used to analyze whether a noncompetition agreement can be enforceable: 

1. Time and space limitations: Whether the agreement specifies a reasonable duration and geographic scope for its restrictions.

2. Sole contact with the customer: Whether the employee is the primary or sole contact with the employer's customers.

3. Confidential information or trade secrets: Whether the employee has access to and possesses confidential information or trade secrets of the employer.

4. Limitation of unfair competition: Whether the covenant aims to prevent unfair competition or if it overly restricts ordinary competition.

5. Stifling of inherent skill and experience: Whether the agreement unreasonably stifles the employee's inherent skill and experience in the industry.

6. Disproportionate benefit to the employer: Whether the benefit gained by the employer from the agreement outweighs the detriment imposed on the employee.

7. Bar on sole means of support: Whether the agreement bars the employee's only means of earning a livelihood.

8. Development of restrained skills during employment: Whether the skills restricted by the agreement were actually developed during the employee's tenure with the employer.

9. Incidental nature of forbidden employment: Whether the forbidden employment is merely incidental to the employee's primary employment with the employer.

Based on the foregoing factors, the court found that the geographic and time limitations “exceeded what is necessary to protect Kross’s legitimate business interests.” Therefore, the appellate court found the NCA unenforceable.   

Thumbs up emoji
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, July 28th, 2023

It’s getting hot! And we are here to bring you even more heat. This month’s Ag Law Harvest takes you across the country and even across our northern border as we highlight some interesting court cases, a petition to the USDA, and some legislation coming across the desks of Governors from Maine to Oregon.

Ohio Court Determines That Dairy Farm Did Not Intentionally Harm Employee. 
In 2019, a dairy farm employee sustained serious injuries after getting caught in a PTO shaft while operating a sand spreader. After his injury, the employee filed a lawsuit against his employer for failing to repair or replace the missing safety guards on the PTO shaft and sand spreader. In his lawsuit, the employee alleged that the dairy farm’s failure to repair or replace the missing safety guards amounted to a “deliberate removal” of the equipment’s safety features making the dairy farm liable for an intentional tort. In other words, the employee was accusing his employer of intentionally causing him harm. Normally, workplace injuries are adjudicated under Ohio’s workers’ compensation laws, unless an employee can prove that an employer acted intentionally to cause the employee harm. 

For an employer to be held liable for an intentional tort under Ohio law, an employee must prove that the employer acted with the specific intent to injure an employee. An employee can prove an employer’s intent in one of two ways: (1) with direct evidence of the employer’s intent; or (2) by proving that the employer “deliberately removed” equipment safety guards and/or deliberately misrepresented a toxic or hazardous substance. Because there was no direct evidence to prove the dairy farm’s intent, the employee could only try his case under the theory that the dairy farm deliberately removed the safety guards, intentionally causing him harm. 

The case went to trial and the jury found the dairy farm liable and ordered it to pay over $1.9 million in damages. The dairy farm appealed to the Twelfth District Court of Appeals arguing that its failure to repair or replace does not amount to a “deliberate removal” of the safety guards from the PTO shaft and sand spreader. The appellate court agreed

The Twelfth District decided to apply a narrow interpretation of the term “deliberate removal.” The court held that a “deliberate removal” is defined as the “deliberate decision to lift, push aside, take off, or otherwise eliminate.” The evidence presented at trial showed that the shaft guard may have simply broken off because of ordinary wear and tear. Additionally, the evidence could not establish who removed the connector guard or if the connector guard did not also break off due to ordinary wear and tear. Thus, the Twelfth District found that the evidence presented at trial did not support a finding that the dairy farm made “a careful and thorough decision to get rid of or eliminate” the safety guards. Furthermore, the Twelfth District reasoned that an employer’s “failure to repair or replace a safety guard is akin to permitting a hazardous condition to exist” and that the “mere knowledge of a hazardous condition is insufficient to show intent to injure. . .” The Twelfth District vacated and reversed the $1.9 million judgment and entered summary judgment on the dairy farm’s behalf.  

USDA Receives Petition Over “Climate-friendly” Claims. 
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), asking the USDA to: (1) prohibit “climate-friendly” claims or similar claims on beef products; (2) require third-party verification for “climate-friendly” and similar claims; and (3) require a numerical on-pack carbon disclosure when such claims are made. The core legal issue is whether such “climate-friendly” labels and numerical carbon disclosures are protected and/or prohibited by the legal doctrine of commercial speech, which is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. EWG argues that the USDA has the authority to regulate such speech because commercial speech is only protected if it is not misleading. Additionally, EWG claims that requiring numerical carbon disclosures advances a substantial governmental interest by protecting consumers from fraud and deception. Although EWG has the legal right to petition the USDA, the USDA does not have to grant EWG’s petition, it must only consider the petition and respond within a reasonable time. 

Maine Governor Vetoes Ag Wage Bill.
Earlier this month Maine Governor, Janet Mills, vetoed Legislative Document 398 (“LD 398”) which required agricultural employers to pay their employees a minimum wage of $13.80 and overtime pay. Governor Mills stated that she supports the concept of LD 398 but was concerned about some of the bill’s language. The Maine legislature had the opportunity to override the Governor’s veto but failed to do so. After the legislature sustained her veto, Governor Mills signed an executive order establishing a formal stakeholder group to develop legislation that will establish a minimum wage for agricultural workers while also addressing the impacts the future legislation will have on Maine’s agriculture industry. 

A Big Thumbs Up! 
A Canadian judge recently found that a “thumbs-up” emoji is just as valid as a signature to a contract. In a recent case, a grain buyer, South West Terminal Ltd. (“SWT”), sent through text message, a deferred grain contract to a farming corporation owned and operated by Chris Achter (“Achter”). The contract stated that Achter was to sell 86 metric tonnes of flax to SWT at a price of $17 per bushel. SWT signed the contract, took a picture of the contract, and sent the picture to Achter along with a text message: “Please confirm flax contract”. Achter texted back a “thumbs-up” emoji. When the delivery date came and passed, Achter failed to deliver the flax to SWT which prompted SWT to file a lawsuit for breach of contract. SWT argued that Achter’s “thumbs-up” meant acceptance of the contract. Achter, on the other hand, claimed that the use of the emoji only conveyed his receipt of the contract. 

The Canadian court ultimately ruled in favor of SWT. The court relied on evidence that Achter and SWT had a pattern of entering into binding contracts through text message. In all previous occurrences, SWT would text the terms of the contract to Achter and Achter would usually respond with a “looks good”, “ok”, or “yup”. This time, Achter only responded with a “thumbs-up” emoji and the court concluded that an objective person would take that emoji to mean acceptance of the contract terms. Achter was ordered to pay over C$82,000 ($61,442) for the unfulfilled flax delivery. As the old saying goes: “a picture is worth a thousand words or tens of thousands of dollars.”  

Oregon Governor Signs Agriculture Worker Suicide Prevention Bill into Law. 
Earlier this month, Oregon Governor Tina Kotek signed a bill that creates a new suicide prevention hotline for agricultural producers and workers into law. Senate Bill 955 (“SB 955”) provides $300,000 to establish an endowment to fund an AgriStress Helpline in Oregon. Proponents of the bill believe the AgriStress Helpline will be able to specifically address the needs of agricultural producers and workers which “[s]tatistically . . . have one of the highest suicide rates of any occupation.” Oregon becomes the 7th state to establish an AgriStress Hotline joining Connecticut, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Moose standing in snowy environment.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, December 10th, 2021

Did you know that a male moose loses its antlers every year? Moose usually lose their antlers every winter and grow new ones in the spring.  Additionally, because of the lack of antlers during the winter months, a moose’s first line of defense is its sharp hooves, which can mortally wound a wolf or bear.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest kicks around a few USDA announcements and FDA rule proposals and sheds some light on overtime compensation for California’s agricultural workers.      

USDA announces new micro-farm insurance policy.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (“USDA”) Risk Management Agency (“RMA”) announced that the USDA has developed a new micro farm insurance policy for agricultural producers with small-scale farms who sell locally.  The new insurance policy seeks to simplify recordkeeping and introduces insurance coverage for post-production costs and value-added products.  Farm operations that earn an average allowable revenue of $100,000 or less, or for carryover insureds, that earn an average allowable revenue of $125,000 or less are eligible for the policy.  The new insurance policy will be available for the 2022 crop year.  Crop insurance is sold and delivered sole through private crop insurance agents, a list of which can be found at the RMA Agent Locator.

USDA accepting applications to help rural communities get access to internet.  The USDA announced that it has begun accepting applications for up to $1.15 billion in loans and grants to help rural communities gain access to high-speed internet.  The announcement follows the recently enacted infrastructure bill, which provides another $2 billion in additional funding for USDA’s ReConnect Program.  According to the USDA, the funding will be available for projects that serve rural areas where at least 90% of the households lack broadband service at speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) (download) and 20 Mbps (upload).  The USDA will give funding priority to projects that will serve people in low-density rural areas and areas lacking internet service speeds of at least 25 Mbps (download) and 3 Mbps (upload).  In making the funding decisions, the USDA will consider the economic needs of the community to be served and the extent to which a provider will offer affordable service options to the community.  

FDA proposing changes to testing requirements of pre-harvest agricultural water.  The Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) published a proposed rule that would change some provisions of the FDA’s Produce Safety Rule.  The proposed rule seeks to replace the microbial criteria and testing requirements for pre-harvest agricultural water for covered produce other than sprouts.  Some of the proposed changes include: 

  • Replacing the microbial quality criteria and testing requirements with new provisions for conducting pre-harvest agricultural water assessments for hazard identification and risk management purposes; 
  • A new testing option for certain covered farms that elect to test their pre-harvest agricultural water for generic Escherichia coli (“E. coli”);
  • Providing additional flexibility in responding to findings from pre-harvest agricultural water assessments; 
  • Expedited implementation of mitigation measures for known or reasonably foreseeable hazards related to certain adjacent and nearby land uses; and 
  • Required management review of pre-harvest agricultural water assessments. 

The FDA is accepting comments on the proposed rule until April 5, 2022.  

California’s overtime compensation for agricultural workers. In 2016, California passed Assembly Bill No. 1066 that slowly implemented overtime wages for California’s agricultural workers.  Beginning in 2022, agricultural employees are entitled to one-half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked over eight hours in any workday or over 40 hours in any workweek.  However, the law only affects agricultural employers with 26 or more employees.  Agricultural employers with 25 or fewer employees will be required to follow the same overtime compensation structure beginning in 2025.  California will also begin to require that any work performed by an agricultural employee in excess of 12 hours in any workday be paid twice their regular rate of pay.  Again, this provision only effects agricultural employers with 26 or more employees but will go into effect for all agricultural employers in 2025.  

 

Giant Panda chewing on bamboo stalk.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, July 16th, 2021

Did you know that Giant Panda cubs can be as small as a stick of butter?  A panda mother is approximately 900 times bigger than her newborn cub, which can weigh less than 5 ounces.  This is like an 8-pound human baby having a mother that weighed 7,200 pounds – this size difference may explain why so many panda cubs die from accidentally being crushed by their mothers.  However, not everything is doom and gloom for the Giant Panda.  Chinese officials have officially downgraded pandas from “endangered” to “vulnerable.”  Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature re-labelled, the Panda as “vulnerable” in 2016, China wanted to make sure that the population of its national treasure continued to grow before downgrading the panda’s classification.  

Although it seems as though pandas are thriving thanks to conservation efforts in China, not all animal species in China are so lucky.  This week’s Ag Law Harvest takes a trip around the world to bring you domestic and international agricultural and resource issues.  We take a look at court decisions, Congress’ latest actions, China’s struggle with African Swine Fever, and President Biden’s latest executive order. 

Iowa Supreme Court Dismisses Raccoon River Lawsuit.  Environmental organizations (“Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against the state of Iowa and its agencies (“Defendants”) asking the court to compel Defendants to adopt legislation that would require Iowa farmers to implement practices that would help reduce the levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in Raccoon River.  The Plaintiffs argued that Defendants violated their duty under the Public Trust Doctrine (“PTD”), which is a legal doctrine that requires states to hold certain natural resources in trust for the benefit of the state’s citizens.  Defendants argued that Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Iowa Supreme Court agreed with Defendants and found that a ruling in Plaintiffs’ favor would not necessarily remediate Plaintiffs’ alleged injuries, and therefore the Plaintiffs lacked standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Iowa Supreme Court also found that Plaintiffs’ issue was a nonjusticiable political question.  The political question doctrine is a principle that helps prevent upsetting the balance of power between the branches of government.  Under the doctrine, courts will not decide certain issues because they are better suited to be decided by another branch of government.  In this case, the court reasoned that Plaintiffs’ issue was better suited to be resolved through the legislative branch of government, not the judicial branch.  The Iowa Supreme Court decision is significant because, as it stands, agricultural producers in the Raccoon River Watershed will not be required to adopt any new practices but the decision leaves it up to Iowa’s legislature to determine whether farmers should be required to adopt new practices under the PTD to help reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in Raccoon River.  

U.S. House of Representatives’ spending bill increases focuses on climate action and environmental protection.  Before the July 4th break, the United States House Appropriations Committee approved the first of its Fiscal Year 2022 (“FY22”) funding bills.  Included in these bills is the agriculture funding bill, which will be sent to the House floor for full consideration.  The bill provides $26.55 billion in the discretionary funding of agencies and programs within the USDA, FDA, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, and the Farm Credit Administration – an increase of $2.851 billion from 2021.  In total, the agriculture funding bill includes $196.7 billion for both mandatory and discretionary programs.  The bill focuses on: (1) rural development and infrastructure – including rural broadband; (2) food and nutrition programs to help combat hunger and food insecurity; (3) international food assistance to promote U.S. agricultural exports; (4) conservation programs to help farmers, ranchers, and other landowners protect their land; (5) ag lending; (6) climate-related work to help research and remedy the climate crisis; and (7) enforcement of environmental programs.  The agriculture spending bill will, however, have to be reconciled with any spending bill produced by the U.S. Senate.

U.S. House Agriculture Committee advances rural broadband bill.  The House Agriculture Committee (the “Committee”) unanimously voted to advance the Broadband Internet Connections for Rural America Act (the “Act”), which would authorize $4.5 billion in annual funding, starting in fiscal year 2022, for the Broadband ReConnect Program (the “Program”) through fiscal year 2029.  The existing Program is set to expire on June 30, 2022.  To demonstrate Congress’ commitment to expanding rural broadband, the Program was only given $742 million in 2021.  It is unclear whether the Act will be included in the infrastructure package that is currently being negotiated between Congress and the White House.  Under the Act, the USDA must give the highest priority to projects that seek to provide broadband service to unserved communities that do not have any residential broadband service with speeds of at least 10/1 Mbps.  The USDA will then prioritize communities with less than 10,000 permanent residents and areas with a high percentage of low-income families.

Small hog farmers in China no longer required to seek environmental approval.  China is the world’s largest pork producer and over the past few years, its hog herds have been decimated.  A deadly African Swine Fever (“ASF”) has wiped out about half of China’s hog herds, especially affecting small farmers.  According to Reuters, China relies heavily on small farmers for its pork output, but because of ASF, small farmers have been left with little to no product and mass amounts of debts.  Further, Chinese farmers are hesitant to rebuild their herds because ASF is an ongoing risk and farmers stand to lose everything if they continue to raise diseased hogs.  Addressing these concerns, China’s agriculture ministry will no longer require small hog farmers to get environmental approval from the government before breeding their hogs.  China hopes to reduce the costs and red tape for small farmers as China tries to incentivize small farmers to rebuild their hog herds.  African Swine Fever is a highly contagious and deadly viral disease affecting both domestic and feral swine.  The ASF poses no threat to human health but can decimate domestic hog populations.  Germany has recently reported its first two cases of ASF in domestic hogs.  Currently, ASF has not been found within the United States, and the USDA hopes to keep it that way.  To learn more about ASF, visit the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service website

President Biden signs executive order to reduce consolidation in agriculture.  President Biden’s recent Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy seeks to address inadequate competition within the U.S. economy that the administration believes holds back economic growth and innovation.  The Order includes more than 70 initiatives by more than a dozen federal agencies to promote competition.  With respect to agriculture, the Order seeks to break up agricultural markets “that have become more concentrated and less competitive.”  The Biden Administration believes that the markets for seeds, equipment, feed, and fertilizer are dominated by a few large companies which negatively impacts family farmers and ranchers.  The Biden Administration believes that the lack of competition increases the costs of inputs for family farmers all while decreasing the revenue a family farmer receives.  The Order directs the USDA to consider issuing new rules: (1) making it easier for farmers to bring and win lawsuits under the Packers and Stockyards Act; (2) prohibiting chicken processors from exploiting and underpaying chicken farmers; (3) adopting anti-retaliation protections for farmers who speak out about a company’s bad practices; and (4) defining when meat producers can promote and label their products as a “Product of the USA.”  The Order also requires the USDA to develop a plan to increase opportunities for small farmers to access markets and receive a fair return and encourages the Federal Trade Commission to limit when equipment companies can restrict farmers from repairing their own farm machinery.  Follow this link to learn more about President Biden’s recent Executive Order.

Florida Panther
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, July 02nd, 2021

Did you know that the Florida Panther is the last subspecies of Mountain Lion found east of the Mississippi River?  The Florida Panther is an endangered species with an estimated population of under 100 panthers.  As bleak as it may seem, things may be looking up for the Florida Panther to make a roaring comeback (which is ironic because Florida Panthers can’t roar). 

Like the Florida Panther, we have prowled agricultural and resource issues from across the country.  Topics include a historic move by Florida to protect its wildlife and natural resources, agritourism getting a boost in Pennsylvania, Colorado’s livestock industry receiving a lifeline, and USDA efforts to expand broadband and water quality initiatives.   

Florida makes conservation history.  Florida has recently enacted a new law known as the Florida Wildlife Corridor Act (the “Act”).  The Act creates a wildlife corridor that will connect Florida’s large national and state parks and create an unbroken area of preserved land that stretches from the Alabama state line all the way down to the Florida Keys.  Specifically, the Act looks to protect about 18 million acres of habitat for Florida’s wildlife.  The Act seeks to prevent wildlife, like the Florida Panther, from being cut off from other members of its species, which is a main driver of extinction.  The Act also aims to protect Florida’s major watersheds and rivers, provide wildlife crossings over and/or under major highways and roads, and establish sustainable practices to help working ranches, farms and, forests that will be vital to ensuring the success and sustainability of the wildlife corridor.  The Act goes into effect July 1 and provides $400 million in initial funding to help purchase land to create the corridor.    

Pennsylvania provides protection for agritourism operators.  Pennsylvania Governor, Tom Wolf, signed House Bill 101 into law.  Like Ohio’s law, House Bill 101 shields agritourism operators from certain lawsuits that could arise from circumstances beyond their control.  House Bill 101 prevents participants in an agritourism activity from suing the agritourism operator if the operator warns participants of the inherent risks of being on a farm and engaging in an agritourism activity.  An agritourism operator must: (1) have a 3’ x 2’ warning sign posted and notifying participants that an agritourism operator is not liable, except under limited circumstances, for any injury or death of a participant resulting from an agritourism activity; and (2) have a signed written agreement with an agritourism participant acknowledging an agritourism operator’s limited liability or have specific language printed on an admission ticket to an agritourism activity that notifies and warns a participant of an agritourism operator’s limited liability.  House Bill 101, however, does not completely shelter agritourism operators.  An agritourism operator can still be liable for injuries, death, or damages arising from overnight accommodations, weddings, concerts, and food and beverage services.  The enactment of House Bill 101 will help to protect farmers from costly and unnecessary lawsuits and provide additional sustainability to Pennsylvania’s agritourism industry.     

Colorado Supreme Court strikes proposed ballot initiative seeking to hold farmers liable for animal cruelty.  The Colorado Supreme Court issued an opinion removing Initiative 16, also known as the Protect Animals from Unnecessary Suffering and Exploitation Initiative (“PAUSE”), from voter consideration.  Initiative 16 sought to amend Colorado law and remove certain agriculture exemptions from Colorado’s animal cruelty laws.  Initiative 16 intended to set limitations on the slaughter of livestock and to broadly expand the definition of “sexual act with an animal” to include any intrusion or penetration of an animal’s sexual organs, which opponents of the initiative have argued would prohibit artificial insemination and spaying/neutering procedures.  The Colorado Supreme Court found that the initiative violated Colorado’s single-subject requirement for ballot initiatives and therefore, was an illegal ballot initiative.  The court argued that the central theme of the initiative was to incorporate livestock into Colorado’s animal cruelty laws.  However, because the initiative redefined “sexual act with an animal” to include animals other than livestock, the court concluded that the ballot initiative covered two subjects, not one.  The court reasoned that because the initiative addresses two unrelated subjects, voters could be surprised by the consequences of the initiative if it passed, which is why Colorado has single-subject requirement for ballot initiatives. 

USDA announces dates for Conservation Reserve Program (“CRP”) signups.  The USDA set a July 23 deadline for agricultural producers and landowners to apply for the CRP General and will also be accepting applications for CRP Grasslands from July 12 through August 20.  Through the CRP General, producers and landowners establish long-term conservation practices aimed at conserving certain plant species, controlling soil erosion, improving water quality, and enhancing wildlife habitat on cropland.  CRP Grasslands helps landowners and producers protect grasslands including rangeland, pastureland, and certain other lands, while maintaining grazing lands.  To enroll in the CRP, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center

USDA expands CLEAR30 initiative nationwide.  The USDA announced that landowners and agricultural producers currently enrolled in CRP now have an opportunity to sign a 30-year contract through the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers Initiative (“CLEAR30”).  CLEAR30 was created by the 2018 Farm Bill to address water quality concerns and was originally only available in the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.  Now, producers and landowners across the country can sign up for CLEAR30.  Eligible producers must have certain water quality improvement practices under a continuous CRP or under the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (“CREP”) and contracts that are set to expire on September 30, 2021.  The USDA hopes that by expanding the initiative, it will enable more producers to take conservation efforts up a level and create lasting impacts.  CLEAR30’s longer contracts help to ensure that conservation benefits will remain in place longer to help in reducing sediment and nutrient runoff and reducing algal blooms.  To sign up, producers and landowners should contact their local USDA Service Center by August 6, 2021.

Three federal agencies enter into agreement to coordinate broadband funding deployment.  The Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), the USDA, and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (“NTIA”) entered into an agreement to coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband development in rural and underserved areas.  In an announcement released by the USDA, Secretary Vilsack stressed the importance of broadband in rural and underserved communities.  Lessons learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic have made access to broadband a central issue for local, state, federal and Tribal governments.  The goal is to get 100% of Americans connected to high-speed internet.  As part of the signed agreement, the agencies will share information about existing or planned projects and identify areas that need broadband service in order to reach the 100% connectivity goal.  Visit the USDA’s Rural Development Telecom Programs webpage to learn more about the USDA’s efforts to provide broadband service in rural areas.    

By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, April 30th, 2021

The final day of April is already here!  Spring feels like it has finally arrived and planting season is in motion across Ohio.  Just like farmers in the field, legislatures, government bodies, and courts across the country are hard at work addressing critical agricultural and resource law issues.  We've gathered a collection of those issues for this Ag Law Harvest. 

Debt relief for socially disadvantaged farmers is in the works.  The USDA has announced its plans for implementing debt relief to socially disadvantaged producers mandated by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that Congress passed in March.  The payments will be 120% of any outstanding Farm Service Agency Direct and Guaranteed Farm Loans and Farm Storage Facility Loans held by a socially disadvantaged farmer on January 1, 2021.  The additional 20% on top of the loan balance is for tax liabilities associated with the payment, as it will be considered income.  For purposes of this debt relief program, a “socially disadvantaged producer” is one who is Black or African American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, Hispanic or Latino, Asian American or Pacific Islander.  A producer must indicate the identification on the Customer Data Worksheet, USDA Form AD-2047, filed with the FSA.   Producers who fit into the socially disadvantaged producer definition can update those forms now with the local FSA office.  No other action by a producer who is eligible for the debt relief is necessary, as the FSA will notify producers of the payoff process as it occurs.  For more information, visit this webpage for the USDA’s American Rescue Plan Debt Payments.

Missouri’s Truth in Labeling Law.  In 2018, Missouri enacted a law making it a criminal offense to “misrepresent a product as meat that is not derived from harvested production livestock or poultry.”  Violators could potentially face up to one year in prison and/or a fine up to $2,000.00.  Shortly after the law went into effect, Turtle Island Foods Inc., a business that makes Tofurky (an alternative meat product) and advocacy groups such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund (collectively the “Plaintiffs”), filed a lawsuit challenging Missouri’s law on the grounds that the law violated the U.S. Constitution including the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment, the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the Dormant Commerce Clause.  The district court denied Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction determining that Missouri’s law only prohibits companies from misleading consumers.  Plaintiffs then appealed to the federal circuit court.  Last month the Eighth Circuit Court issued its opinion and agreed with the district court.  However, the Eighth Circuit noted that the facts of this specific case did not support overturning Missouri’s law, but that facts and circumstances of another case may provide otherwise.  As it stands, Missouri’s law remains in full force and effect. 

Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines extended.  The EPA issued its final rule extending deadlines for obligated parties to comply with Renewable Fuel Standard deadlines for 2019 and 2020.  Under the extension, small refineries must submit 2019 compliance forms by November 30, 2021, and their associated attest engagement forms by June 1, 2022.  For 2020, obligated parties must submit their compliance documents by January 31, 2022, and their associated attest engagement reports by June 1, 2022.  Lastly, the EPA extended the deadline for obligated parties to submit attest engagement reports for 2021 to September 1, 2022, the deadline for 2021 compliance documents remains unchanged. 

Ohio man sentenced for stealing grain.  How often do you hear of farmers being victims of theft and a criminal on the run?  Well, last month an Ohio man was sentenced to one year in prison and 5 years of probation after stealing over $94,000.00 in harvested grain.  The defendant took his employer’s gravity wagon full of grain and sold it to a local co-op in Ashland County under false pretenses.  After the theft was discovered, the defendant fled from Ohio, eventually having to be extradited from New Mexico.  This case demonstrates just how vulnerable farmers are to potential crimes.  For more information on intentional harm to farm property and your rights, check out our law bulletin.

Iowa passes agricultural trespass law.  Iowa lawmakers have recently passed a new law that will make certain types of trespass on Iowa farms a criminal offense in an effort to stop animal activists and others from secretly documenting activities.  House File 775 makes it illegal to take soil or water samples and samples of an animal’s bodily fluids or other byproducts.  Additionally, the law makes it a crime to place or use a camera on the farm property without the owner’s consent.  Proponents of the law argue that such laws are necessary to protect private property rights and prevent bioterrorism.  Opponents of the bill are expected to challenge the law on First Amendment grounds.  

USDA discussing current issues surrounding shipping U.S. agricultural exports.  USDA had a meeting with the U.S. Department of Transportation and agricultural stakeholders to discuss the challenges of exporting U.S. agricultural products.  Challenges arose in the fall of 2020 and have only continued to get worse.  With the resurgence of international trade, nearly every sector of the supply chain has been under stress, including warehousing, trucking, rail service, container availability, and vessel service.  Farmers have long struggled with finding a market for their products and getting a fair price for their work.  With worldwide markets opening back up, the USDA and the Department of Transportation are hard at work trying to ensure that U.S. farm products reach consumers across the globe. 

Farmers to Families Food Box program to end May 31, 2021.  As part of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program announced in April 2020, the Farmers to Families Food Box program was designed and implemented as a temporary relief effort to purchase produce, dairy, and meat products from American farmers and distribute these products in family-sized boxes to Americans in need.  In a letter to stakeholders, the USDA announced that due to the improving economy and the access food insecure Americans have to expanded federal nutritional programs like SNAP, WIC, P-EBT, and more, the need for the Farmers to Families Food Box program no longer exists.  The USDA also stated that the lessons learned from the Farmers to Food Box program will continue to be implemented in current and future programs.  The USDA has already begun to offer a fresh produce box on a temporary basis through The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) and is in the process of designing a Dairy Donation Program to facilitate the timely donation of dairy products to nonprofit organizations that distribute food to persons in need and to help prevent and minimize food waste. 

Grant program to enhance the waters of Lake Erie.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has announced that the USDA has awarded ODA’s Division of Soil and Water Conservation a five-year, $8-million grant to help improve the water quality in Lake Erie.  The program will reinforce Governor Mike Dewine’s H2Ohio initiative by assisting farmers in developing nutrient management plans and conservation practices.  The grant will be available to farmers in Crawford, Erie, Huron, Marion, Ottawa, Richland, Sandusky, Seneca, Shelby, and Wyandot counties.  Farmers can start applying for the program through their local soil & water district office later this summer.

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags replacing the branding iron?  Last year the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service proposed to approve a rule that would require using  RFID eartags for use on cattle that move across state lines.  While the rule has not yet been finalized, the proposed rule, which is supposed to take effect January 2023, has not been free of controversy.  The USDA believes the use of a RFID tag will provide the cattle industry with the best protection against the rapid spread of animal diseases. Some farmers, on the other hand, feel they should be able to use currently approved methods to maintain their cattle.  To fight for their right, the Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) has filed a lawsuit in a Wyoming Federal Court on behalf of some Wyoming cattle producers.  R-CALF argues that the USDA has improperly used advisory committees to create new rules in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  Essentially, R-CALF argues that neither the USDA nor its subcommittees followed correct procedure as required by federal law in order to create this proposed RFID rule.  R-CALF seeks to prevent the USDA from using the recommendations obtained from the subcommittees in violation of federal law and in its place ask the court to require the USDA to revisit the RFID eartag issue with subcommittees that are compliant with federal law.  

All farm employees are set to receive overtime pay in the state of Washington.  Last November the Washington Supreme Court ruled that Washington’s exclusion of dairy workers from overtime pay was in violation of the state’s constitution.  Since the Washington Supreme Court ruling, several class-action lawsuits were filed against Washington dairy farmers for unpaid overtime hours, threatening to wipe out the Washington dairy industry.  Fearing the worst, Washington legislators worked diligently to pass Senate Bill 5172 ending the overtime exemption for all of agriculture and to make the transition for agricultural employers as smooth as possible.  The prevents lawsuits for unpaid overtime from being filed after the Washington Supreme Court decision and to phase in overtime in the agriculture industry.  Beginning in 2022, agricultural employees will be paid overtime for time worked over 55 hours in any one workweek and by 2024, employees shall be paid overtime for any time worked over 40 hours in any one workweek. Senate Bill 5172 awaits the Washington Governor's signature. 

 

By: Ellen Essman, Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

In case you didn’t notice, we are deep into election season.  Discussion of Supreme Court vacancies, presidential debates, and local races abound.  Even with all the focus on the election, the rest of the world hasn’t stopped. The same is true for ag law.  This edition of the Harvest includes discussion of ag-related bills moving through the Ohio General Assembly, federal lawsuits involving herbicides and checkoff programs, and some wiggle room for organic producers who have had a hard time getting certified with all the pandemic-related backups and shutdowns. 

Changes to Ohio Drainage Law considered in Senate—The Ohio Senate’s Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee continues to hold hearings on HB 340, a bill that would revise drainage laws.  The bill was passed in the house on June 9, 2020.  The 157 page bill would amend the current drainage law by making changes to the process for proposing, approving, and implementing new drainage improvements, whether the petition is filed with the board of the Soil and Water Conservation District, the board of county commissioners, or with multiple counties to construct a joint county drainage improvement.  The bill would further apply the single county maintenance procedures and procedures for calculating assessments for maintenance to multi-county ditches and soil and water conservation districts.  You can find the current language of the bill, along with a helpful analysis of the bill, here

Purple paint to warn trespassers? Elsewhere in the state Senate, SB 290 seems to be moving again after a lengthy stall, as it was recently on the agenda for a meeting of the Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee.  If passed, SB 290 would allow landowners to use purple paint marks to warn intruders that they are trespassing.  The purple paint marks can be placed on trees or posts on the around the property.  Each paint mark would have to measure at least three feet, and be located between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post.  Furthermore, each paint mark must be “readily visible,” and the space between two marks cannot be more than 25 yards.  You can see the text, along with other information about the bill here

Environmental groups look to “Enlist” more judges to reevaluate decision.  In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided it would not overturn the EPA registration for the herbicide Enlist Duo, which is meant to kill weeds in corn, soybean, and cotton fields, and is made up of 2,4-D choline salt and glyphosate.  Although the court upheld registration of the herbicide, it remanded the case so that EPA could consider how Enlist affects monarch butterflies.  The court found that EPA failed to do this even though it was required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA).  On September 15, 2020, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups involved in the lawsuit filed a petition to rehear the case “en banc,” meaning that the case would be heard by a group of nine judges instead of just three.  If accepted, the rehearing would involve claims that the EPA did not follow the Endangered Species Act when it made the decision to register Enlist Duo. 

R-CALF USA has a “beef” with federal checkoff program.  Earlier this month, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  R-CALF USA has filed a number of lawsuits involving the Beef Checkoff program over the years, including several that are on-going.  Their argument, at its most basic, is that the Beef Checkoff violates the Constitution because ranchers and farmers have to “subsidize the private speech of private state beef councils through the national beef checkoff program.” In this new complaint, R-CALF USA alleges that when USDA entered into MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with private state checkoff programs in order to run the federal program, its actions did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).  R-CALF USA argues that entering into the MOUs was rulemaking under the APA.  Rulemaking requires agencies to give notice to the public and allow the public to comment on the rule or amendment to the rule.  Since USDA did not follow the notice and commenting procedures when entering into the MOUs, R-CALF USA contends that the MOUs violate the APA.  R-CALF USA further argues that did not consider all the facts before it decided to enter into the MOUs, and therefore, the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious under the APA.  You can read R-CALF USA’s press release here, and the complaint here

Flexibility for organics during COVID-19. Back in May, due to COVID uncertainty and state shutdowns, the Risk Management Service (RMS) stated that approved insurance providers “may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.” RMS’s original news release can be found here. In August, RMS extended that language. The extension will provide certification flexibility for insurance providers, producers, and the government in the 2021 and 2022 crop years.  Other program flexibilities may apply to both organic and conventional producers.  Information on those can be found here.

By: Ellen Essman, Monday, August 10th, 2020

Welcome to August! Despite the fact that most of us haven’t seen much besides the inside of our homes lately, the world still turns, which is also true for the gears in Washington D.C.  In this issue of the Ag Law Harvest, we will take a look at some recently introduced and passed federal legislation, as well as a proposed federal rule.

Great American Outdoors Act is a go.  The Great American Outdoors Act, one of the last pieces of legislation introduced by the late Representative John Lewis, was signed into law by the President on August 4.  The new law secures funding for deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.  The funding will come from 50% of the revenues from oil, gas, coal, or alternative energy development on federal lands.  The funding will be broken down between numerous agencies, with 70% to the National Park Service each year, 15% to the Forest Service, 5% to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, 5% to the Bureau of Land Management, and 5% to the Bureau of Indian Education.  You can read the law in its entirety here.

A meat processing slowdown for worker safety? In addition to the Great American Outdoors Act, numerous bills have been introduced to help farmers, ag-related businesses, and rural areas in the wake of COVID-19.  For instance, in early July, Ohio’s own Representative from the 11th District, Marcia Fudge, introduced H.R. 7521, which would suspend increases in line speeds at meat and poultry establishments during the pandemic.  Notably, if passed, the bill would “suspend implementation of, and conversion to the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System,” which has been planned since the USDA published the final rule in October of 2019. It would also make the USDA suspend any waivers for certain establishments related to increasing line speed.  The resolution was introduced to protect the safety of workers, animals, and food.  In theory, slower line speeds would make it easier for workers to social distance. This is especially important in the wake of outbreaks among workers at many processing plants.  On July 28, Senator Cory Booker introduced a companion bill in the Senate.

Will livestock markets become more competitive?  On July 9, a group of Representatives from Iowa introduced H.R. 7501.  The bill would amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 “to foster efficient markets and increase competition and transparency among packers that purchase livestock from producers.  To achieve this outcome, the bill would require packers to obtain at least 50% of their livestock through “spot market sales” every week.  This means that the packers would be required to buy from producers not affiliated with the packer. “Unaffiliated producers” would have less than a 1 percent equity interest in the packer (and vice versa), no directors, employees, etc. that are directors, employees, etc. of the packer, and no fiduciary responsibility to the packer.  Additionally, the packer would not have an equity interest in a nonaffiliated producer.  Basically, this bill would make it easier for independent producers to sell to packers. This bill is a companion to a Senate Bill 3693, which we discussed in a March edition of the Ag Law Harvest. According

New bill would make changes to FIFRA.  Just last week, a new bill was proposed in both the House and Senate that would alter the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.  The bill is called the “Protect America’s Children from Toxic Pesticides Act of 2020.” In a press release, the sponsoring Senator, Tom Udall, and Representative, Joe Neguse, explained that the proposed law would ban organophosphate insecticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, and the herbicide paraquat, which are linked to harmful effects in humans and the environment.  Furthermore, the law would allow individuals to petition the EPA to identify dangerous pesticides, close the loopholes allowing EPA to issue emergency exemptions and conditional registrations to use pesticides before they are fully vetted, allow communities to pass tougher laws on pesticides without state preemption, and press the pause button on pesticides found to be unsafe by the E.U. or Canada until they undergo EPA review.  Finally, the bill would make employers report pesticide-caused injuries, direct the EPA to work with pesticide manufacturers on labeling, and require manufacturers to include Spanish instructions on labels.  You can read the text of the bill here

USDA AMS publishes proposed Organic Rule.  Moving on to federal happenings outside Congress, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service published a proposed rule on August 5. The rule would amend current regulations for organic foods by strengthening “oversight of the production, handling certification, marketing, and sale of organic agricultural products.” The rule would make it easier to detect any fraud, trace organic products, and would make organic certification practices for producers more uniform.  Anyone interested in commenting on this proposed rule has until October 5, 2020 to do so.  You can find information on how to submit a comment on the website linked above. 

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, June 26th, 2020

Dicamba, Roundup, WOTUS, and ag-gag: although there are important updates, this week’s Harvest topics could be considered some of the Ag Law Blog’s “greatest hits.”   In addition to these ongoing issues, a bill that is meant to encourage farmers to participate in carbon markets was recently introduced in the Senate. June has certainly been a busy month. 

Decisions on dicamba. If you’ve been following along with our blog posts over the past few weeks, you know that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the registration of several over-the-top dicamba products, and in response, the EPA announced that all such products in farmers’ possession must be used before July 31, 2020 (our last post on the topic is available here).  The Ohio Department of Agriculture went a step further, making the final date for dicamba use in the state June 30, 2020, due to the state registrations expiring on that day.  Since the Ninth Circuit decision, the companies that produce dicamba products such as Engenia and, FXapan, and XtendiMax have filed numerous motions with the Ninth Circuit.  On June 25, the court declined a motion from the BASF Corporation, which makes Engenia, asking the court to pause and withdraw their decision from the beginning of the month.  What does this mean?  Basically, at this moment, the court’s ruling still stands, and use of certain over-the-top products will have to cease on the dates mentioned above.  That’s the latest on this “volatile” issue. 

Bayer settles Roundup lawsuits, but this probably isn’t the end. Bayer, the German company that purchased Monsanto and now owns rights to many of the former company’s famous products, has been fighting lawsuits on multiple fronts.  Not only is the company involved in the dicamba battle mentioned above, but over the past few years it has had a slew of lawsuits concerning Roundup. On June 24, Bayer, the German company that now owns the rights to Roundup, announced that it would settle around 9,500 lawsuits.  The lawsuits were from people who claimed that Roundup’s main ingredient, glyphosate, had caused health problems including non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.  The amount of the settlement will be between 8.8 and 9.6 billion dollars.  Some of that money will be saved for future Roundup claims.  Although many are involved in this settlement, there are still thousands of claims against Bayer for litigants who did not want to join the settlement. 

Updated WOTUS still not perfect. As always, there is an update on the continuing saga of the waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule.  If you recall, back in April, the Trump administration’s “final” WOTUS rule was published.  Next, of course, came challenges of the rule from both sides, as we discussed in a previous Harvest post.  Well, the rule officially took effect (in most places, we’ll get to that) June 22, despite the efforts of a group of attorneys general from Democratically-controlled states attempting to halt the implementation of the rule.  The attorneys general asked the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California a nationwide preliminary injunction, or pause on implementation of the rule until it could be sorted out in the courts.  The district court judge denied that injunction on June 19. On the very same day, a federal judge in Colorado granted the state’s request to pause the implementation of the rule within the state’s territory.  Remember that the 2015 rule was implemented in some states and not others for similar reasons.  The same trend seemingly continues with Trump’s replacement rule.  In fact, numerous lawsuits challenging the rule are ongoing across the country.  A number of the suits argue that rule does not go far enough to protect waters.  For instance, just this week environmental groups asked for an injunction against the rule in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  Environmental organizations have also challenged the rule in Maryland, Massachusetts, and South Carolina district courts.  On the other hand, agricultural groups like the New Mexico Cattle Growers Association have filed lawsuits arguing that the rule is too strict.

  No more ag-gag in NC?  We have mentioned a few times before on the blog that North Carolina’s ag-gag law has been embroiled in a lawsuit for several years (posts are available here).  North Carolina’s version of “ag-gag” was somewhat different from other states, because the statute applied to other property owners, not just those involved in agriculture. The basic gist of the law was that an unauthorized person entering into the nonpublic area of a business was liable to the owner or operator if any damages occurred.  This included entering recording or surveilling conditions in the nonpublic area, which is a tool the plaintiffs use to further their cause. In a ruling, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina was decided largely in the plaintiffs’ (PETA, Animal Legal Defense Fund, etc.) favor. In order to not get into the nitty gritty details of the 73-page ruling, suffice it to say that the judge found that that law did violate the plaintiffs’ freedom of speech rights under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Another ag-gag law bites the dust. 

Carbon markets for farmers?  And, now for something completely different. In the beginning of June, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators introduced the “Growing Climate Solutions Act.”  On June 24, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held its first hearing on the new bill, numbered 3894.  The text of SB 3894 is not currently available online, but it would create “a certification program at USDA to help solve technical entry barriers that prevent farmer and forest landowner participation in carbon credit markets.”  The barriers “include[] access to reliable information about markets and access to qualified technical assistance providers and credit protocol verifiers” and “have limited both landowner participation and the adoption of practices that help reduce the costs of developing carbon credits.” You can read the Committee’s full press release about the bill here. It is backed by several notable businesses and groups, including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Corn Growers Association, the Environmental Defense Fund, and McDonalds and Microsoft. 

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