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.
Ohio landowners have seen it before: when the snow flies, so do the snowmobilers. Landowners are forced to watch snowmobilers crossing their fields and driveways and cutting through woods and homesteads, without permission and apparently without concern for property damage. Two common questions from landowners arise at this time: what can I do about them, and will I be liable if there’s an accident? While the answers aren’t always satisfactory to landowners, several Ohio laws try to address these two questions.
What can you do about snowmobilers on your land?
One possibility for dealing with unwanted snowmobilers is to call local law enforcement. That might not get the results you’d like, given the difficulty of identifying and catching snowmobilers and limited law enforcement resources in rural areas. Trail cameras, pictures, or other ways of verifying the sleds and riders might be helpful. Look for the registration decal on the front of the sled, which allows tracking it to its owner. Despite these challenges, there are two sections of Ohio law that provide for criminal actions against trespassing snowmobilers if you can apprehend them:
- Ohio criminal trespass laws make it a fourth degree misdemeanor to knowingly or recklessly be on another’s land without permission or to fail to leave after seeing “no trespass” or similar signs of restricted access or being notified by an owner. Committing this type of trespass while on a snowmobile doubles the fine to up to $500, and up to 30 days in jail is also possible. The court could also award damages for harm to the landowner victim of the criminal trespass. A second offense can result in impoundment of the title to the snowmobile.
- Ohio motor vehicle laws also address snowmobilers specifically. The law prohibits a snowmobiler from operating on any private property or in a nursery or planting area without the permission of the landowner or tenant of the property. The penalty for doing so is a fine of $50 to $500 and potential jail time of three to 30 days. Note that snowmobilers are also not allowed to operate on state highways, railroad tracks and railroad rights of way, and anywhere after sunset without required lighting. The law does allow snowmobilers to drive on berms and shoulders of roads, across highways if done safely, and on county and township roads if permitted to do so by the county or township.
Another potential legal strategy is to bring a civil action against trespassing snowmobilers. Again, that requires knowing who they are and proving that they were on your property. A few laws that could apply are:
- Ohio’s law on civil trespass is a court made law, and it requires showing that a person intentionally entered another’s land without permission and caused harm to the land. If a snowmobiler harmed the property while trespassing, this type of claim allows a landowner to seek compensation for that harm. Examples of harm that might arise include damaged fences, culverts, drives, and crops.
- If the snowmobiler behaved recklessly and caused damage, another law comes into play. Ohio law prohibits a person from recklessly destroying or injuring vegetation on another’s land, which includes crops, trees, saplings, vines, and bushes. “Recklessly” means with heedless indifference to the consequences of an act. To punish the reckless behavior, the law awards compensation to the landowner for three times the value of the destroyed vegetation. This law can be particularly helpful when the ground is not frozen and snowmobiling damages the crop beneath the snow.
Other than legal action, a few management practices might be helpful in deterring snowmobilers. We’ve removed many of the old fences that used to fence in our farms, but fencing is an obvious although costly solution. If you put up a fence, it should be noticeable and not just a thin wire or two. Consider flagging the fence with neon markers. Beyond fences, other actions can help mark property boundaries clearly. No trespassing signs serve this purpose, but make sure they are easy to see when there’s snow, are visible from a distance, and are placed where snowmobilers might enter the property. You may have other ways to restrict access to the area where snowmobilers enter, but be aware that you could be liable if you set up a “trap” or dangerous situation that harms a snowmobiler, discussed in the next section.
Will you be liable if there’s a snowmobile accident on your land?
Attorneys often prefer to answer a question with “it depends” but in this case, we could add “but probably not.” Generally, Ohio law doesn’t favor making a landowner liable for harm that a trespasser suffers while trespassing. But there are a few exceptions to the general rule:
- One exception is if the landowner commits a willful, wanton, or reckless act that harms a trespasser. Shooting at a snowmobiler is a good example, as is placing a single strand of barbed wire or thin wire across a drive or opening to “stop” snowmobilers. Landowners could be liable for harm resulting from these and similar intentional acts that could harm a snowmobiler.
- Another exception to non-liability is if a landowner knows or should know that a trespasser is in a “position of peril” and fails to take ordinary care to prevent harm from the perilous situation. For example, if you know there’s a big hole in the middle of the field where snowmobilers always cross and you don’t mark it off so the snowmobilers can see it, you might be failing to protect them from a “position of peril.” Remember, the landowner must be aware of the perilous situation and must fail to take any protective measures for this exception to apply. Landowners don’t like knowing they can be liable to trespassers in such a situation, but the law expects us to protect people from harms we know of even if those people are trespassing.
The good news is that Ohio has a law that can make landowners completely immune from any liability for snowmobilers. The Recreational User Statute applies to non-residential premises like farms and parks, and states that the owner or occupant of the premises has no duty to keep a “recreational user” safe and no liability for injuries caused to or by recreational users. The catch, though, is that a recreational user is someone who has “permission” to be engaging in a recreational use on the property and is not paying for that use, unless the payment is through a leasing situation.
The practical outcome of the Recreational User Statute is that it protects landowners only if the snowmobilers have permission to be snowmobiling on the property. What if the snowmobilers never came to you for permission, or you don’t even know who they are in order to go and give them permission? One court in Ohio dealt with this situation, and concluded that a landowner who “acquiesces” to recreational users and does not tell them to leave is in effect granting permission. In that case, a snowmobiler who had snowmobiled across a farm for years without ever asking permission sued the landowners after wrecking in an area where the landowners had installed new drain tiles. Because the landowners had never told the snowmobiler to leave the property, the court held that the landowners had indeed granted permission. If other courts follow this reasoning, landowners have liability protection under the Recreational User Statute if they allow snowmobilers to use the property by way of not telling them to leave.
What solutions are we missing in Ohio?
There currently isn’t a perfect legal solution to the snowmobile problems many landowners are facing this winter. Owners can secure and mark their properties, call the sheriff, file a legal action, and hope the Recreational User Statute protects them from liability. But understandably, landowners may still get agitated and feel hopeless when they hear the snowmobiles coming.
Are there solutions that could better address landowner concerns about snowmobilers? After reviewing how other states have tackled snowmobile problems, it appears that our trespass laws are quite similar to other states. Some states have a "purple paint" law that allows landowners to mark their boundaries with purple paint marks on trees and posts, making it easier to identify the boundaries. Ohio has tried but failed to pass a purple paint law.
A more noticeable difference between Ohio and other states is that Ohio has only 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, according to the American Council of Snowmobile Associations. Compare that to 20,000 miles in Minnesota; 6,500 miles in Michigan; 6,000 miles in Pennsylvania and 2,500 in Illinois. Could the lack of available snowmobile trails be a contributor to our problem in Ohio?
Some of the trails in other states are on public lands while others are a mix of public and private lands. Several states work directly with private landowners to enhance their trail systems. In Indiana, local snowmobile clubs maintain and monitor 200 miles of groomed trails that the state leases from private landowners. Minnesota’s United Snowmobilers Association works with landowners who allow snowmobile trails on their property through a “Landowner Trail Permit” system. Local snowmobile clubs maintain the trails and provide signage, and only registered snowmobilers may use the trails. State law protects the landowners from liability for trail use.
Before the snow flies next year, maybe we can develop these and other new ideas to address the old problem of snowmobile trespassing in Ohio.
With summer in full swing, Ohio’s poor planting season won’t dampen the desires of those who want to use farmland for recreational activities like fishing or riding ATVs. And while we worry over the washouts in so many farm fields, an archaeological buff recently explained that those wash outs provide a good opportunity to find arrowheads and other relics. The fact that a field wasn’t planted didn’t stop a hot air balloon operator from asking a farmer if he could land in the unplanted field recently. Even when the land is not highly productive, Ohio farmland is always appealing to recreational enthusiasts for these and other types of recreational activities.
But what if a farmer doesn’t want recreational enthusiasts on the property or doesn’t want the risk of potential liability for a recreational user? A few of our resources provide guidance for these situations, which we can address in two important questions:
- Do you not want people engaging in recreational activities on your farm? If so, then take a look at our law bulletin on The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Trespassers on the Farm. If you don’t give a person permission to come onto the farm for recreational purposes, the person is trespassing if he or she chooses to enter the property without your permission. But be aware that a landowner can’t intentionally put a trespasser in harm’s way and in certain situations, can be liable for a trespasser who suffers harm on the property. Know the legal rules for dealing with trespassers so that you can protect your property without risking liability. We explain these rules and situations in the law bulletin.
- Are you okay with letting a person use your farm for recreational activities? If so, you’ll want to read our law bulletin on Okay to Play: Ohio Recreational User Statute Limits Liability for Hunters, Snowmobilers, and More. Ohio’s Recreational User Statute offers immunity to landowners who allow recreational uses, but only if the landowner meets the four conditions of the law. A landowner of nonresidential premises who gives permission to a person to engage in recreational activities without charging a fee doesn’t have the traditional legal duty to keep the recreational user safe from harm. Our law bulletin explains each of the statute’s important conditions in detail so that a landowner can qualify for its liability protection.
Like the weather, managing the risk of recreational users and trespassers on the farm is a constant challenge for farmers. But unlike the weather, a landowner can effectively control this type of risk. When someone shows up to fish, ride ATVs, hunt arrowheads or land a balloon on the farm, be ready by having a good understanding of the laws that apply to recreational activities on the farm.