The Ag Law Roundup: your ag law questions answered

By:Peggy Kirk Hall, Associate Professor, Agricultural & Resource Law Friday, September 17th, 2021

It’s time to round up another batch of legal Q&A.  Here's a sampling of questions from around the state that we’ve recently received in the Farm Office.

My township recently notified me of having noxious weeds.  They identified "ragweed" as the problem, but the Ohio Revised Code's list of noxious weeds doesn’t list "ragweed.”  What are my rights?  Under Ohio law, you have five days to respond to the township trustees to explain that no action need to be taken because no noxious weeds exist on the property and that plants were incorrectly identified as noxious weeds.  Therefore, your conversations with the township trustees should have met the legal requirements because you notified them that plants were incorrectly identified as noxious weeds.  Having a written record is always best, just in case there is ever a dispute, so you may want to follow up with the townships trustees in an email, just to confirm that no action need to be taken. 

I read that each landowner has a ten foot right of access on either side of the fence row.  How does that work? The ten foot right of access is for a situation where one neighbor hasn’t shared in the construction of the line fence.   If a landowner chooses to build a line fence and the adjoining neighbor doesn’t share in the construction of the fence.  Ohio Revised Code Section 971.08 allows the landowner to enter the neighbor’s property for up to ten feet for the length of the fence to build and maintain the fence.  A landowner who stays within that ten feet strip cannot be held guilty for trespassing, but can be liable for any damages caused on the neighbor’s property, including damages to crops.

A neighbor is spraying herbicides on the fence row where an adjoining neighbor is raising organic livestock.  Is there anything the livestock operator can do?  There could be a spray drift issue if the herbicides are coming over onto the organic producer’s property.  The most common legal action for dealing with spray drift is negligence, and another legal theory is trespass.  If the drift causes harm, there would be a legal claim under either of those theories and the sprayer could be liable for harm caused by the drift.  Before moving right to a lawsuit, however, a letter from an attorney that explains the potential liability for the drift could be helpful.  Losing the organic certification would be costly, and an attorney would likely point that out.  Those types of letters don’t take a lot of time and wouldn’t be as costly as filing a lawsuit.  Additionally, the sprayer’s insurance policy might address negligence for spray drift and could provide a mechanism for compensation to the livestock producer.

We are in the process of buying a farm property to raise horses and relocate a small craft brewery to the location and grow hops and barley for the brewery. Can you provide information to help navigate the legal issues in doing this?  Let’s start with two separate issues—the liquor licensing issue and the zoning issue.  You may already know that Ohio has a relatively new licensing law that eases the liquor license process for small brewers—the A-1c license, explained at https://www.com.ohio.gov/liqr/permitclasses.aspx.  That would allow you to brew and sell onsite if you meet the license requirements.

The zoning question is not as straightforward and instead is an “it depends” answer.  Ohio zoning law does specifically exempt wineries from local zoning regulation, if the winery is growing grapes.  There is not a similar specific exemption for breweries, though.   In some situations, the agricultural exemption from zoning authority applies and prevents the township from prohibiting an agricultural use if it meets the definition of “agriculture.”  Some of the activities you describe, growing hops and grains and raising horses, do fit within that definition.  Processing and marketing activities, like making and selling beer on-site, only fit within that definition if they are “secondary to” the growing/production activities.  Showing that the brewery would be a “secondary” use to the primary production activities could be difficult, and there aren’t clear standards on how to prove which is primary and which is secondary.  Some townships have examined amount of the property dedicated to the different uses, some have examined financial returns of the different uses, some have looked at amount of time… it’s a bit gray and open to interpretation. 

The other way to be exempt from zoning regulations would be to prove that the brewery is “agritourism.”  This requires first showing that the activity is a cultural, recreational, entertainment or historic activity that is “agriculturally related” to the property and that the property qualifies as a “working farm” that is engaged in commercial agricultural production.  Townships vary on how closely they examine these different components, but it seems that many are becoming more  strict about what is and is not “agriculturally related” to the property.  If none of the exemptions apply, whether you could engage in the land use would depend on your district zoning provisions.  You’d want the zoning district to allow a brewery activity as a permitted use in the zoning district, or to be able to seek a “conditional use” permit for it.

If someone has a hornet’s nest in the yard in a neighborhood with a sidewalk, is there concern if the hornets were to attack someone walking by?  This is one of those “maybe” answers.  We don’t have clear legal guidance or court cases on liability for stings in Ohio, and my guess is that’s because the cases may settle out in the insurance process.  The hornet nest, though, is probably a natural situation that is less likely to result in liability on the landowner’s part than a manmade condition, especially if the nest is out in the open and easily seen.  The law expects people to bear responsibility to protect themselves from open and obvious natural dangers.  However, the fact that the landowner knows it is there could be problematic given the neighborhood situation, as in “you should have done something about it because you knew people would be walking by,” especially if it’s not easy for passers-by to detect it or if the landowner knows someone in the neighborhood is allergic to bees.  To avoid the risk of potential harm or problems, the landowner could consider either putting up a sign warning about the nest or have it removed.  The cost of removal would probably be less than an injury claim or a lawsuit.  The landowner may also want to talk with her insurance agent to see if there would be coverage for an incident—likely not, but it’s worth an ask.  That might bring the landowner some peace of mind if he or she allows it to remain.

If you have an agricultural law question, send it to aglaw@osu.edu and we'll do our best to provide an answer.  We can't give you legal advice,of course, but we can explain the laws that apply to the situation.  Also be sure to check for answers in our law bulletins on the Ag Law Library, here on the Farm Office website.