Recent Blog Posts

By: Ellen Essman, Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

In August, the Secretary of the Interior announced that the Trump Administration would be making revisions to the way the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is carried out under federal regulations.  The move was made in part to further the Administration’s goal to “ease the regulatory burden” on citizens.  The revised regulations apply to sections 4 and 7 of the ESA, which means they make changes to how species are listed as endangered, how critical habitat for species is determined, how threatened species are treated, and how the different federal agencies cooperate to carry out the ESA.

Revision of endangered, threatened, and critical habitat protections

The changes to how the ESA is carried out were made in three rulemakings published on August 27, 2019. One of the rules, available here, is meant to increase cooperation between federal agencies when carrying out the ESA (this rule is set to become effective on October 28).  Changes made by the other two rules, available here, and here, are much more controversial because they have a great impact on how endangered and threatened species and their habitats are treated under federal regulations. The new rules went into effect on September 26, 2019. We discuss some of the biggest modifications below.

 First, the rules change the term “physical or biological features” to “physical or biological features essential to the conservation of the species.” This change will likely diminish the number of natural features and areas that will be protected, since only those deemed essential to an endangered species will be protected. Similarly, the new rules give the federal government more leeway to determine when habitat is not critical habitat for species, which may result in less habitat being protected under the new iteration of the rules.

 In yet another change, the new rules separate the discussion of “threatened” and “endangered” species within the regulatory text.  Due to this uncoupling, some read the new version of the rule as stripping threatened species of protections they enjoyed when they were more closely related to endangered species. The new edition of the rules instead includes factors for determining whether a species can be listed as threatened, such as whether it is likely the species will become endangered in the “foreseeable future,” which will be determined on a case by case basis.  Critics of the new rules believe that this language will give the government the discretion to overlook the effects of climate change on a species, which could play out over a period of time longer than the “foreseeable future.” Along the same lines, the rules also make it harder to ban certain activities in order to protect threatened species.

 The rules weaken the ESA by allowing the federal government to take into account the actions of states, other nations, and local jurisdictions when listing and delisting species. In other words, if the species is being protected on another level of government or by another country, the U.S. government may be less inclined to protect the species; either by choosing not to list the species, or by removing its threatened or endangered status. Importantly, the new rules also allow “commercial information,” not just scientific information, to be considered when making a decision. Under the old rules, agencies were not allowed to consider the economic impacts of listing or delisting a species. On the whole, the rules seem to give the federal government a lot more discretion to determine that species or habitats should not be protected.

Lawsuits

On September 25, 2019, the day before the new rules became effective, the attorneys general from 17 states, including Ohio’s neighbors Michigan and Pennsylvania, sued the Trump Administration in federal court over the changes to the rules.  You can find the complaint here.  The states assert that the rulemaking violates several federal statutes, including the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs federal administrative agencies.  The states further claim that the weakening of protections for endangered and threatened species and their habitats will cause harm to their natural resources, harm to their citizens through environmental degradation, take away the current and future economic benefits of protected species, and increase costs for state governments.

Congressional action

 Amidst all the rule changes and lawsuits, members of Congress have been working on their own potential changes to the ESA.  Recently, the Congressional Western Caucus, a group of congress members from all around the country who are concerned with land use and resource rights, among other causes, introduced nineteen bills meant to “modernize” the ESA.  If you’re interested in the specifics of each bill, they are listed on the Caucus’ website, here.  Overall, the bills focus on fixing the ESA by implementing “defined recovery goals” for species, relying on “standardized…publically available” science, and allowing more involvement from states and stakeholders on endangered species decisions. 

With action taking place on the administrative, legislative, and judicial levels of the federal government, the way the ESA is written and interpreted seems to be up in the air at present. We will be sure to update the Ag Law Blog with any developments. 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, October 14th, 2019

By Peggy Kirk Hall and Ellen Essman

Ohio’s newly created hemp program is one step further toward getting off the ground.   On October 9, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) released its anxiously awaited proposal of the rules that will regulate hemp production in Ohio.   ODA seeks public comments on the proposed regulations until October 30, 2019.  

There are two parts to the rules package:  one rule for hemp cultivation and another for hemp processing.   Here’s an overview of the components of each rule:

1.  Hemp cultivation

The first rule addresses the "cultivation" of hemp, which means "to plant, water, grow, fertilize, till or havest a plant or crop."  Cultivating also includes "possessing or storing a plant or crop on a premises whre the plant was cultivated until transported to the first point of sale."  The proposal lays out the following regulatory process for those who wish to cultivate hemp in Ohio.

Cultivation licenses.  Anyone who wants to grow hemp must receive a hemp cultivation license from the ODA.  Licenses are valid for three years.  To obtain a license, the would-be hemp cultivator must submit an application during the application window, which will be between November 1 and March 31.  The application requires the applicant to provide personal information about the applicant, and if the applicant is a business, information about who is authorized to sign on behalf of the business, who will be primarily responsible for hemp operations and the identity of those having a financial interest greater than ten percent in the entity.    The cultivation license application will also seek information about each location where hemp will be grown, including the GPS coordinates, physical address, number of outdoor acres or indoor square footage, and maps of each field, greenhouse, building or storage facility where hemp will grow or be stored.  Cultivators must pay a license application fee of $100, and once licensed, an additional license fee of $500 for each growing location, which the rule defines as "a contiguous land area or single building in which hemp is grown or planned to be grown."  All applicants and anyone with a controlling interest in the hemp cultivation business must also submit to a criminal records check by the bureau of criminal identification and investigation. 

Land use restrictions.  The proposed rules state that a licensed hemp cultivator shall not:

  • Plant or grow cannabis that is not hemp.
  • Plant or grow hemp on any site not approved by the ODA.
  • Plant, grow, handle or store hemp in or within 100 feet of a residential structure or 500 feet of a school or public park, unless for approved research. 
  • Co-mingle hemp with other crops without prior approval from ODA.
  • Plant or grow hemp outdoors on less than one-quarter acre, indoors on less than 1,000 square feet, or in a quantity of less than 1,000 plants without prior approval from ODA.
  • Plant or grow hemp within half a mile of a parcel licensed for medical marijuana cultivation.
  • Plant or grow hemp on property that the license holder does not own or lease.

Hemp harvesting.  Licensed growers would be required to submit a report to ODA at least 15 days before their intended harvest date and pay a pre-harvest sample fee of $150.  ODA then has to sample the hemp for THC content, and only if approved can a cultivator harvest the crop, which in most cases must occur within 15 days after the sample is taken.  Failing to harvest within the 15-day window might require a secondary sampling and sampling fee.  A cultivator would be required to have a hemp release form from ODA before moving any harvested materials beyond the storage facility.

Random sampling.  The proposed rules also allow for random sampling of hemp by ODA and provide details on how ODA will conduct the sampling and charge sampling fees.  Any cultivator is subject to random sampling in each location where hemp has been cultivated.  ODA will report testing results that exceed 0.3 THC to the cultivator, who may request a second sample.  A cultivator must follow procedures for destroying any leaf, seed, or floral material from plants that exceed 0.3 THC and any material that was co-mingled with the 0.3 THC materials, but may harvest bare hemp stalks for fiber.

Destruction of hemp.   Under the proposed regulations, a license holder must submit a destruction report before destroying hemp and ODA must be present to witness the destruction.  The proposed rules also authorize ODA to destroy a crop that was ordered destroyed, abandoned, or otherwise not harvested and assess the costs against the licensee.

Reporting and recordkeeping are also important in the proposed rules.  Licensed cultivators must submit a planting report on an ODA form for each growing location by July 1 or within 15 days of planting or replanting, which shall include the crop’s location, number of acres or square footage, variety name, and primary intended use.  The rule would also require licensees to submit a completed production report by December 31 of each year.    A licensee that fails to submit the required reports would be subject to penalties and fines. Cultivators must maintain planting, harvest, destruction and production reports for three years.

Control of volunteer plants.  A licensee must scout and monitor unused fields for volunteer hemp plants and destroy the plants for a period of three years past the last date of reported planting.  Failing to do so can result in enforcement action or destruction of the plants by ODA with costs assessed to the licensee.

Pesticide and fertilizer use.  The laws and rules that apply to other crops will also apply to hemp, except that when using a pesticide on a site where hemp will be planted, the cultivator must comply with the longest of any planting restriction interval on the product label.   ODA may perform pesticide testing randomly, and any hemp seeds, plants and materials that exceed federal pesticide residue tolerances will be subject to forfeiture or destruction without compensation. 

Prohibited varieties.  The proposed rule states that licensed cultivators cannot use any part of a hemp plant that ODA has listed as a prohibited variety of hemp on its website. 

Clone and seed production.  Special rules apply to hemp cultivators who plan to produce clones, cuttings, propagules, and seed for propagation purposes.  The cultivator can only sell the seeds or plants to other licensed cultivators and must maintain records on the variety, strain and certificate of analysis for the “mother plants.”  The licensee need not submit a harvest report, but must keep sales records for three years of the purchaser, date of sale, and variety and number of plants or seeds purchased. 

Cultivation research.  Universities may research hemp cultivation without a license but private and non-profit entities that want to conduct research must have a cultivation license.  Cultivation research licensees would be exempt from many parts of the proposed rules, but must not sell or transfer any part of the plants and must destroy the plants when the research ends. 

Enforcement.  The proposed rule grants authority to the ODA to deny, suspend or revoke cultivation licenses for those who’ve provide false or misleading information, haven’t completed a background check, plead guilty to a felony relating to controlled substances within the past 10 years, or violated the hemp laws and rules three or more times in a five-year period.

2.  Hemp processing

The proposed rules package by ODA also addresses processing, which the rule defines as “converting hemp into a hemp product” but does not include on-farm drying or dehydrating of raw hemp materials by a licensed hemp cultivator for sale directly to a licensed hemp processor.    Because of this definition, many farmers who want only to grow and dry hemp would need only a cultivation license.  Growers who want to process their licensed hemp into CBD oil or other products, however, must also obtain a processing license.  The processing rules follow a similar pattern to their cultivation counterpart, as follows. 

Processing licensesIn addition to submitting the same personal, business and location information as a cultivation license requires, a hemp processing license application must list the types of hemp products that the processor plans to produce.   An “extraction operational plan” including safety measures and guidelines is required for processors who want to extract CBD from hemp to produce their product, and an applicant must indicate compliance with all building, fire, safety and zoning requirements.  The amount of the license fee depends on what part of the hemp plant the processor plans to process.  Processing raw hemp fiber, for example, requires a $500 license fee for each processing site, whereas processing the raw floral component of hemp requires a $3000 fee for each site.  Like the cultivation license, a processing license is valid for three years.  Applicants and those with a controlling interest in the business must submit to a background check. 

Land use restrictions.  The proposed regulations would prevent a licensed processor from:

  • Processing or storing any cannabis that is not hemp.
  • Processing or storing hemp or hemp products on any site not approved by ODA.
  • Processing, handling, or storing hemp or hemp products in or adjacent to a personal residence or in any structure used for residential use or on land zoned for residential use.
  • Processing hemp within 500 feet of a school or public park, except for approved research.

Financial responsibility.    A licensed processor must meet standards of financial responsibility, which require having current assets at least $10,000 or five percent of the total purchase of raw hemp materials in the previous calendar year, whichever is greater, and possessing a surety bond.

Inspection and sampling.  As with cultivation licensees, hemp processing licensees would be subject to inspection and sampling by ODA under the proposed rule. 

Food safety regulations.  The proposed rule requires hemp processes to comply with federal and state food safety regulations.

Sources and extraction of cannabinoids (CBD). A processor who wants to extract or sell CBD products must obtain the materials from a licensed or approved cultivator or processor in Ohio or another state with hemp cultivation licenses.  The regulation outlines components of the extraction operational plan that a processor must submit with the processing application, as well as acceptable extraction methods and required training.

Product testing.  A hemp processor must test hemp products at an accredited testing laboratory before selling the products.   The proposed rule describes the testing procedures, which address microbial contaminants, cannabinoid potency, mycotoxins, heavy metals, pesticide and fertilizer residue and residual solvents.  There are testing exemptions, however, for hemp used exclusively for fiber, derived exclusively from hemp seed and hemp extracts.  The testing laboratory must create a certificate of analysis for each batch or lot of the tested hemp product.

Processor waste disposal.  Under the proposed rule, a licensed processor must follow procedures for proper disposal of hemp byproducts and waste and must maintain disposal records.

Product labeling requirements are also proposed in the rule.  A processor must label all hemp products except for those made exclusively from hemp fiber as outlined in the rule and in compliance with federal law and other existing Ohio regulations for standards of identify and food coloring.

Recordkeeping.  As we’d expect, the proposal states that hemp processors must maintain records for five years that relate to the purchase of raw, unprocessed plant materials, the purchase or use of extracted cannabinoids, and the extraction process. 

Prohibited products.  Finally, the proposed rules include a list of hemp products that cannot be offered for sale, which includes hemp products with over 0.3 percent THC by dry weight basis, hemp products which laboratory testing determines do not meet standards of identity or that exceed the amount of mytoxins, heavy metals, or pesticides allowed, and any hemp products produced illegally.

What’s next for the hemp rules?

Keep in mind that these rules are not yet set in stone; they are a simply a proposal for hemp licensing rules in Ohio.  Those interested in cultivating or processing hemp in the future should read the draft rules carefully.  The proposed rule for hemp cultivation is here and the proposal for hemp processing is here.  Anyone can submit comments on the proposed rules here.  Your comments could affect what the final hemp rules require for hemp cultivators and processors.  After ODA reviews all comments, it will issue its final hemp licensing regulations. 

Federal law requires that after Ohio finalizes its rules, ODA must submit them to the USDA for approval.  That approval won’t occur, however, until USDA completes its own hemp regulations, which are due out in proposal form any day now.  Ohio’s rules will become effective once USDA approves them, hopefully in time for the 2020 planting season.  Stay tuned to the Ag Law Blog to see what happens next with hemp production in Ohio.

By: Evin Bachelor, Monday, September 16th, 2019

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.

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, September 13th, 2019

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 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:

  1. 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;
  2. All interstate waters including interstate wetlands;
  3. 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;
  4. All impoundments of waters otherwise defined as waters of the United States under this definition;
  5. Tributaries of waters identified above;
  6. The territorial seas;
  7. 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. 

Read more about the new, old and proposed WOTUS rules on EPA’s website, here.  A fact sheet comparing the three versions of WOTUS is here.

Posted In: Environmental
Tags: Water, WOTUS, waters of the United States
Comments: 0
By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, September 11th, 2019

 

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!

Posted In: Legal Education
Tags: farm science review, fsr
Comments: 0
By: Ellen Essman, Friday, September 06th, 2019

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

By: Evin Bachelor, Wednesday, September 04th, 2019

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.

By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, August 29th, 2019

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) says that it has found a number of inefficiencies in the H-2A temporary agricultural labor visa program, and the department has a solution: change the program’s rules.  The DOL has proposed a number of administrative rule changes that it believes will make the approval process move along quicker, relieve burdens on U.S. farms, and create a more level playing field with regards to pay.  Before we talk about the rule changes, let’s recap what the H-2A program is.

H-2A is a visa program for seasonal agricultural laborers from other countries.

Labor shortages have plagued farms across the United States for decades.  Congress first created a visa program for non-immigrant labor in the early 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1986 that Congress established the H-2A visa program for temporary agricultural workers.  Under this program, farmers may apply to employ H-2A workers on their farm on a temporary or seasonal basis for up to a year, but may apply to renew the worker’s visa for up to three total years.

In order to hire H-2A workers, an employer must certify in an application to the DOL that there are not enough qualified domestic workers willing and able to perform temporary and seasonal agricultural labor.  In order to prove that there is not enough domestic labor, the farmer must demonstrate an effort to advertise the available work in the local area.

Further, the farmer must demonstrate to the DOL that employing foreign workers will not negatively affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.  In other words, a farmer can’t hire foreign labor because it’s cheaper.  A farmer is expected to pay the foreign workers the same as the farmer would pay domestic workers, based upon the higher of the DOL’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate, minimum wage, or prevailing wage.

What does the Department of Labor seek to change?

The DOL proposes to make several changes to the H-2A program’s administrative rules.  Some of these changes update the rules to reflect what is already happening, while some make slight changes to the program’s overall scope.

  • Mandate e-filing.  The DOL currently allows farmers to submit their applications online or in hard copy, but reports that 4/5 of applications are completed online.  A review by the DOL has found that online applications get completed more quickly, have fewer errors, and reduce costs relative to hard copy submissions.  Under the new rule, the DOL would require all applications to be completed online, unless the farmer has a disability or does not have internet access.
  • Allow e-signatures.  The DOL currently requires farmers to sign a hard copy of their applications and either scan the document into the application or mail it.  Under the new rule, the DOL would accept e-signatures as equal to handwritten signatures.
  • Subdivide the adverse effect wage rate based upon specific agricultural occupations.  In the previous section, we noted that the farmer must pay the foreign workers the same as he or she would pay domestic workers.  One way to determine that wage is to use the DOL’s Adverse Effect Wage Rate.  Currently, the DOL has one rate for a state or region based upon the combined numbers for field and livestock workers.  Under the new rule, the DOL would use Farm Labor Survey data to subdivide agricultural occupations in order to ensure that higher paying occupations, such as supervisors of farmworkers and construction laborers on farms, use an Adverse Effect Wage Rate that properly reflects the wages of those higher paying occupations, rather than one general rate for all agricultural workers.
  • Update the methodology for calculating prevailing wage standards.  Another way to calculate the minimum wages of H-2A laborers is to base their pay off of the prevailing wage.  The current method of calculating the prevailing wage, which has not been updated since 1981, requires in-person interviews of employers.  Under the new rule, the DOL would eliminate the in-person requirement and allow states to collect data using more modern methods.
  • Incorporate guidance letters regarding animal shearing, commercial beekeeping, custom combining, and reforestation occupations into formal rules.  When asked for an interpretation of its rules and policies, a federal agency may issue a guidance letter to the person seeking an interpretation.  These guidance letters are not necessarily binding, and have no general application beyond the person seeking the interpretation.  By incorporating the guidance into a formal rule, the interpretation holds the force of law.  The DOL identified these occupations as unique relative to other agricultural occupations, and created a special set of procedures to obtain H-2A laborers to work these types of jobs.
  • Expand the definition of “agriculture” to include reforestation and pine straw activities.  Currently, reforestation and pine straw occupations are only available for H-2B applications, which are for non-agricultural occupations.  Under the new rule, these activities would be eligible for the agricultural based visa.
  • Reduce the time an employer must allow a domestic worker to apply for a job to 30 days.  Currently, the DOL requires a farmer to hire all eligible, willing, and qualified U.S. workers who make themselves available to work until the half way point in the H2-A contract period.  This means that if a farmer has H-2A laborers working under a six-month contract, then the farmer must hire any eligible, willing, and qualified domestic worker during the first three months of the contract.  Under the new rule, the farmer would only have to leave such opportunity open to domestic workers for 30 days.
  • Allow an employer to stagger the entry of H-2A labor.  Sometimes a farmer does not need all of the H-2A labor to arrive at once, but rather needs some to start on one date and then others to start on a different date.  Currently, this would require the farmer to submit an application for each date on which the farmer needs H-2A labor.  Under the new rule, the farmer would be able to submit one application but stagger the start dates of his or her workers over the course of 120 days.  This 120-day clock begins on the day the first H-2A workers enter the U.S.

For more information about the proposed changes, visit the proposed rule’s entry on the Federal Register HERE.

The public may submit comments until September 24, 2019.

As part of the public rulemaking process, the DOL is seeking public input on the proposed rule changes.  Members of the public may submit written comments to the DOL until Tuesday, September 24, 2019.

You may submit a comment online (visit https://www.regulations.gov/) or by mail (send to Adele Gagliardi, Administrator, Office of Policy Development and Research, Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Avenue NW, Room N-5641, Washington, DC 20210).  When mailing comments, be sure to include the rule’s Regulatory Information Number (RIN): 1205-AB89.

Posted In: Labor
Tags: labor law, H-2A, administrative rules
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, August 26th, 2019

When kids head back-to-school, it's time for farmers to do some homework and recall the rules that apply to youth working on farms during the school year.   Once school is in session, Ohio labor laws place restrictions on the times of day and number of hours that youth under the age of 18 can work on a farm.  The laws don’t apply to parents, grandparents, or legal guardians, however.  For other farm employers, be aware that the laws vary according to the age of the minor and some require written parental consent.  Here’s a quick refresher:

16 and 17 year olds

  • Cannot work before 7:00 a.m. on school days, with the exception that they can work starting at 6:00 a.m. if they were not working past 8:00 p.m. the night before.
  • Cannot work after 11:00 p.m. on a school night, which means a night when the minor has school the next day.
  • No daily or weekly limits on the number of hours the youth can work.

14 and 15 year olds

  • Cannot work during school hours while school is in session.
  • Cannot work before 7:00 a.m. or after 7:00 p.m., but can work until 9:00 p.m. from June 1 to September 1 or during any school holiday or break lasting more than 5 weekdays.
  • Cannot work more than 3 hours during a school day or more than 8 hours during a non-school day.
  • Cannot work more than 18 hours in a week while school is in session, unless the job is part of a work education program such as vocational training or work study.

12 and 13 year olds

  • The same time restrictions and daily and weekly hour limits for 14 and 15 year olds (above) apply to 12 and 13 year olds, but there is no exception to the 18 hour weekly limit for vocational training or work study programs.
  • Employer must obtain written parental consent for the youth to be working, unless the youth’s parent or legal guardian also works on the same farm.

Under 12 years old

  • Can only work on a farm where employees are exempt from the federal minimum wage, which includes a farms of an immediate family member or a “small farm” that used fewer than 500 “man days” of agricultural labor in any calendar quarter the preceding year.  A “man day” is a day during which an employee performs agricultural work for at least one hour.
  • Exception to the above:  local youths 10 and 11 may hand harvest short-season crops outside school hours for no more than 8 weeks between June 1 and October 15 if their employers have obtained special waivers from the U.S. Secretary of Labor.
  • The same daily time restrictions and daily and weekly hour limits for 14 and 15 year olds (above) apply to youth under 12 years old, but there is no exception to the 18 hour weekly limit for vocational training or work study programs.
  • Employer must obtain written parental consent for the youth to be working.

The other labor laws that typically apply to youth doing agricultural work on a farm continue to apply throughout the school year.  For example, employers must maintain records for youth employees, provide a written agreement of compensation and a statement of earnings on payday, and a 30 minute rest period if the youth works more than five consecutive hours.  An employer can’t assign any youth under the age of 16 with a “hazardous” job or task unless the youth is 14 or 15 and has a certificate of completion for tractor or machine operation.  Further information about these and other laws that apply to youth under 18 working on a farm is in our new Law Bulletin, Youth Labor on the Farm: Laws Farmers Need to Know, available here.

By: Evin Bachelor, Thursday, August 22nd, 2019

August turned out to be a very busy month for food law.  We’re again reading headlines about the definition of meat and debates over cage-free egg laws.  We’ve also come across some interesting criminal actions involving organic labeling fraud and undocumented workers at poultry processing plants.  And yet again we have a Roundup update, but fortunately for Bayer, the target of the latest lawsuits are Home Depot and Lowe’s.  So without further ado, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Tofurkey cries foul against state definitions of meat.  The maker of edible vegetarian products designed to replicate the taste and texture of meats is fighting back against state labeling and advertising laws that require products labeled as “meat” to be made of meat.  Tofurky filed a lawsuit in federal court in Arkansas to stop the state from enforcing such laws, which is similar to a lawsuit it filed in Missouri and yet another company filed in Mississippi.  Livestock advocacy groups succeeded in having 12 states pass laws restricting the ability of food producers to refer to their products as meats if those products contain no meat.  Livestock advocacy groups argue that the labeling practices are confusing and misleading to consumers, while companies like Tofurky argue that they have a constitutional right to describe their products with meat terminology.  On its website, Tofurky lists beer brats, jumbo hot dogs, “slow roasted chick’n,” “ham style roast,” and more.  None of the products contain meat.

Organic food fraud puts farmers in jail.  A federal judge sentenced a 60-year-old Missouri farmer to serve 10 years and 2 months in prison after being convicted of wire fraud, which is the federal crime of committing financial fraud through the use of a telecommunications wire across state lines.  This includes placing a phone call, sending an email, or advertising online in the furtherance of the fraudulent scheme.  Another three farmers were also sentenced to prison for terms ranging from 3 months to 2 years for their participation.  The fraud involved a decade-long scheme to mix traditional corn and soybeans with a small amount of organic grains and then label everything as certified organic.  The grains were mostly sold as animal feed to producers and companies selling organic meat.  Organic products generally are sold at a high premium, and the volume of goods in this scheme resulted in the farmers receiving millions of dollars from consumers that was fraudulently obtained.  The lengthy prison sentences reflect the farmers’ intentional misrepresentation and mislabeling.  In other words, it was not an accident.

Oregon joins California and Washington to make the west coast cage-free.  States continue to battle over whether eggs should come from cage-free hens or caged hens.  When we last discussed the topic HERE in May, the governor of the state of Washington had just signed his state’s cage-free requirement into law.  Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producing state, has gone the other way in trying to limit cage-free egg production.  Now, Oregon is set to ban the purchase or sale of eggs and egg products from caged hens starting in 2024.  However, Oregon’s law exempts eggs and egg products from caged hens if the sale occurs at a federally inspected plant under the Egg Products Inspection Act or if the caged hens were at a commercial farm with a flock of fewer than 3,000 hens.  You can read the text of the bill HERE.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids poultry processing plants.  Federal immigration officials have alleged that managers at five Mississippi poultry processing plants knowingly hired undocumented aliens who are not authorized to work in the United States.  Fines for individuals or companies proven to have actual knowledge that they hired undocumented workers can reach up to $3,000 per undocumented worker.  Individuals may also face prison time.  According to news reports, ICE arrested 680 possibly undocumented workers during its August 7th raids in Mississippi.  In their applications for the search warrants, the investigators alleged that the companies hired undocumented workers who were wearing GPS ankle monitors as they await deportation hearings, reported Social Security numbers of deceased persons, and used different names at different times.

Latest Roundup lawsuit targets retailers Home Depot and Lowe’s.  You’ve heard us talk before about the thousands of lawsuits against Monsanto (now owned by Bayer) based on the allegation that the glyphosate in products like Roundup has caused cancer.  If you’d like a refresher, you can review our last post HERE.  Now, instead of going after the manufacturer, a new plaintiff is going after retailers.  Plaintiff James Weeks filed two class action complaints in federal court in California against Home Depot and Lowe’s, alleging that the home improvement giants failed to adequately warn customers about the safety risks posed by using the popular weed killer.  Mr. Weeks argues that the labeling leaves the average consumer with the impression that the greatest risk of harm is eye irritation, when in fact the retailers know of the product’s potential carcinogenic properties.  As these complaints are class action complaints, Mr. Weeks seeks to claim representative status over all consumers who purchased Roundup products from these retailers, and thereby lead the case against the retailers.  It will be interesting to see whether the court certifies these cases as class actions, or if this strategy falls short for the plaintiff.  You can read the complaint against Home Depot HERE.

Food giants seek silence from U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission.  In 2015, the U.S. Commodity Futures Tradition Commission initiated a lawsuit against Mondelez International Inc. and Kraft Heinz Co. for allegedly manipulating the wheat futures market.  All parties recently agreed to an undisclosed settlement, and entered into a consent order with the court to close the matter.  The agreement apparently included a provision that all parties would refrain from publically commenting about the settlement.  However, the federal agency ended up commenting on the settlement by the end of the week in which the agreement was finalized.  Mondelez and Kraft Heinz believe that such statements violated the terms of the consent order, although the federal agency contests the allegation.  Nonetheless, the confidentiality restrictions make it difficult to know the full details of the settlement.  All we know for certain is that there was one.

Federal courts report that Chapter 12 family farm bankruptcies are on the rise.  The federal court system releases data every quarter on the number of bankruptcies filed each month in that quarter.  The latest numbers for April to June 2019 showed a slight increase in the number of Chapter 12 bankruptcies filed when compared to the same time period in 2018.  Nationwide, there were 164 new filings, compared to 135 in the second quarter of 2018.  The numbers show a gradual increase in the use of Chapter 12 bankruptcy since 2013, but the numbers are starting to tick up to levels not seen since the Great Recession.  Chapter 12 bankruptcy is a special form of bankruptcy that can only be used by family farmers and family fishermen whose total debts do not exceed a certain dollar limit.  The current dollar limit is $4.4 million, but there is legislation awaiting President Trump’s signature to increase the limit to $10 million.  In large part because of these restrictions, Chapter 12 is one of the least commonly used forms of bankruptcy. 

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