USDA

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.  

 

Blue sturgeon swimming in river.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, November 12th, 2021

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.

Nile Crocodile with jaw open.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, September 28th, 2021

Did you know that the Nile Crocodile has the strongest bite of any animal in the world?  The deadly jaws can apply 5,000 pounds of pressure per square inch, which is about 10 times more powerful than the crunch of the Great White Shark. Humans?  Well, they can apply about 100 pounds of pressure per square inch.  

This edition of the Ag Law Harvest takes a bite out of some federal lawsuits, Department of Labor developments, and USDA announcements affecting agriculture and the environment. 

Animal advocates lack standing to sue poultry producer.  In 2020, animal advocacy groups In Defense of Animals (“IDA”) and Friends of the Earth (“FoE”) (collectively the “Plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit against Sanderson Farms (“Sanderson”), a Mississippi poultry producer, alleging that Sanderson engaged in false advertising as it relates to its chicken products.  According to Plaintiffs, Sanderson advertises that its chickens are “100% natural” with no “hidden ingredients.”  However, Plaintiffs allege that Sanderson has been misleading the public after many of Sanderson’s products tested positive for antibiotics and other unnatural substances.  This however is not the first court battle between FoE and Sanderson.  In 2017, FoE sued Sanderson for the same false advertising.  However, the 2017 case was dismissed because the court held that FoE did not have standing to bring the lawsuit.  The 2017 case was appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where the decision to dismiss the lawsuit was upheld.  Fast forward to 2020, FoE joined forces with a new plaintiff, IDA, hoping to file a lawsuit that would finally stick.  Recently however, a federal district court in California dismissed the most recent lawsuit because FoE was precluded, or prohibited, from suing Sanderson again on the same claims and because IDA lacked the standing to bring the lawsuit.  The California district court found that FoE could not bring its claims against Sanderson because those same claims were litigated in the 2017 lawsuit.  This legal theory, known as issue preclusion, prevents the same plaintiff from a previous lawsuit from bringing the same claims against the same defendant in a new lawsuit, when those claims were resolved or disposed of in a prior lawsuit.  Issue preclusion did not affect IDA, however, because it was a new plaintiff.  But the California district court still found that IDA lacked standing to bring this lawsuit against Sanderson.  IDA argued that because it expended resources to launch a campaign against Sanderson to combat the allegedly false advertising, it had organizational standing to bring the lawsuit.  Standing requires a plaintiff to show they suffered an “injury-in-fact” before they can maintain a lawsuit.  Organizational standing is the theory that allows an organization like IDA to establish an “injury-in-fact” if it can demonstrate that: (1) defendant frustrated its organizational mission; and (2) it diverted resources to combat the defendant’s conduct.  IDA argued that because it diverted resources including writing letters to Sanderson and the Federal Trade Commission, filing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, publishing articles and social media posts, and diverting staff time from other campaigns to focus on countering Sanderson’s advertising, it had the organizational standing to bring the lawsuit.  The Court disagreed.  The Court reasoned that the diverting of resources by IDA was totally voluntary and not a result of Sanderson’s advertising.  The Court determined that in order to obtain organizational standing, IDA must have been forced to take the actions it did as a result of Sanderson’s advertising, the diverting of resources cannot be self-inflicted.  The Court held that Sanderson’s advertising did not ultimately frustrate IDA’s organizational mission and that any diverting of resources to counter Sanderson’s advertising was the normal course of action taken by a group like IDA.  

Joshua trees, a threatened species?  WildEarth Guardians (“Plaintiff”), a conservation organization, brought suit against the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“Defendants”) for failing to list the Joshua tree as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  Plaintiff argued that the Defendants’ decision not to list the Joshua tree as threatened was arbitrary, capricious, contrary to the best scientific and commercial data available, and otherwise not in line with the standards set forth by the ESA.  In 2015 Plaintiff filed a petition to have the Joshua tree listed as a threatened species after Plaintiff provided scientific studies showing that climate change posed a serious threat to the continued existence of the Joshua tree.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) issued a 90-day finding that Plaintiff’s petition presented credible information indicating that listing the Joshua tree as threatened may be warranted.  However, the FWS’s 12-month finding determined that listing the Joshua tree as threatened or endangered under the ESA was not necessary due to the Joshua tree’s long lifespan, wide range, and ability to occupy multiple various ecological settings.  That’s when Plaintiff decided to bring this lawsuit asking the federal district court in California to set aside the 12-month finding and order the Defendants to prepare a new finding, and the Court agreed.  The Court held that Defendants’ decision was arbitrary, capricious, and contrary to the ESA and ordered the Defendants to reconsider Plaintiff’s petition.  The Court reasoned that the FWS’s climate change conclusions were arbitrary and capricious because it failed to consider Plaintiff’s scientific data and failed to explain why in its 12-month finding.  Further, the Court noted that the FWS’s findings regarding threats to the Joshua tree posed by climate change and wildfire were unsupported, speculative, or irrational.  And finally, the Court determined that the FWS’s conclusion that Joshua trees are not threatened in a significant portion of their range was arbitrary and capricious.  The FWS must now prepare a new finding that addresses all the above deficiencies.  

Department of Labor announces expanded measures to protect workers from extreme heat.  The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) announced that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) is working on ways to protect workers in hot environments and reduce the dangers associated with exposure to high heat.  According to the DOL, OSHA will be implementing an enforcement initiative on heat-related hazards,  developing a National Emphasis Program on heat inspections, and launching a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard.  Current and future extreme heat initiatives and rules apply to indoor and outdoor worksites in general industry, construction, agriculture and maritime where potential heat-related hazards exist. 

Deadline to apply for pandemic assistance to livestock producers extended.  The USDA announced that it is providing additional time for livestock and poultry producers to apply for the Pandemic Livestock Indemnity Program (“PLIP”).  Producers who suffered losses during the Covid-19 pandemic due to insufficient access to processing may now apply for relief for those losses through October 12, 2021.  Payments are based on 80% of the fair market value of the livestock and poultry and for the cost of depopulation and disposal of the animals.  Eligible livestock include swine, chickens, and turkeys.  For more information on PLIP, and how to apply, visit farmers.gov/plip.

Enzo the Eurasian Eagle Owl staring
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, August 20th, 2021

Did you know that the “wise old owl” saying is a myth?  Generally speaking, owls are no wiser than other birds of prey.  In fact, other bird species like crows and parrots have shown greater cognitive abilities than the owl.  An owl’s anatomy also helps dispel the myth because most of the space on an owl’s head is occupied by their large eyes, leaving little room for a brain. 

This week’s Ag Law Harvest brings you EPA bans, Ohio case law, USDA announcements, and federal case law which could make your head spin almost as far as an owl’s.  

EPA banning use of chlorpyrifos on food crops.  The EPA announced that it will stop the use of the pesticide chlorpyrifos on all food to better protect producers and consumers.  In its final rule released on Wednesday, the EPA is revoking all “tolerances” for chlorpyrifos.  Additionally, the EPA will issue a Notice of Intent to Cancel under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) to cancel all registered food uses of chlorpyrifos.  Chlorpyrifos is an insecticide used for a variety of agricultural uses, including soybeans, fruit and nut trees, broccoli, cauliflower, and other row crops, in addition to non-food uses.  The EPA’s announcement comes in response to the Ninth Circuit’s order directing the EPA to issue a final rule in response to a petition filed by opponents to the use of chlorpyrifos.  The petition requested that the EPA revoke all chlorpyrifos tolerances because those tolerances were not safe, particularly because of the potential negative effects the insecticide has on children.  For more information about chlorpyrifos and the EPA’s final rule, visit the EPA’s website.

Trusts aren’t to be used as shields.  An Ohio appeals court recently reinforced the concept that under Ohio law, trusts are not be used as a way to shield a person’s assets from creditors.  Recently, a plaintiff filed a lawsuit against a bank alleging breach of contract and conversion, among other things.  Plaintiff, an attorney and real estate developer, claimed that the bank removed money from his personal account and a trust account in violation of Ohio law and the terms of the loan agreement between the parties.  Prior to the lawsuit, plaintiff established a revocable trust for estate planning purposes and to acquire and develop real estate. This dispute arose from a $200,000 loan from the bank to the plaintiff to help establish a restaurant.  A provision of the loan agreement, known as the “Right to Setoff” provision, allowed the bank to “setoff” or effectively garnish all accounts the plaintiff had with the bank.  The setoff provision explicitly prohibited any setoff from any IRA or trust accounts “for which setoff would be prohibited by law.”  Plaintiff made all monthly payments but failed to make the final balloon payment on the loan.  Plaintiff argued that the bank broke the loan contract and violated Ohio law by taking funds from the trust account to pay off the remaining balance of the loan.  The court disagreed.  The court noted that under Ohio law, a settlor’s property in a revocable trust is subject to the claims of the settlor’s creditors.  A settlor is a person who creates or contributes property to a trust.  In this case, plaintiff was the creator, settlor, and sole beneficiary of the revocable trust.  Because of that, the court concluded the bank did not violate Ohio law when using the trust account to setoff the balance of the loan.  Additionally, the court found that the bank did not violate the terms of the loan agreement because a setoff from the trust account was not prohibited by law.  The court noted that Ohio law did not intend to allow a settlor who is also a beneficiary of the trust to use a trust as a “shield” against creditors.  Although trusts can be a useful estate planning tool, there are limits to what a trust can do, as evidenced by this case. 

Renewable fuel supporters file appeal on E15 summer sales. Corn farmers have joined forces with the biofuel industry (“Petitioners”) to ask the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for a new hearing on a ruling that struck down the EPA’s 2019 decision to allow year-round E15 sales.  Earlier this year, the same D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that ruled the legislative text in the law supporting the biofuel mandate does not support the Trump administration’s regulatory waiver that allowed E15 to be sold during the summer months. In their petition, Petitioners argue that the D.C. Circuit Court made “significant legal errors.”  Petitioners contend that the court should rehear the case because the intent behind the nation’s biofuel mandate is better served by the sale of E15 through the summer months because it is less volatile, has less evaporative emissions, and is overall better for the environment than other fuel sources.  Petitioners also believe the court’s original decision deprives American drivers the choice of lower carbon emitting options at the gas pump.

Monsanto asks Supreme Court to review Ninth Circuit’s Roundup Decision.  In its petition to the Supreme Court of the United States Monsanto Company (“Monsanto”) asked the Supreme Court to review the $25 million decision rendered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  In that decision, the Ninth Circuit held that the Federal Insecticide Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”) did not preempt, or otherwise prevent, the plaintiff from raising California failure-to-warn claims on Roundup products and allowed plaintiff to introduce expert testimony that glyphosate causes cancer in humans.  In trial, the plaintiff argued that Monsanto violated California’s labeling requirements by not including a warning on the Roundup label that glyphosate, which is found in Roundup, causes cancer.  Monsanto argues that FIFRA expressly preempts any state law that imposes a different labeling or packaging requirement.  Under FIFRA, Monsanto argues that the EPA did not require Monsanto to include a cancer warning on its Roundup label.  Therefore, Monsanto maintains, that because California law differed from FIFRA, Monsanto was not required to follow California law when it came to labeling its Roundup product.  Secondly, the Ninth Circuit allowed plaintiff to present expert evidence that glyphosate could cause non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the general public and that glyphosate caused the plaintiff’s lymphoma.  Monsanto contends that the lower courts have distorted established precedent by allowing the expert testimony because the testimony is not based on generally accepted scientific principles and the scientific community has consistently found that glyphosate does not cause cancer in humans.    

USDA working to protect nation’s dairy industry.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) has struck a deal with the European Union (“EU”) to satisfy the EU’s new import requirements on U.S. dairy.  The EU will require new health certificates for U.S. dairy products exported to the EU to verify that the U.S. milk used for products exported to the EU is sourced from establishments regulated under the Grade “A” Pasteurized Milk Ordinance or the USDA AMS Milk for Manufacturing Purposes.  Officials representing the U.S. Dairy Export Council and International Dairy Foods Association claim that the deal will allow U.S. producers to comply with the EU’s mandates while also satisfying the concerns within the American dairy industry.  The deal pushes back the EU’s deadline for new health certificates to January 15, 2022, to allow U.S. producers and exporters enough time to bring their products into compliance.  The USDA also announcedthat it is providing around $350 million to compensate dairy producers who lost revenue because of market disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a change to the federal pricing formula under the 2018 farm bill.  Additional details are available at the AMS Dairy Program website.

Tale as old as time.  An Ohio appeals court recently decided a dispute between neighbors about a driveway easement.  The driveway in dispute is shared by both neighbors to access their detached garages. Defendants used the driveway to access their garage and then the driveway extends past the Defendants’ garage onto Plaintiff’s property and ends at Plaintiff’s garage.  The dispute arose after Defendants built a parking pad behind their garage and used parts of the driveway they never used before to access the parking pad.  The original easement to the driveway was granted by very broad and general language in a 1918 deed, when the property was divided into two separate parcels.  In 1997, a Perpetual Easement and Maintenance Agreement (“Agreement”) was entered into by the two previous property owners.  The Agreement was much more specific than the 1918 deed and specifically showed how far the easement ran and what portions of the driveway could be used by both parties.  The 1997 Agreement did not allow for Defendants to use the portion of the driveway necessary to access their parking pad.  Plaintiffs argue that the 1997 Agreement controls the extent of the easement, whereas Defendants argue that the broad general language in the 1918 deed grants them authority to use the whole length of the driveway.  The Court found the more specific 1997 Agreement to be controlling and ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs.   The Court reasoned that the 1918 deed creates an ambiguity as to the extent of the easement and there is no way of knowing what the original driveway looked like or how it was used.  The Court concluded that the 1997 Agreement does not contradict or invalidate the 1918 deed, rather the 1997 Agreement puts specific parameters on the existing easement and does not violate any Ohio law.  The Defendants were found liable for trespass onto the Plaintiffs’ property and is expected to pay $27,500 in damages.  The lesson to be learned from all of this?  Make sure your easements are as specific and detailed as possible to ensure that all parties are in compliance with the law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.    

Cicada on a fingertip by Joe Boggs
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, June 18th, 2021

Did you know that a housefly buzzes in the key of F?  Neither did I, but I think the musical stylings of the Cicada have stolen the show this summer. 

Aside from Mother Nature’s orchestra, federal agencies have also been abuzz as they continue to review the prior administration’s agencies’ rules and regulations.  This week’s Ag Law Harvest is heavily focused on federal agency announcements that may lead to rule changes that affect you, your farm or business, or your family.

USDA issues administrative complaint against Ohio company.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (“AMS”) issued an administrative complaint on May 4, 2021,  against Barnesville Livestock LLC (“Barnesville”) and an Ohio resident for allegedly violating the Packers and Stockyards Act (“P&S Act”).  An investigation conducted by the AMS revealed that the Ohio auction company failed to properly maintain its custodial account resulting in shortages of $49,059 on July 31, 2019, $123,571 on November 29, 2019, and $54,519 on December 31, 2019.  Companies like Barnesville are required to keep a custodial account under the P&S Act.  A custodial account is a trust account that is designed to keep shippers’ proceeds from the sale of livestock in a secure and centralized location until those proceeds can be distributed to the seller.  According to the AMS, Barnesville failed to deposit funds equal to the proceeds received from livestock sales into the custodial account. Additionally, Barnesville reported a $15,711 insolvency in its Annual Report submission to AMS.  Operating with custodial account shortages and while insolvent are both violations of the P&S Act.  The AMS alleges that Barnesville’s violations place livestock sellers at risk of not being paid fully or completely.  If Barnesville is proven to have violated the P&S Act in an oral hearing, it may be ordered to cease and desist from violating the P&S Act and assessed a civil penalty of up to $28,061 per violation.  

USDA to invest $1 billion as first investment of new “Build Back Better” initiative.  The USDA announced that it will be investing up to $1 billion to support and expand the emergency food network so food banks and local organizations can serve their communities.  Building on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA looks to enter into cooperative agreements with state, Tribal, and local entities to more efficiently purchase food from local producers and invest in infrastructure that enables organizations to more effectively reach underserved communities.  The USDA hopes to ensure that producers receive a fair share of the food dollar while also providing healthy food for food insecure Americans.  This investment is the first part of the USDA’s Build Back Better initiative which is focused on building a better food system.  Build Back Better initiative efforts will focus on improving access to nutritious foods, address racial injustice and inequity, climate change, and provide ongoing support for producers and workers.

Colorado passes law changing agricultural employment within the state.  On June 8, 2021, Colorado’s legislature passed Senate Bill 87, also known as the Farmworker Bill of Rights, which will change how agricultural employees are to be treated under Colorado law.  The bill removes the state’s exemption for agricultural labor from state and local minimum wage laws, requiring agricultural employers to pay the state’s $12.32/hour minimum wage to all employees.  Under the new law, agricultural employees are allowed to organize and join labor unions and must also be paid overtime wages for any time worked over 12 hours in a day or 40 hours in a week.  The bill also mandates certain working conditions including: (1) requiring Colorado’s department of labor to implement rules to prevent agricultural workers from heat-related stress, illness, and injury when the outside temperature reaches 80 degrees or higher; (2) limiting the use of a short-handled hoe for weeding and thinning in a stooped, kneeling, or squatting position; (3) requiring an agricultural employer give periodic bathroom, meal, and rest breaks; and (4) limiting requirements for hand weeding or thinning of vegetation.  Reportedly, Colorado’s Governor, Jared Polis, is eager to sign the bill into law. 

Wildlife agencies release plan to improve Endangered Species Act.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (“FWS”) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (“NMFS”) have released a plan to reverse Trump administration changes to the Endangered Species Act (“ESA”).  The agencies reviewed the ESA following President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, which directed all federal agencies to review any agency actions during the Trump administration that conflict with the Biden-Harris administration objectives.  The agencies look to reverse five ESA regulations finalized by the Trump administration which include the FWS’ process for considering exclusions from critical habitat designations, redefining the term “habitat,” reinstating prior regulations for listing species and designating critical habitats, and reinstating protections under the ESA to species listed as threatened.  Critics of the agencies’ plan claim that the current administration’s proposals would remove incentives for landowners to cooperate in helping wildlife.  

EPA announces intent to revise the definition of “waters of the United States.”  On June 9, 2021, the EPA and the Department of the Army (the “Agencies”) announced that they intend to change the definition of “waters of the United States” (“WOTUS”), in order to protect the nation’s water resources.  The Agencies’ also filed a motion in a Massachusetts federal court requesting that the court send the Trump administration’s Navigable Water Protection Rule (“NWPR”) back to the Agencies so they can initiate a new rulemaking process to change the definition of WOTUS.  In the motion, the Agencies explained that pursuant to President Biden’s Executive Order 13990, they have reviewed the necessary data and determined that the Trump administration’s rule has led to significant environmental harm.  The Agencies hope to restore the protections that were in place prior to the 2015 WOTUS rule.  According to the EPA, the Agencies’ new regulatory process will be guided by: (1) protecting water resources and communities consistent with the Clean Water Act; (2) the latest science and the effects of climate change on the nation’s waters; (3) practical implementation; and (4) the experience and input of the agricultural community, landowners, states, Tribes, local governments, environmental groups, and disadvantaged communities with environmental justice concerns.  The EPA is expected to release further details of the Agencies’ plans, including opportunity for public participation, in a forthcoming action.  To learn more about WOTUS, visit https://www.epa.gov/wotus.

Close up of beef cow.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, June 04th, 2021

As planting season draws to a close, new agricultural issues are sprouting up across the country.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you federal court cases, international commodity news, and new program benefits affecting the agriculture industry. 

Pork processing plants told to hold their horses.  The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) is not going to appeal a federal court’s ruling that requires the nation’s hog processing facilities to operate at slower line speeds.  On March 31, 2021, a federal judge in Minnesota vacated a portion of the USDA’s 2019 “New Swine Slaughter Inspection System” that eliminated evisceration line speed limits.  The court held that the USDA had violated the Administrative Procedure Act when it failed to take into consideration the impact the new rule would have on the health and safety of plant workers.  The court, however, only vacated the provisions of the new rule relating to line speeds, all other provisions of the rule were not affected.  Proponents of the new rule claim that the rule was well researched and was years in the making.  Further, proponents argue that worker safety was taken into consideration before adopting the rule and that the court’s decision will cost the pork industry millions.  The federal court stayed the order for 90 days to give the USDA and impacted plants time to adjust to the ruling.  All affected entities should prepare to revert to a maximum line speed of 1,106 head per hour starting June 30, 2021. 

Beef under (cyber)attack.  Over the Memorial Day weekend, JBS SA, the largest meat producer globally, was forced to shut down all of its U.S. beef plants which is responsible for nearly 25% of the American beef market.  JBS plants in Australia and Canada were also affected.  The reason for the shut down?  Over the weekend, JBS’ computer networks were infiltrated by unknown ransomware.  The USDA released a statement showing its commitment to working with JBS, the White House, Department of Homeland Security, and others to monitor the situation.  The ransomware attack comes on the heels of the Colonial Pipeline cyber-attack, leading many to wonder who is next.  As part of its effort, the USDA has been in touch with meat processors across the country to ensure they are aware of the situation and asking them to accommodate additional capacity, if possible.  The impact of the cyber-attack may include a supply chain shortage in the United States, a hike in beef prices at the grocery store, and a renewed push to regulate other U.S. industries to prevent future cyber-attacks. 

Texas has a new tool to help combat feral hogs.  Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, announced a new tool in their war against feral hogs within the state.  HogStop, a new hog contraceptive bait enters the market this week.  HogStop is being released in hopes of curbing the growth of the feral hog population.  According to recent reports, the feral hog population in Texas has grown to over 2.6 million.  It is estimated that the feral hogs in Texas have been responsible for $52 million in damage.  HogStop is an all-natural contraceptive bait that targets the male hog’s ability to reproduce.  HogStop is considered a 25(b) pesticide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (“FIFRA”), which allows Texas to use it without registering the product.  Commissioner Miller thinks HogStop is a more humane way to curb the feral hog population in Texas and hopes that it is the answer to controlling the impact that feral hogs have on farmers and ranchers.  More information about HogStop can be found at their website at www.hogstop.com

USDA announces premium benefit for cover crops.  Most farmers who have coverage under a crop insurance policy are eligible for a premium benefit from the USDA if they planted cover crops this spring.  The USDA’s Risk Management Agency (“RMA”) announced that producers who insured their spring crop and planted a qualifying cover crop during the 2021 crop year are eligible for a $5 per acre premium benefit.  However, farmers cannot receive more than the amount of their insurance premium owed.  Certain policies are not eligible for the benefit because those policies have underlying coverage that already receive the benefit or are not designed to be reported in a manner consistent with the Report of Acreage form (FSA-578).  All cover crops reportable to the Farm Service Agency (“FSA”) including, cereals and other grasses, legumes, brassicas and other non-legume broadleaves, and mixtures of two or more cover crop species planted at the same time, are eligible for the benefit.  To receive the benefit, farmers must file a Report of Acreage form (FSA-578) for cover crops with the FSA by June 15, 2021.  To file the form, farmers must contact and make an appointment with their local USDA Service Center.  More information can be found at https://www.farmers.gov/pandemic-assistance/cover-crops.

Federal court vacates prior administration’s small refinery exemptions.  The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order vacating the EPA’s January 2021 small refinery exemptions issued under the Trump administration and sent the case back to the EPA for further proceedings that are consistent with the Tenth Circuit’s holding in Renewable Fuels Association v. EPA.  The Tenth Circuit held that the EPA may only grant a small refinery exemption if “disproportionate economic hardship” is caused by complying with Renewable Fuel Standards. The EPA admitted that such economic hardship may not have existed with a few of the exemptions granted and asked the court to send the case back to them for further review.  The order granted by the Tenth Circuit acknowledged the agency’s concession and noted that the EPA’s motion to vacate was unopposed by the plaintiff refineries.  

Michigan dairy farm penalized for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System violations.  A federal district court in Michigan issued a decision affirming a consent decree between a Michigan dairy farm and the EPA.  According to the complaint, the dairy farm failed to comply with two National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (“NPDES”) permits issued under Section 402 of the Clean Water Act.  The violations include improper discharges, deficient maintenance and operation of waste storage facilities, failing to report discharges, failing to abide by its NPDES land application requirements, and incomplete recordkeeping.  The farm is required to pay a penalty of $33,750, assess and remedy its waste storage facilities, and implement proper land application and reporting procedures.  The farm also faces potential penalties for failing to implement any remedial measures in a timely fashion.  

By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, May 21st, 2021

It’s that time of year again.  A time full of excitement and hope.  Kids and students are eagerly waiting for that final bell to ring, releasing them into weeks of freedom and fun.  Some are celebrating with their closest loved ones as they prepare to embark on their next journey.  And lastly, some parents have circled a certain fall date for when things return back to normal.  It is finally nice to see hope, joy, and excitement return to our lives.  These past 18 months have been a real wake-up call, and by no means is it over, but the light can be seen at the end of the tunnel.  This past week has also been abuzz with interesting agricultural and resource issues.  This edition of the Ag Law Harvest brings you some interesting lawsuits, reports, and initiatives from across the country affecting agriculture and the environment. 

USDA expands aquaculture disaster assistance.  The USDA has announced a policy change that makes food fish and other aquatic species eligible for the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP).  Previously, only losses of farm-raised game and bait fish were eligible under ELAP.  Under the program, eligible producers can receive financial assistance for losses due to disease and certain severe weather events.  To be eligible, losses must have occurred on or after January 1, 2021.  The Farm Service Agency (FSA) is waiving the requirement to file a notice of loss within 30 calendar days for farm-raised fish and other aquatic species death losses that occurred prior to June 1, 2021.  Producers must still provide records to document any eligible losses.  The deadline to file an application for payment for the 2021 program year is January 31, 2022.  The USDA also announced that it will purchase up to $159.4 million in domestically produced seafood, fruits, legumes, and nuts for distribution to domestic food assistance programs in order to address disruptions in the food production and supply chains resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Oregon ballot initiative seeks to redefine animal cruelty.  Supporters of Oregon Initiative Petition 13 (“IP13”) have succeeded in meeting their first requirement to putting their proposed law on the 2022 Oregon ballot.  IP13 seeks to amend the definition of what constitutes animal cruelty and who can be punished.  Oregon, like many other states, does have an animal cruelty law that prohibits individuals from unnecessarily harming animals.  Additionally, Oregon’s current law specifically exempts certain practices from being assumed to be animal abuse (activities like farming, breeding livestock, hunting, fishing, wildlife management practices, rodeos, slaughter, and scientific or agricultural research).  However, IP13 seeks to remove all the above listed exemptions and would make it a crime to engage in those types of activities.  IP13 only exempts individuals that harm an animal because the animal posed an immediate risk of danger and veterinarians.  Supporters of IP13 claim that no one should be above the law and should be held accountable for any and all animal abuse and neglect.  Opponents of IP13 fear that if the initiative passes and becomes law, Oregon’s animal agriculture industry will be destroyed.  Opponents argue that IP13 makes common farming practices like breeding and slaughtering livestock for food, illegal.  If supporters of IP13 continue to collect signatures and meet the required thresholds, IP13 will be voted on by the citizens of Oregon in 2022. 

Indiana passes law to purchase locally grown food from youth agricultural education programs.  Indiana’s governor signed a bill into law that allows schools to purchase up to $7,500 worth of food from youth agricultural education programs.  The bill, sponsored by State Rep. Steve Davisson, was born after local Indiana FFA students were raising hogs and growing hydroponic lettuce to sell to their school cafeteria but hit a roadblock because of state laws and requirements.  House Bill 1119 provides an avenue for local youth agricultural programs to sell to their respective school districts and not compete against wholesale distributors.  Rep. Davisson hopes the program will expand into other Indiana schools to give students practical agricultural experience and potentially launch students into a career in agriculture.  

Federal lawsuit about USDA’s RFID tags for cattle dismissed.  Last month we reported that farmers and ranchers from South Dakota and Wyoming filed a lawsuit against the USDA and its subagency, the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”), for improperly using advisory committees to create new rules in violation of federal law.  Well, last week a Wyoming federal court dismissed the complaint against the USDA and APHIS.  The court concluded that APHIS did not “establish” the Cattle Traceability Working Group (“CTWG”) or the Producer Traceability Council (“PTC”) as advisory councils to create the RFID tag rules.  The court also found that the advisory groups were completely private and consisted of cattle industry representatives, showing that APHIS did not “establish” these advisory groups.  Additionally, the court held that APHIS did not “utilize” or control the actions of the advisory groups.  The court reasoned that the advisory groups and APHIS were working on parallel tracks to achieve the same goal, preventing and tracing animal disease for livestock moving across state lines, and that APHIS only provided input to the advisory groups.  The court held that the USDA and APHIS were not in violation of federal law because the advisory groups were not subject to the Federal Advisory Committee Act.  As it stands, the USDA and APHIS have rescinded their July 2020 notice that RFID tags would be required for cattle crossing state lines. However, attorneys and interest groups representing the farmers and ranchers in the Wyoming case still fear that APHIS and the USDA will use the information provided by these advisory groups to implement an “unlawful mandate” in the future.  

South Dakota farmer suing the USDA over a mud puddle?  On May 05, 2021, Arlen and Cindy Foster filed a federal lawsuit in South Dakota claiming that the USDA has improperly identified a mud puddle in the middle of their farm field as a federally protected wetland and that the Swampbuster Act violates the U.S. Constitution.  Under the Swampbuster Act, farmers that receive USDA benefits cannot produce crops on or around a federally protected wetland or they risk losing all federal agriculture benefits.  The Fosters contend that Arlen’s father planted a tree belt in 1936 to help prevent soil erosion which is now causing snow to accumulate under the tree belt producing a puddle in the field when the snow melts.  The Fosters argue that this makes the puddle in their field an unregulated “artificial wetland” and is not subject to the Swampbuster Act or the USDA’s control.  Additionally, the Fosters claim that the Swampbuster Act violates the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, and that the federal government cannot regulate the Fosters’ alleged wetland.  The Fosters reason that if their puddle should be considered a wetland, any regulation of that wetland should come from the state of South Dakota, not the federal government.   

Hawai’i man fined over $600,000 for pouring poison into Paahe’ehe’e Stream.  Hawai’i’s Board of Land and Natural Resources (“BLNR”) fined a Hilo resident $633,840 for pouring poison into a North Hilo stream and causing the death of an estimated 6,250 Tahitian prawns.  North Hilo has a history of individuals using poison to harvest Tahitian prawn.  DLNR, in conjunction with other natural resource protection entities, are continuously concerned with the impact that the poison will have on the local wildlife and environment.  The $633,840 fine is the largest in BLNR history and advocates hope that it is a step in the right direction to let illegal fishers know that Hawai’i is committed to prosecuting individuals that engage in harmful environmental practices to the full extent of the law in order to protect Hawai’i’s natural resources. 

Montana man sentenced to prison for cattle theft.  A ranch manager has been sentenced to 30 months in prison and ordered to pay back $451,000 after pleading guilty to wire fraud and to selling cattle that he did not own.  The Montana man was a ranch manager at Hayes Ranch in Wilsall, Montana from 2008 to 2017 and also started his own cattle company in 2015.  When the owners of Hayes Ranch were out of town, the ranch manager began stealing cattle from his employer and selling them as if they were his own.  The ranch manager was ordered to repay his former employer $241,000 for the stolen cattle.  Additionally, the ranch manager was ordered to pay Northwest Farm Credit Services over $200,000 for selling cattle that he pledged as collateral for loans obtained from the lender.  

The return of the U.S. Jaguar?  Environmental groups and scientists recently published a paper urging U.S. wildlife managers to consider reintroducing jaguars to the American Southwest.  Advocates argue that reintroducing jaguars to the region is essential to species conservation and restoration of the ecosystem.  In July 2018, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a jaguar recovery plan as required by the Endangered Species Act of 1973.  While the recovery plan does not call for the reintroduction of jaguars into the Southwest region of the U.S., federal officials have been increasingly focused on sustaining habitat, eliminating poaching, and improving public acceptance for jaguars that naturally make their way across the U.S.-Mexico border.  The southwest region of the U.S. makes up 1% of the jaguar’s historic range but is suitable for sustaining the big cat.  Jaguar sightings have been reported in the area, although very rarely.  Jaguar advocates hope that potential opposition to the reintroduction of jaguars, specifically from ranchers and rural residents, can be eased by implementing compensation programs focused on things like increased livestock deaths. 

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