Did you know that white sturgeon are North America’s largest fish? The largest white sturgeon on record was caught in 1898 and weighed approximately 1,500 pounds. Sturgeon is the common name for the species of fish that belong to the Acipenseridae family. The largest sturgeon on record was a Beluga sturgeon weighing in at 3,463 pounds and 24 feet long. Talk about a river monster! Swimming right along, this edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you some intriguing election results from across the country, pandemic assistance for organic producers, and a lesson in signatures.
Maine first state to have “right to food.” Earlier this month, Maine voters passed the nation’s first “right to food” constitutional amendment. The referendum asked voters if they favored an amendment to the Maine Constitution “to declare that all individuals have a natural, inherent and unalienable right to grow, raise, harvest, produce and consume the food of their own choosing their own nourishment, sustenance, bodily health and well-being.” Supporters of the new amendment claim that the amendment will ensure the right of citizens to take back control of the food supply from large landowners and giant retailers. Opponents claim that the new amendment is deceptively vague and is a threat to food safety and animal welfare by encouraging residents to try and raise their own products in their backyards without any knowledge or experience. The scope and legality of Maine’s new constitutional amendment is surely to be tested and defined by the state’s courts, but until then, Maine citizens are the only ones the in the United States that can claim they have a constitutional right to food.
New York voters approve constitutional environmental rights amendment. New Yorkers voted on New York Proposal 2, also known as the “Environmental Rights Amendment.” The proposal passed with overwhelming support. The new amendment adds that “[e]ach person shall have a right to clean air and water, and a healthful environment” to the New York constitution. New York is one of a handful of states to have enacted a “green amendment” in its state constitution. Proponents of the amendment argue that such an amendment is long overdue while opponents argue that the amendment is too ambiguous and will do New York more harm than good.
USDA announces pandemic support for certified organic and transitioning operations. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced that it will be providing pandemic assistance to cover certification and education expenses to agricultural producers who are currently certified or to those seeking to become certified. The USDA will make $20 million available through the Organic and Transitional Education and Certification Program (“OTECP”) as part of the USDA’s Pandemic Assistance for Producers initiative. OTECP funding is provided through the Coronavirus Aid Relief, and Economic Security Act (“CARES Act”). Producers can apply for expenses paid during the 2020, 2021, and 2022 fiscal years. For each fiscal year, OTECP will cover 25% of a certified operation’s eligible certification expenses, up to $250 per certification category. Crop and livestock operations transitioning to organic production may be eligible for 75% of eligible expenses, up to $750 for each year. Both certified organic operations and transitioning operations are eligible for 75% of eligible registration fees, up to $200, per year for educational events to help operations increase their knowledge of production and marketing practices. Applications are now open and will be available until January 7, 2022. Producers can apply through their local Farm Service Agency office. For more information on OTECP visit https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/otecp.
A signature case. In 2018 Margaret Byars died intestate survived by her 5 children. After Byars’s death, one her sons, Keith, revealed that Margaret had allegedly executed a quitclaim deed in 2017 giving her Dayton home to Keith. The other siblings brought this lawsuit claiming that the deed was invalid and unenforceable because the facts surrounding the execution of the deed seemed a little odd. In 2017, Margaret was diagnosed with breast cancer and moved into a nursing facility. Shortly after entering the nursing home, Sophia Johnson, a family friend and the notary on the deed, showed up to notarize the quitclaim deed. Trial testimony revealed that the quitclaim deed was prepared and executed by a third party. Margaret did not physically sign the deed herself. In fact, the trial court noted that the signature looked like the handwriting of the person that prepared the deed and that no one saw Margaret authorize another to sign the deed for her. Sophia testified that when she showed up to notarize the deed, the deed was already completed and signed. Sophia also testified that Margaret seemed to intend to transfer the house to Keith and understood the nature and consequences of the deed. After hearing all the testimony, the trial court concluded that the deed was enforceable, and the house belonged to Keith. However, on appeal, the Second District Court of Appeals found the deed to be invalid. The Second District stated that in Ohio a grantor need not actually sign a deed in order to be valid, however, the court concluded that the “signature requirement may be satisfied by another affixing a grantor’s signature on a deed so long as the evidence shows that the grantor comprehend the deed, wanted its execution, and authorized the other to sign it.” The court concluded that the evidence showed that Margaret comprehended the deed and perhaps even wanted its execution. But the evidence did not show that Margaret authorized anyone to sign the deed for her. Because it could not be established that Margaret authorized the preparer or anyone else to sign the deed for her, the Second District court held that that deed was invalid under Ohio law. This case demonstrates the importance of attorneys and the work they do to make sure all asset transfers and estate planning documents are in compliance with the law to help avoid unnecessary lawsuits and prevent any unintended outcomes.
We’re used to April showers in Ohio, but this year producers can also prepare for a showering of USDA pandemic assistance. Secretary Vilsack just announced the new “USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative,” which will devote $12 billion to deliver financial assistance and programs for agricultural producers affected by COVID-19 market disruptions. The USDA aims to spread those programs to a wider set of producers than previous COVID-19 programs.
While many program details and rules are still under development and expected later this spring, several types of CFAP assistance are in motion now. First, the USDA announced the reopening of round two of the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP2) on April 5. Producers who haven’t yet signed up for CFAP2 may do so for at least the next 60 days at https://www.farmers.gov/cfap/apply. USDA will be distributing $2.5 million in grants to further reach out to socially disadvantaged farmers who have not enrolled in CFAP2.
Several automatically issued payments are also in the works for eligible producers already enrolled in CFAP1 and 2. Producers need not submit new applications for these payments, and we’ve heard some producers have already received them. The payments include:
- Increased CFAP1 payment rates for cattle. Cattle producers eligible under CFAP1 will automatically receive payments based on inventory of cattle between April 16, 2020 and May 14, 2020. Rates per head will be $7 for feeder cattle less than 600 pounds, $25.50 for feeder cattle at 600 pounds or more, $63 for slaughter/fed cattle, $14.75 for slaughter/mature cattle and $17.25 for all other cattle.
- CFAP2 crop payments. Additional payments of $20 per acre for producers of eligible flat-rate or price-trigger crops under CFAP2, which includes Ohio crops of alfalfa, corn, hemp, sorghum, soybeans, sugar beets, wheat and other grains, listed at https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cfap.
- CFAP additional assistance payments. Formula adjustments and payments for applications filed under the CFAP AA program will include pullets and turfgrass sod, corrections for row-crop producers with non-Actual Production History insurance to use 100% of 2019 ARC-county option benchmark yield in the payment calculation, revisions to sales commodity applications to include insurance indemnities, noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program payments, and Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus payments.
The additional payments for swine producers and contract growers included in the CFAP Additional Assistance are not yet are their way. These payments are on hold as they will require regulatory revisions, but FSA is accepting applications at https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cfap.
Also in the still-under-development category is an additional $6 billion for new and modified programs from the Consolidated Appropriations Act as well as other unspent COVID-19 funds. The USDA projects that rules for these programs will also begin this Spring and will include funding for:
- Dairy Donation Program purchases and other assistance for dairy farmers
- Euthanized livestock and poultry
- Specialty crops, beginning farmers and local, urban, and organic farms
- Organic certification costs or to continue or add conservation activities
- Other possible expansion and corrections to the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program such as to support dairy or other livestock producers.
- Timber harvesting and hauling.
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other protective measures for food and farm workers and specialty crops and seafood processors and distributors.
- Improving the resilience of the food supply chain.
- Developing infrastructure to support donation and distribution of perishable commodities, including food donation and distribution through farm-to-school, restaurants, or other community organizations.
- Reducing food waste.
And that’s not all. Details for allocating an additional $500 million in new funding are also in development. That funding will be distributed as follows:
- $100M for Specialty Crop Block Program
- $100M for Local Agricultural Marketing Program
- $80M for Domestic Textile Mills Program
- $75M for Farmers Opportunities Training and Outreach Program.
- $75M for Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program
- $28M for National Institute of Food and Agriculture
- $20M for Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
- $20M for Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
The USDA has stated that it will continue to develop program details and regulations through the spring. We’ll do our best to forecast what's to come, so stay tuned for more information on the Pandemic Assistance for Producers Initiative.