Posts By Date
In case you didn’t notice, we are deep into election season. Discussion of Supreme Court vacancies, presidential debates, and local races abound. Even with all the focus on the election, the rest of the world hasn’t stopped. The same is true for ag law. This edition of the Harvest includes discussion of ag-related bills moving through the Ohio General Assembly, federal lawsuits involving herbicides and checkoff programs, and some wiggle room for organic producers who have had a hard time getting certified with all the pandemic-related backups and shutdowns.
Changes to Ohio Drainage Law considered in Senate—The Ohio Senate’s Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee continues to hold hearings on HB 340, a bill that would revise drainage laws. The bill was passed in the house on June 9, 2020. The 157 page bill would amend the current drainage law by making changes to the process for proposing, approving, and implementing new drainage improvements, whether the petition is filed with the board of the Soil and Water Conservation District, the board of county commissioners, or with multiple counties to construct a joint county drainage improvement. The bill would further apply the single county maintenance procedures and procedures for calculating assessments for maintenance to multi-county ditches and soil and water conservation districts. You can find the current language of the bill, along with a helpful analysis of the bill, here.
Purple paint to warn trespassers? Elsewhere in the state Senate, SB 290 seems to be moving again after a lengthy stall, as it was recently on the agenda for a meeting of the Local Government, Public Safety & Veterans Affairs Committee. If passed, SB 290 would allow landowners to use purple paint marks to warn intruders that they are trespassing. The purple paint marks can be placed on trees or posts on the around the property. Each paint mark would have to measure at least three feet, and be located between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post. Furthermore, each paint mark must be “readily visible,” and the space between two marks cannot be more than 25 yards. You can see the text, along with other information about the bill here.
Environmental groups look to “Enlist” more judges to reevaluate decision. In July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided it would not overturn the EPA registration for the herbicide Enlist Duo, which is meant to kill weeds in corn, soybean, and cotton fields, and is made up of 2,4-D choline salt and glyphosate. Although the court upheld registration of the herbicide, it remanded the case so that EPA could consider how Enlist affects monarch butterflies. The court found that EPA failed to do this even though it was required under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA). On September 15, 2020, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other groups involved in the lawsuit filed a petition to rehear the case “en banc,” meaning that the case would be heard by a group of nine judges instead of just three. If accepted, the rehearing would involve claims that the EPA did not follow the Endangered Species Act when it made the decision to register Enlist Duo.
R-CALF USA has a “beef” with federal checkoff program. Earlier this month, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) sued the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. R-CALF USA has filed a number of lawsuits involving the Beef Checkoff program over the years, including several that are on-going. Their argument, at its most basic, is that the Beef Checkoff violates the Constitution because ranchers and farmers have to “subsidize the private speech of private state beef councils through the national beef checkoff program.” In this new complaint, R-CALF USA alleges that when USDA entered into MOUs (memorandums of understanding) with private state checkoff programs in order to run the federal program, its actions did not follow the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). R-CALF USA argues that entering into the MOUs was rulemaking under the APA. Rulemaking requires agencies to give notice to the public and allow the public to comment on the rule or amendment to the rule. Since USDA did not follow the notice and commenting procedures when entering into the MOUs, R-CALF USA contends that the MOUs violate the APA. R-CALF USA further argues that did not consider all the facts before it decided to enter into the MOUs, and therefore, the agency’s decision was arbitrary and capricious under the APA. You can read R-CALF USA’s press release here, and the complaint here.
Flexibility for organics during COVID-19. Back in May, due to COVID uncertainty and state shutdowns, the Risk Management Service (RMS) stated that approved insurance providers “may allow organic producers to report acreage as certified organic, or transitioning to organic, for the 2020 crop year if they can show they have requested a written certification from a certifying agent by their policy’s acreage reporting date.” RMS’s original news release can be found here. In August, RMS extended that language. The extension will provide certification flexibility for insurance providers, producers, and the government in the 2021 and 2022 crop years. Other program flexibilities may apply to both organic and conventional producers. Information on those can be found here.
It took five months of negotiation, but the Ohio General Assembly has enacted a controversial bill that grants immunity from civil liability for coronavirus injuries, deaths, or losses. Governor DeWine signed House Bill 606 on September 14, stating that it strikes a balance between reopening the economy and keeping Ohioans safe. The bill will be effective in 90 days.
The bill’s statement of findings and declaration of intent illustrate why it faced disagreement within the General Assembly. After stating its findings that business owners are unsure of the tort liability they may face when reopening after COVID-19, that businesses need certainty because recommendations on how to avoid COVID-19 change frequently, that individuals who decide to go out in public places should bear responsibility for taking steps to avoid exposure to COVID-19, that nothing in existing Ohio law established duties on business and premise owners to prevent exposure to airborne germs and viruses, and that the legislature has not delegated authority to Ohio’s Executive Branch to create new legal duties for business and premises owners, the General Assembly made a clear declaration of intent in the bill: “Orders and recommendations from the Executive Branch, from counties and local municipalities, from boards of health and other agencies, and from any federal government agency do not create any new legal duties for purposes of tort liability” and “are presumed to be irrelevant to the issue of the existence of a duty or breach of a duty….and inadmissible at trial to establish proof of a duty or breach of a duty in tort actions.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Diane Grendell (R-Chesterland), refers to it as the “Good Samaritan Expansion Bill.” That name relates to one of the two types of immunity in the bill, a temporary qualified immunity for coronavirus-based claims against health care providers. In its original version of H.B. 606, the House of Representatives included only the health care immunity provisions. Of interest to farms and other businesses are the bill’s general immunity provisions, however, added to the final legislation by the Senate.
General immunity from coronavirus claims
The new law will prohibit a person from bringing a civil action that seeks damages for injury, death or loss to a person or property allegedly caused by exposure to or transmission of coronavirus, with one exception. The civil immunity does not apply if the exposure to or transmission of coronavirus resulted from a defendant’s “reckless conduct,” “intentional misconduct,” or “willful or wanton misconduct.” “Reckless conduct” means disregarding a substantial and unjustifiable risk that conduct or circumstances are likely to cause exposure to or transmission of coronavirus and having “heedless indifference” to the consequences.
Government guidelines don’t create legal duties
Consistent with the bill’s stated intent, the new law clarifies that a claimant cannot assert liability based on a failure to follow government guidelines for coronavirus. The law states that any government order, recommendation or guideline for coronavirus does not create a duty of care that can be enforced through a civil cause of action. A person may not admit such orders and guidelines as evidence of a legal right, duty of care or new legal cause of action.
No class actions
Another provision in the new law also prohibits a class action that alleges liability for coronavirus exposure or transmission if the law’s general immunity provisions do not apply.
Time period covered
The general immunity provisions apply only to a specified period of time: from March 9, 2020, when the Governor declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19, until September 30, 2021.
Workers compensation not addressed
An earlier version of the bill passed by the House of Representatives would have classified coronavirus as an “occupational disease” and would have allowed food workers, first responders and corrections officers to receive workers’ compensation benefits for the disease. However, the Senate removed the workers’ compensation provisions from the final bill based on its belief that the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation is already covering 85% of such claims.
What does H.B. 606 mean for agricultural businesses?
The new law provides certainty that agricultural businesses won’t be assailed by lawsuits seeking damages for COVID-19. A person claiming harm from exposure to COVID-19 at an agricultural business will only be successful upon a showing that the business acted recklessly and with intentional disregard or indifference to the possibility of COVID-19. That’s a high evidentiary standard and burden of proof for a claimant.
As is often the case when an immunity bill is enacted, however, there are several reasons why businesses should not let down their guards because of the new law. Note that while the law rejects government guidelines and orders about COVID-19 as a basis for placing legal duties upon businesses, following such guidelines and recommendations can counter an allegation of reckless or indifferent behavior about COVID-19 exposure or transmission. And there can be consequences from COVID-19 other than litigation, such as impacts on customer and employee health and safety, workers’ compensation claims, and negative publicity from an alleged COVID-19 outbreak. Continuing to take reasonable actions to manage COVID-19 and documenting actions taken can enhance the certainty offered by Ohio’s new COVID-19 immunity law.
Read H.B. 606 here.
Written by Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management, OSU Extension
Ohio cropland varies significantly in its production capabilities and, consequently, cropland values and cash rents vary widely throughout the state. Generally speaking, western Ohio cropland values and cash rents differ from much of eastern Ohio and parts of southern Ohio cropland values and cash rents. The primary factors affecting these values and rates are land productivity and potential crop return, and the variability of those crop returns. Soils and drainage capabilities are the two factors that heavily influence land productivity, crop return and variability of those crop returns.
Other factors impacting land values and cash rents may include buildings and grain storage, field size and shape, field accessibility, market access, local market prices, field perimeter characteristics and potential for wildlife damage, previous tillage system and crops, tolerant/resistant weed populations, population density, USDA Program Yields, and competition for the cropland in a region. Ultimately, supply and demand of cropland will determine the value or rental rate for each parcel.
The Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents study was conducted from February through April in 2020. The opinion-based study surveyed professionals with a knowledge of Ohio’s cropland values and rental rates. Professionals surveyed were rural appraisers, agricultural lenders, professional farm managers, ag business professionals, OSU Extension educators, farmers, landowners, and Farm Service Agency personnel.
The study results are based on 167 surveys. Respondents were asked to group their estimates based on three land quality classes: average, top, and poor. Within each land-quality class, respondents were asked to estimate average corn and soybean yields for a five-year period based on typical farming practices. Survey respondents were also asked to estimate current bare cropland values and cash rents negotiated in the current or recent year for each land-quality class.
According to the Western Ohio Cropland Values and Cash Rents Survey, cropland values in western Ohio are expected to decline slightly in 2020 by 1.5 to 2.6 percent depending on the region and land class. Cash rents are expected to be flat to slightly lower decreasing from 0.7 to 2.0 percent depending on the region and land class.
For the complete survey research summary go to the OSU Extension Farm Office website at:
Despite the fact that “pumpkin spice” everything is back in stores, it is still summer, and if you’re anything like me, you’re still dealing with weeds. In fact, we have been receiving many questions about noxious weeds lately. This blog post is meant to be a refresher about what you should do if noxious weeds sprout up on your property.
What are noxious weeds?
The Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) is in charge of designating “prohibited noxious weeds.” The list may change from time to time, but currently, noxious weeds include:
- Shatter cane (Sorghum bicolor)
- Russian thistle (Salsola Kali var. tenuifolia).
- Johnsongrass (Sorghum halepense ).
- Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).
- Grapevines (Vitis spp.), when growing in groups of one hundred or more and not pruned, sprayed, cultivated, or otherwise maintained for two consecutive years.
- Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense ).
- Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum).
- Cressleaf groundsel (Senecio glabellus).
- Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
- Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).
- Mile-A-Minute Weed (Polygonum perfoliatum).
- Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).
- Apple of Peru (Nicandra physalodes).
- Marestail (Conyza canadensis)
- Kochia (Bassia scoparia).
- Palmer amaranth (Amaranthus palmeri).
- Kudzu (Pueraria montana var. lobata).
- Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
- Yellow Groove Bamboo (Phyllostachys aureasculata), when the plant has spread from its original premise of planting and is not being maintained.
- Field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis).
- Heart-podded hoary cress (Lepidium draba sub. draba).
- Hairy whitetop or ballcress Lepidium appelianum).
- Perennial sowthistle (Sonchus arvensis).
- Russian knapweed (Acroptilon repens).
- Leafy spurge (Euphorbia esula).
- Hedge bindweed (Calystegia sepium).
- Serrated tussock (Nassella trichotoma).
- Columbus grass (Sorghum x almum).
- Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).
- Forage Kochia (Bassia prostrata).
- Water Hemp (Amaranthus tuberculatus).
The list of noxious weeds can be found in the Ohio Administrative Code section 901:5-37-01. In addition to this list, Ohio State has a guidebook that will help you identify noxious weeds in Ohio, which is available here. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the weeds in the book, so you can be on the lookout for noxious weeds on your property.
When am I responsible for noxious weeds?
The Ohio Revised Code addresses noxious weeds in different parts of the code. When it comes to noxious weeds on the property of private individuals, there are two scenarios that may apply: noxious weeds on private property, and noxious weeds in line fence rows.
Noxious weeds on your property
If your property is located outside of a municipality, a neighbor or another member of the public can inform the township trustees in writing that there are noxious weeds on your property. If this happens, the township trustees must then turn around and notify you about the existence of noxious weeds. After receiving a letter from the trustees, you must either destroy the weeds or show the township trustees why there is no need for doing so. If you do not take one of these actions within five days of the trustees’ notice, the township trustees must cause the weeds to be cut or destroyed, and the county auditor will assess the costs for destroying the weeds against your real property taxes. If your land is in a municipality, similar laws apply, but you would be dealing with the legislative authority, like the city council, instead of township trustees.
What if you rent out your land out to be farmed or otherwise? Are you responsible for noxious weeds on your property in that situation? The answer is probably. The law states that the board of township trustees “shall notify the owner, lessee, agent, or tenant having charge of the land” that they have received information about noxious weeds on the property (emphasis added). Furthermore, the law says that the “person notified” shall cut or destroy the weeds (or have them cut or destroyed). In all likelihood, if you own the land, you are going to be the person who is notified by the trustees about the presence of weeds. If you rent out your property to be farmed or otherwise, you may want to include who is responsible for noxious weeds in the language of the lease.
Noxious weeds in the fence row
The “line fence law” or “partition fence law” in Ohio requires landowners in unincorporated areas to cut all noxious weeds, brush, briers and thistles within four feet and in the corners of a line fence. A line fence (or partition fence) is a fence that is on the boundary line between two properties. If you fail to keep your side of the fence row clear of noxious weeds and other vegetation, Ohio law provides a route for adjacent landowners concerned about the weeds. First, an adjacent landowner must request that you clear the fence row of weeds and must allow you ten days to do so. If the weeds still remain after ten days, the complaining landowner may notify the township trustees of the situation. Then, the township trustees must view the property and determine whether there is sufficient reason to remove weeds and vegetation from the fence row. If they determine that the weeds should be removed, the township trustees may hire someone to clear the fence row. Once again, if this occurs, the county auditor will assess the costs of destruction on your property taxes.
Being aware of noxious weeds is key.
As a landowner, it is really important for you to keep an eye out for noxious weeds on your property. If you keep on top of the weeds, cutting them or otherwise destroying them as they grow, it will certainly make your life a lot easier. You will avoid awkward conversations with neighbors, letters from your township trustees, and extra charges on your property taxes. Additionally, you will help to prevent the harm that noxious weeds may cause to crops, livestock, and ecosystems in general.
To learn more about Ohio’s noxious weed laws, you can access our law bulletin on the subject here. While the bulletin addresses the responsibilities of landowners, it also goes beyond the scope of this blog post, addressing weeds on roadways, railroads, and public lands, as well as how to respond if your neighbor has noxious weeds on their property. Additionally, the bulletin has a helpful section of “frequently asked questions” regarding noxious weeds.