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Farm Science Review is upon us, and we’re hoping that the low-80s forecast holds true. In addition to checking the weather report, we’ve been monitoring the news for developments in the agricultural law world, and quizzing each other on agricultural law topics so that we’re ready to answer your questions. While we hope you come see our presentations (speaking schedule available HERE), we won’t make you wait until you see us at the Molly Caren Agricultural Center in London to learn what we’ve found in the news.
Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:
Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019 signed into law. We’ve talked about this bill on the ag law blog, and now it’s official. With the President’s signature, the debt limit for family farmers seeking to reorganize under Chapter 12 bankruptcy increases to $10 million from an adjusted $4.4 million.
No vote on community rights in Williams County, yet. A proposed county charter for Williams County, Ohio containing language similar to the Lake Erie Bill of Rights may not make it on the November ballot. The Ohio Supreme Court recently refused to compel the Williams County Board of Elections (BOE) to include the charter on the ballot for procedural reasons.
The charter would have declared that the people of Williams County have the right to a healthy environment and sustainable community, and that the Michindoh Aquifer and its ecosystem have the right to exist, flourish, evolve, regenerate. Further, the aquifer would have the right of restoration, recovery, and preservation, including the right to be free from interferences such as the extraction, sale, lease, transportation, or distribution of water outside of the aquifer’s boundary.
Even though the petition to put the charter on the ballot had enough signatures, the BOE believed that the language of the charter violated Ohio law, and therefore exercised its power to reject the petition and keep it off the ballot. The petitioners appealed the BOE’s decision to the Williams County Court of Common Pleas, and that court agreed with the BOE. Instead of going to the Court of Appeals, the petitioners tried to go directly the Ohio Supreme Court because the BOE will soon print the November ballots. The Ohio Supreme Court said the petitioners should have gone to the Court of Appeals first, and that it will not decide on whether the BOE has to include the charter on the ballot until the petitioners do so.
This doesn’t mean the end for the proposed charter, but rather that more court time is in the proposed charter’s future. To read the Ohio Supreme Court’s opinion, click HERE. To read the text of the proposed charter, click HERE.
Hemp, hemp, and more hemp. Legal and policy updates on hemp continue to trickle down from state and federal officials. Since our last blog post, when we released our latest law bulletin on the legal status of hemp in Ohio, there have been a couple additional developments.
One of the latest updates we’ve heard from USDA is that industrial hemp growers in states with a USDA-approved hemp production plan may apply for crop insurance to cover hemp grown for fiber, flower, or seeds starting next year. Ohio is in the process of putting together a hemp program to send to the USDA for approval. Ohio farmers still cannot legally grow hemp until the Ohio Department of Agriculture creates a hemp program and the USDA approves that program, but we are expecting rules to be released from those agencies in the coming weeks. For more about the crop insurance update, read the Risk Management Agency’s press release HERE.
Closer to home, we’ve heard that the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) has requested $3.3 million from the Ohio Controlling Board for staffing along with IT equipment and support. Further, ODA has made statements predicting that it expects to have its rule hemp program rule package ready by the end of the year.
Federal court orders U.S. EPA to reconsider Renewable Fuel Standards waivers and their impact on endangered species. The U.S. EPA is responsible for creating fuel standards that incorporate and blend renewable sources of energy under the Clean Air Act. These standards tell refineries how much of their fuel blend must come from renewable sources of energy; however, the U.S. EPA also has the authority to grant waivers to companies that would have difficulty meeting the standard. The court noted that some industry groups felt that the 2018 rules were too strict, while others argued that they were too lax. The court ended up dismissing all but one of the claims against the U.S. EPA, saying that Congress gave it discretion in developing the standards. However, the court sent the rule back to the U.S. EPA due to an argument by environmental groups that the federal agency failed to conduct a thorough review of the risk to endangered animals, plants, and habitats under the Endangered Species Act. Many farm groups have criticized the Trump administration’s granting of waivers for causing a reduction in demand for their products from energy companies, but it appears that they will have to make their arguments to the administration rather than to the courts. To read the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, click HERE.
Written by Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall
What’s old is new again. To what was likely a mixed chorus of cheers and groans heard around the nation, the U.S. EPA and Army Corps of Engineers today announced the repeal of the 2015 Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The action is “Step 1” in the Trump administration’s two-step plan to repeal and replace the WOTUS rule, which establishes the jurisdictional authority of the EPA and Army Corps over waters and waterways. It came in the form of a final rule that not only repeals the 2015 WOTUS rule set in place by the Obama Administration, but also reverts the entire country back to the old regulatory definitions of “waters of the United States” that were developed in 1986 and 1988 rulemakings and further interpreted by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Those definitions of WOTUS created a lot of confusion and litigation over the actual meaning of WOTUS, which the 2015 WOTUS rule aimed to clear up. Today’s “Step 1” takes us back to the older, earlier definition of WOTUS.
Wait—there’s a Step 2?
Back in February, we wrote a blog post when the Trump administration began what is now “Step 2,” proposing a new definition of WOTUS. If that rule becomes final, it will replace the pre-2015 WOTUS definitions put in place by today’s announcement. So, Step 1 involves reverting back to the old WOTUS definition until Step 2, implementing a new definition, is finalized.
The Trump administration’s proposed WOTUS rule scales back the reach of the 2015 WOTUS rule, which many claimed exceeded the agencies’ regulatory authority over waterways and waterbodies in the U.S. Under the currently proposed rule, tributaries that are “ephemeral”—meaning those that are not around for a great deal of time or created by temporary conditions like rainfall or snowmelt—would not be considered as WOTUS. In both the 2015 and pre-2015 WOTUS definitions, at least some ephemeral streams fell under federal regulation. The currently proposed rule also clarifies waters that are not WOTUS by including a list of such waters. The Trump administration states that its proposed rule would encompass fewer ditches, lakes, ponds, and adjacent wetlands than both the 2015 and pre-2015 versions of WOTUS.
So what’s WOTUS now, exactly?
Until the tide turns again, the definition of WOTUS set in place by today’s announcement is the pre-2015 rule, which is as follows:
- All waters which are currently used, or were used in the past, or may be susceptible to use in interstate or foreign commerce, including all waters which are subject to the ebb and flow of the tide;
- All interstate waters including interstate wetlands;
- All other waters such as intrastate lakes, rivers, streams (including intermittent streams), mudflats, sandflats, wetlands, sloughs, prairie potholes, wet meadows, playa lakes, or natural ponds, the use, degradation or destruction of which could affect interstate or foreign commerce including any such waters: (i) which are or could be used by interstate or foreign travelers for recreational or other purposes; or (ii) from which fish or shellfish are or could be taken and sold in interstate or foreign commerce; or (iii) which are used or could be used for industrial purposes by industries in interstate commerce;
- All impoundments of waters otherwise defined as waters of the United States under this definition;
- Tributaries of waters identified above;
- The territorial seas;
- Wetlands adjacent to waters (other than waters that are themselves wetlands) identified above;
The current WOTUS does not include prior converted cropland or certain waste treatment systems. Importantly, it also contains definitions for the terms wetlands, adjacent, high water, ordinary high water mark and tidal waters—many of these definitions have been the source of the litigation and confusion that led to the 2015 rule.
Somehow it’s mid-September already, and that can only mean one thing: it’s time for Farm Science Review! We’re excited to get back out to the Molly Caren Agricultural Center to talk with farmers about our latest publications and answer their questions.
Check out the schedule above for the talks we will be giving on solar leasing, hemp law, and food regulations. If you can’t make one of the presentations, or want to learn more about other topics on agricultural law, visit us at our booth in the Firebaugh Building, which is located at 384 Friday Avenue.
We will have free copies of our most popular law bulletins available, including:
- Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Trespassers on the Farm
- Ohio’s Line Fence Law: Frequently Asked Questions
- Creating an Enforceable Farmland Lease
- A Checklist of Farmland Lease Provisions
- Ohio’s Recreational User Statute: Limiting Liability for Hunters, Snowmobilers, and More
- Ohio’s Noxious Weed Laws
- And many more!
We will also be bringing along some of our new law bulletins, including:
- Legal or Not? Growing Industrial Hemp in Ohio
- The Farmland Owner’s Solar Leasing Checklist
- Laws that Provide Defenses for Agricultural Production Activities
- Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know
For more information about Farm Science Review, including directions, tickets, and a list of events and exhibitors, visit http://fsr.osu.edu. We’ll see you there!
These days, industrial hemp never seems to leave the news. Just this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined to decide a case involving the interstate shipment of hemp between Oregon and Colorado by way of Idaho. Hemp is illegal in Idaho, where the product was seized and the driver was arrested, even though the 2018 Farm Bill allows for the interstate transportation of hemp. The Ninth Circuit, reviewing the case, determined that the state court actions needed to be decided before federal courts could hear the case. As you may be aware, Ohio also made news this summer when the state passed a bill legalizing hemp in the state.
All of these developments involving industrial hemp may leave you with many questions. What is hemp? What did the 2018 Farm Bill do? What does Ohio’s new law do? Most importantly, can I grow and process hemp right now? To help farmers and others interested in the status of the hemp industry, we have recently added a law bulletin entitled “Legal or Not? Growing Industrial Hemp in Ohio” to our Ag Law Library. There, we sort out the above questions and more. We also discuss the anticipated development of federal and state hemp regulations. The bulletin is available for you to read here.
Whether we’re ready or not, Labor Day traditionally marks a transition from summer to fall. Pumpkin flavored everything will soon be available at a coffee shop and restaurant near you, and Ohio’s agritourism farms will surely be busy.
Whether you are just getting your agritourism farm up and running, or a seasoned agritourism veteran, it never hurts to take a moment to think about your liability risks. The OSU Extension Agricultural & Resource Law Program has developed a number of resources, available on our publications webpage, that can help you think about ways to minimize the legal risks to you and your farm. These resources include:
- Ohio’s Agritourism Law – Ohio law grants liability protection for personal injuries suffered while participating in an agritourism activity. It also provides for special taxation and zoning of lands where agritourism activities occur. This law bulletin explains what your farm needs to do to be covered by the immunity, and how much protection it provides. Click HERE to read the law bulletin.
- Farm Animals and People: Liability Issues for Agritourism – Farm animals can be a valuable attraction for an agritourism operation, but having people and animals interact on the farm creates liability risks. This factsheet explains a range of animal liability risks and provides a checklist to think about what you can do to reduce the risk of injury to your visitors, as well as reduce the risk of a lawsuit. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism and Insurance – Even with immunity laws in place, a farmer must carefully consider the farm’s insurance needs and ensure that it has adequate coverage. This factsheet explains agritourism insurance, why it may be needed, and more. It also provides a checklist that may help an agritourism farmer make sure that certain important insurance questions are addressed before an accident occurs. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism Immunity Laws in the United States – Many states, including Ohio, have taken steps to encourage agritourism by providing agritourism farms with some degree of immunity to liability. We explain Ohio’s law more in depth in our law bulletin titled “Ohio’s Agritourism Law,” but this factsheet compares approaches taken in other states and provides a checklist that helps an agritourism farm think about how much protection it has under these laws. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Agritourism Activities and Zoning – Zoning is a force to be reckoned with in many states, but many states, including Ohio, have taken steps to encourage agritourism through zoning regulations. This factsheet explains how zoning and agritourism interact across the country, including an explanation of Ohio’s current approach. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know – Many Ohio agritourism farms provide employment to youth, who are able to learn about agriculture, business, and customer service through working at the farm. Those hiring youth under the age of 18 want to make sure that they are following federal and Ohio labor laws. Our latest law bulletin explains the youth labor laws that are unique to agriculture. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
Food sales present some special issues that you will want to think about if you wish to sell food at your farm. Depending upon the foods you sell, you may have to obtain a retail food establishment license for food safety purposes. The following resources can help you think through the steps you must take to sell food at your agritourism farm:
- Food Sales at Agritourism Operations: Legal Issues – Whether you sell fresh produce, cottage foods or baked goods, or prepare and serve food on-site, there are legal risks and requirements that may come into play. This factsheet explains some of the legal issues you should consider before selling food at your farm, and provides a checklist of things to consider before you begin selling food. Click HERE to read the factsheet.
- Selling Foods at the Farm: When Do You Need a License? – This Ohio-specific factsheet explores farmers, including those operating an agritourism farm, need to register or obtain a license in order to sell food at the farm. Click HERE to read the law bulletin.
Beyond our website, many of our peers at OSU Extension have developed a number of helpful resources for agritourism farms. OSU Extension’s Agritourism Ready webpage, which you can access at u.osu.edu/agritourismready/, is designed to be a one stop shop for preparing an emergency management plan. You can also read factsheets on Ohioline related to agritourism ranging from “Creating Signage for Direct Food and Agricultural Sales” to “Grants and Low-Interest Loans for Ohio Small Farms,” and “Maps, Apps and Mobile Media Marketing” to “Selling Eggs in Ohio: Marketing and Regulations.”
As new legal issues arise, we will continue to create resources that help farmers understand and mitigate their risk. In the meantime, we wish everyone a fun and safe fall at Ohio’s agritourism farms.