Recent Blog Posts

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. 

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, August 14th, 2019

Large "utility-scale" solar energy development is on the rise in Ohio.  In the past two years, the Ohio Power Siting Board has approved six large scale solar projects with generating capacities of 50MW or more, and three more projects are pending approval.   These “solar farms” require a large land base, and in Ohio that land base is predominantly farmland.   The nine solar energy facilities noted on this map will cover about 16,500 acres in Brown, Clermont, Hardin, Highland and Vinton counties.  About 12,300 of those acres were previously used for agriculture. 

With solar energy development, then, comes a new demand for farmland:  solar leasing.  Many Ohio farmland owners have received post cards and letters about the potential of leasing land to a solar energy developer.  This prospect might sound appealing at first, particularly in a difficult farming year like this one.  But leasing land for a solar energy development raises many implications for the land, family, farm operation, and community.  It's a long-term legal commitment--usually 25 years or more--that requires careful assessment and a bit of homework. 

To help landowners who are considering solar leasing, we've joined forces with Eric Romich, OSU Extension's Field Specialist in Energy Education, to publish the Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing.  The online guide explains the state of solar energy development in Ohio, reviews initial considerations for leasing farmland to solar, and describes legal documents and common terms used for solar leasing.  The guide's solar leasing checklist organizes the information into a list of issues to consider, things to do, people to consult, and questions to ask before deciding whether to enter into a solar lease.

The Farmland Owner's Guide to Solar Leasing is available at no cost on our Farm Office website, here.  A separate Law Bulletin of The Farmland Owner's Solar Leasing Checklist is also available on Farm Office, here.  We produced the guide in partnership with the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas, with funding from the National Agricultural Library, Agricultual Research Service, at the United States Department of Agriculture.

 

Posted In: Contracts, Property, Renewable Energy
Tags: solar leasing
Comments: 0
By: Evin Bachelor, Friday, August 09th, 2019

This weekend, as you enjoy your morning cup of coffee and find yourself wondering what’s the news in our court system, look no further than this blog post.  Every now and then there’s a new court opinion related to agricultural law that peaks our interest and makes us want to share a summary of what happened.  This week we read cases about the federal Takings Clause, wind energy, and oil and gas rights.  Here are the stories:

  • A property owner may bring a claim in federal court under the Fifth Amendment when the government has violated the Takings Clause by taking property without just compensation.  This case involved a township ordinance requiring all cemeteries to be held open and accessible to the general public during daylight hours.  A property owner with a small family graveyard was notified that she was violating the ordinance.  The property owner filed suit in state court arguing that the ordinance constituted a taking of her property, but did not seek compensation.  The township responded by saying it would withdraw the notice of violation and not enforce the ordinance against her.  The state court said that the matter was therefore resolved, but the property owner was not satisfied with that decision.  She decided to bring a takings claim in federal court.

Before this decision, there was a roadblock to bringing such claim.  Lower courts had read a previous Supreme Court decision to say that if a state or local government commits a taking, the property owner would first have to seek a remedy through the state’s adverse condemnation procedure before going to federal court.  But in doing so, the property owner would actually not have a chance to bring the claim in federal court because the federal court would have to give full faith and credit to the state court decision.  At first, that seemed like what would happen to the property owner because the state court had decided that the issue was moot since the township had agreed not to enforce the ordinance against her.  But the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for the property owner by taking the rare action of overruling its prior precedent.  Knick v. Township of Scott, Pennsylvania, was not an Ohio court case, but rather one that made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court.  To read the case, click HERE.

The final opinion handed down by the justices is certainly important, but it is also notable for Ohio because the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) submitted an amicus brief in support of the property owner through its legal counsel, Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease, LLP of Columbus.  The brief cited examples in Ohio showing that the Supreme Court’s prior precedent was causing problems for Ohio property owners by limiting their access to federal courts in Fifth Amendment takings claims.  OFBF has noted that this was the first time it had submitted an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • Ohio Power Siting Board’s approval of new wind-turbine models in facility’s certificate does not constitute an amendment to the certificate for the purposes of triggering current turbine-setback requirements.  In 2014, the Ohio Power Siting Board approved an application by Greenwich Windpark to construct a wind farm in Huron County with up to 25 wind turbines.  In the initial application, all of the wind turbines would have used the same model of turbine.  Just over a year after the application was approved, the wind farm developer applied for an amendment to add three additional models to the approved wind turbine model list, noting that the technology had advanced since its initial application.  Two of the three newer models would be larger than the originally planned model, but would occupy the same locations and would comply with the minimum setback requirements at the time the application was approved. 

The issue involved whether the new setback requirements, which were put in place by the state between the initial approval and the requested change, should apply.  An amendment to a certificate would trigger the current wind turbine setback requirements.  Greenwich Windpark wanted the less restrictive setback requirements in their initial application to still apply to the newer models, but a local group wanted the more restrictive setback requirements to apply.  The Ohio Power Siting Board said that adding the new wind turbine models would not be an amendment, and would not trigger the more restrictive setbacks.  The Ohio Supreme Court sided with the Ohio Power Siting Board, explaining that the Ohio General Assembly wanted the Ohio Power Siting Board to have broad authority to regulate wind turbines.  This case is cited as In re Application of 6011 Greenwich Winkpark, L.L.C., 2019-Ohio-2406, and is available to read on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website HERE.

  • Children claiming to be heirs of reserved oil and gas rights are in privity with previous owners of the interest when connected by an auditor’s deed specifically mentioning those interests.  The issue was whether children claiming their father’s oil and gas interests were blocked by the legal doctrine of issue preclusion from obtaining clear title to their interest when a previous Ohio Dormant Mineral Act (ODMA) lawsuit quieted title to mineral interests underlying their claim.  This preclusion would be possible because the previous owners’ interests formed the basis of the father’s interest.  Even though they were not named in the previous ODMA lawsuit, by virtue of being in privity, or legally connected, to the previous owners, the children would be bound by the previous lawsuit because the ODMA lawsuit cleared the previous owners’ interests along with any interests in their successors and assigns.  Ultimately the court found that because the children stood in their father’s shoes, and his claim would be linked to the previous owners’ claims in the land, the previous ODMA lawsuit binds the children.  This had the effect of eliminating the children’s claims in the oil and gas rights.  This case is cited as Winland v. Christman, 2019-Ohio-2408 (7th Dist.), and is available to read on the Ohio Supreme Court’s website HERE.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, August 06th, 2019

Congress must be concerned about the financial state of farmers.  A bill to increase the Chapter 12 debt limit to $10 million has languished in Congress since March, but recently gained traction and passed through both houses quickly.  Congress forwarded the bill, known as the Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019, to the President after the Senate approved it late last week.  The House passed the change to Chapter 12 on July 25.

Chapter 12 allows eligible family farmers and fishermen to stay in business and reorganize their debts through a repayment plan.  The recent action by Congress more than doubles the debt limit for Chapter 12 eligibility from its current amount of $4.4 million, adjusted for inflation from the original $1.5 million limit established when Congress created Chapter 12 in 1986.  If the President signs the current bill, a family farmer or fisherman with an aggregate debt of no more than $10 million will be eligible to use the special protections of the Chapter 12 bankruptcy process. 

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY), explained that the increase to the debt limit reflects higher land values and the growth over time in the average size of U.S. farming operations. He stressed that the changes are necessary so that farmers have additional options to manage the current farm economy because farmers are “currently facing a fifth year of declining net farm income…. [p]rices are low, inputs are high, and current trade policies make the future unknown.”

According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, farmers and fishermen filed a total of 535 Chapter 12 bankruptcies from June 2018 to June 2019, up from 475 in the previous year and 482 in the 2017 period.  Ohio had nine of those cases in each of the past two years and six in 2017.  These numbers will likely continue to grow with the recent change made by Congress, as more farmers will qualify for the special protections of Chapter 12.

Posted In: Business and Financial
Tags: bankruptcy
Comments: 0
By: Ellen Essman, Thursday, August 01st, 2019

It’s been a while since we’ve written about the Lake Erie Bill of Rights (LEBOR)! As a refresher, LEBOR was passed in February in a special election as an amendment to Toledo’s city charter.  LEBOR was meant to create new legal rights for Lake Erie, the Lake Erie ecosystem, and to give Toledo citizens the ability to sue to enforce those legal rights against a government or a corporation violating them.  For a longer explanation on LEBOR, see our post here.  Since then, lawsuits for and against LEBOR have been filed, and the state of Ohio has passed legislation concerning the language in LEBOR. Updates on those actions will be discussed below. 

Update on the Drewes Farm lawsuit

The day after LEBOR passed, Drewes Farm Partnership initiated a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Western Division, against the city of Toledo. Our initial blog posts concerning this lawsuit are available here and here.  In May, we discussed updates to the Drewes Farm lawsuit in yet another blog post.  Since our last update, the Lake Erie Ecosystem and TSW’s motion to stay pending appeal and the appeal were both denied, meaning the Sixth Circuit agreed with the district court’s decision to leave the ecosystem and TSW out of the lawsuit.  As a result, the current parties to the lawsuit are plaintiffs Drewes Farm Partnership and the State of Ohio, as well as the defendant City of Toledo.  In early June, both the Drewes Farm Partnership and the state of Ohio filed motions for judgement on the pleadings.  The district court has not yet determined whether to grant the motions; the City of Toledo’s response to the motions is due on August 9, 2019.  After the response is filed, the plaintiffs will have a chance to reply.

Toledo Citizens file lawsuit against State of Ohio

In the midst of the Drewes Farm lawsuit, yet another complaint has been filed concerning LEBOR.  On June 27, 2019, three citizens of Toledo filed a complaint against the state of Ohio in the Lucas County Court of Common Pleas.  In the complaint, the citizens, who all voted for LEBOR, asked the court to find that the state has failed to address pollution in Lake Erie, and due to its inaction, circumstances in the lake are getting worse, that LEBOR is enforceable under the Ohio Constitution and state law, and to issue an injunction to prevent the state from curtailing their rights under LEBOR.  Currently, it appears as though no response has been filed by the state of Ohio.  Perhaps the state wants to let recently passed legislation do the talking. 

State budget bill includes language aiming to invalidate LEBOR, adds water quality initiative

Finally, the Ohio General Assembly has also gotten in on the LEBOR action.  On July 18, 2019, Governor DeWine signed the General Assembly’s budget bill into law.  Page 482 contains language that seems to be aimed at LEBOR and other environmental community rights initiatives.  Most importantly, the bill states:

  • Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate or bring an action in any court of common pleas. 
  • No person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas. 

It will be interesting to see how courts handle lawsuits on behalf of ecosystems and nature after the passage of this budget law. 

While the budget bill appears to take LEBOR and initiatives like it head-on, it also created a water quality initiative called “H2Ohio,” which includes a fund in the state treasury.  The money in the H2Ohio fund will go toward water quality improvement projects, including projects to reduce phosphorus, nitrogen, and sediment pollution from agricultural practices.  With this initiative, the state seems to be offering an alternative way to protect its waters, including Lake Erie. 

Work continues on sorting out the legality of LEBOR and the wider problem of Lake Erie pollution, and there appears to be no end in sight. Keep an eye on the Ohio Ag Law Blog for new developments on LEBOR lawsuits and the H2Ohio program!

By: Evin Bachelor, Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

It’s been a busy July in the ag law world, to say the least.  The Ohio General Assembly officially passed the hemp bill and a budget, RMA adjusted its prevent plant restrictions, and we have seen more activity on LEBOR.  With everything that is going on, it’s time for another ag law harvest.  Here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Ohio Department of Agriculture announces website for future hemp program.  Just days after S.B. 57 took effect, the Ohio Department Agriculture (ODA) launched a new webpage declaring “Hemp Is Now Legal.”  However, the webpage goes on to explain that hemp cultivation, processing, and research licenses, which are required to legally do those activities, are not yet available as the rules and regulations have not been developed.  ODA says the goal is to have farmers licensed and able to start planting hemp by spring 2020.  As for CBD, the webpage says that it is now legal to sell properly inspected CBD products in Ohio.  Note the “properly inspected” caveat.  ODA wants to test CBD products for safety and accurate labeling before the product is sold to Ohio consumers.  If they have not already done so, those wanting to sell CBD products should contact ODA to have their product tested.  You can view the new webpage HERE.

Judge says $2 billion damages award is too much in Roundup case.  A California state judge recently reduced the punitive damages award granted to Alva and Alberta Pilliod from $2 billion to $69 million, and reduced their compensatory damages from $55 million to $17 million.  All combined, the couple would still receive $86.7 million in damages.  As we previously discussed, the couple successfully convinced a jury that the glyphosate in Roundup significantly contributed to causing their non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.  In reducing the awards, the judge explained that the punitive damages were excessive and unconstitutional because they exceeded the U.S. Supreme Court’s restrictions.  However, the judge denied Bayer’s request to strike the punitive damages award outright.

U.S. EPA denies petition to ban use of cholrpyrifos pesticide.  Back in 2007, environmental groups petitioned to have the U.S. EPA revoke tolerances and registrations for the insecticide chlorpyrifos, citing harmful effects to people and nature.  Without getting into the merits of the allegations, the timeline and history of the U.S. EPA’s decision is fairly interesting.  The U.S. EPA had not completed its review of the chemical by 2015, so the groups took the agency to court, where they received a court order compelling the U.S. EPA to make a decision.  The agency issued a proposed rule at the end of 2015 that would have revoked the tolerances; however, the federal court said that the U.S. EPA had not completed a full review nor properly responded to the 2007 petition.  Even though it made a decision, the court wanted to see more evidence of a full administrative review.  By the time the agency had a chance to fully review the chemical’s effects, the Obama EPA had turned into the Trump EPA.  In March 2017, the U.S. EPA issued a denial order regarding the petition, which essentially threw out the petition.  The environmental groups submitted an objection shortly after the denial order.  By July 2019, the U.S. EPA had a chance to think some more and issued a final order denying the objections.  As it stands now, the agency has decided not to revoke tolerances or registrations for chlorpyrifos.  To read the agency’s final order denying the objections, click HERE.

Animal Disease Traceability program to require RFID tagging for cattle and bison by 2023.  The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is looking to fully bring animal disease traceability into the digital world, at least for beef and dairy cattle and bison.  By requiring radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, the service says that animal health officials would be able to locate specific animals within hours of learning about a disease outbreak, significantly less than with paper records.  Starting at the end of 2019, the USDA will stop providing free metal tags, but would allow vendors to produce official metal tags until the end of 2020.  At that time, only RFID tags may be used as official tags.  Starting on January 1, 2023, RFID tags will be required for beef and dairy cattle and bison moving interstate.  Animals previously tagged with metal ear tags will have to be retagged, but feeder cattle and animals moving directly to slaughter will be exempt.  To learn more, view the USDA’s “Advancing Animal Disease Traceability” factsheet HERE.

Senators want to fund more ag and food inspectors at U.S. ports of entry.  Citing the national interest to protect the nation’s food supply, four U.S. Senators have introduced a bill that would provide the U.S. Customs and Border Protection with additional funding over the next three years.  In each of the three fiscal years, the funds would be used to hire, train, and assign 240 additional agriculture specialists, 200 new agriculture technicians who provide support to the agriculture specialists, and 20 new canine teams.  The personnel would work at U.S. ports of entry, including seaports, land ports, and airports across the country.  If passed, S.2107 would require the Comptroller General of the United States to brief congressional committees one year after the bill’s enactment on how well federal agencies are doing at coordinating their border inspection efforts and how the agriculture specialists are being trained.  The bill comes months after U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized nearly a million pounds of Chinese illegally smuggled pork from China, where African swine fever has ravaged the country’s pork industry.  For more information about the bill, click HERE.

Cannabis decriminalization bill introduced in Congress.  Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has introduced H.R. 3884 with the aim to do four things: 1) decriminalize cannabis at the federal level, 2) remove cannabis from the federal controlled substances schedules, 3) provide resources and rehabilitation for certain people impacted by the war on drugs, and 4) expunge certain criminal convictions with a cannabis connection.  The bill currently has 30 co-sponsors, including 29 Democrats and 1 Republican.  None of Ohio’s members of Congress have signed on as a co-sponsor at this time.  The bill follows the recent change in status for hemp, which found favor in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills.  However, that change in status was largely predicated on the argument that hemp is not marijuana, so it remains to be seen whether the political climate is ready to loosen restrictions on marijuana as well.  For more information about the bill, click HERE.

Written by Barry Ward, Production Business Management Leader and OSU Income Tax Schools Director

Soon after the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act became law in December of 2017 it became evident that cooperatives had been granted a significant advantage under the new tax law. Sales to cooperatives would be allowed a Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID) of 20% of gross income and not of net income. Sales to businesses other than cooperatives would be eligible only for the QBID of net income which was a significant disadvantage. Suddenly cooperatives had an advantage that non-cooperative businesses couldn’t match and most of the farm sector scrambled to position themselves to take advantage of this tax advantage. Some farmers directed larger portions of their sales or prospective sales toward cooperatives. Non-cooperative businesses lobbied for a change to this piece of the new tax law while looking for ways to add a cooperative model to their own businesses to stay competitive.

Congress passed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 in March of 2018 which eliminated this advantage to cooperatives and replaced it with a new hybrid QBID for sales to cooperatives which offered more tax neutrality between sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives. While this new legislation leveled the playing field between cooperatives and non-cooperatives, it left many questions unanswered; chief among them was how taxpayers should allocate expenses between sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives.

One area that was clarified for calculating the QBID for all businesses including cooperatives was how certain deductions should be handled with respect to the Qualified Business Income Deduction (QBID).

For purposes of the QBID (IRC §199A), deductions such as the deductible portion of the tax on self-employment income under § 164(f), the self-employed health insurance deduction under § 162(l), and the deduction for contributions to qualified retirement plans under § 404 are considered attributable to a trade or business (including farm businesses) to the extent that the individual’s gross income from the trade or business is taken into account in calculating the allowable deduction, on a proportionate basis.

Under the final regulations, expenses for half the self-employment (SE) tax, self-employed health insurance, and pension contributions must be subtracted from preliminary QBI figure, before any cooperative reductions are made (if applicable).

While final regulations on the new QBID were published on Jan. 18, 2019, there were still many questions left unanswered as to how the deduction would be handled in relation to cooperatives. As the QBID is calculated differently between the income from sales to cooperatives and non-cooperatives, taxpayers and tax practitioners were left with uncertainty.

A simplified explanation of the steps used to calculate the QBID under Internal Revenue Code (IRC) §199A for income attributable to sales to cooperatives is listed here:

Step 1: First, patrons calculate the 20 percent §199A QBID that would apply if they had sold the commodity to a non-cooperative.

Step 2: The patron must then subtract from that initial §199A deduction amount whichever of the following is smaller:

  • 9 percent of the QBI allocable to cooperative sale(s) OR
  • 50 percent of W2 wages paid allocable to income from sales to cooperatives

Step 3: Add the “Domestic Production Activities Deduction (DPAD)-like” deduction (if any) passed through to them by the cooperative pursuant to IRC §199A(g)(2)(A). The determination of the amount of this new “DPAD-like” deduction will generally range from 0 to 9 percent of the cooperative's qualified production activities income (QPAI) attributable to that patron's sales.

Parts of the new tax law do offer some simplification. Calculating the QBID isn’t necessarily one of those parts.

The result of all of these calculations is that income attributable to sales to cooperatives may result in an effective net QBID that is:

  • Possibly greater than 20% if the farmer taxpayer pays no or few W2 wages and coop passes through all or a large portion of the allocable “DPADlike” deduction
  • Approximately equal to 20% if the farmer taxpayer pays enough W2 wages to fully limit their coop sales QBID to 11% and the coop passes through all allocable “DPADlike” deduction
  • Possibly less than 20% if farmer taxpayer pays enough W2 wages to fully limit their coop sales QBID to 11% and the coop passes through less than the allocable “DPADlike” deduction

On June 18th, the IRS released proposed regulations under IRC §199A on the patron deduction and the IRC §199A calculations for cooperatives. The proposed regulations provide that when a taxpayer receives both qualified payments from cooperatives and other income from non-cooperatives, the taxpayer must allocate deductions using a “reasonable method based on all the facts and circumstances.” Different reasonable methods may be used for the different items and related deductions. The chosen reasonable method, however, must be consistently applied from one tax year to another and must clearly reflect the income and expenses of the business.

So what “reasonable methods” might be accepted by the IRS? The final regulations (when they are provided) may give us further guidance or we may be left to choose some “reasonable” method in allocating expenses between the two types of income. Acceptable methods may include allocating expenses on a prorated basis by bushel/cwt or by gross sales attributable to cooperatives and non-cooperatives. Producers may also consider tracing costs on a per field basis and tracking sales of those bushels/cwt to either a cooperative or non-cooperative.

Included in the proposed regulations released in June was a set of rules for “safe harbor”. A taxpayer with taxable income under the QBID threshold ($157,500 Single Filer / $315,000 Joint Filer) may ratably apportion business expenses based on the amount of payments from sales to cooperative and non-cooperatives as they relate to total gross receipts. In other words, expenses may be allocated between cooperative and non-cooperative income based on the respective proportions of gross sales that fall to cooperatives and non-cooperatives.

Some questions that haven’t been answered clearly is how certain other income should be allocated between income from cooperatives and non-cooperatives. Tax reform now requires farmers to report gain on traded-in farm equipment.  In many cases, farm income will be negative and all of the income for the business will be from trading-in farm equipment.  The question is how do we allocate this income (IRC §1245 Gain)?  Some commentators contend that none of these gains should be allocated to cooperative income which would eliminate the issue, however, the depreciation deduction taken on the equipment was likely allocated to cooperative income, thus reducing the effect of the 9% of AGI patron reduction. This would suggest that these gains may have to be allocated between cooperative and non-cooperative income.

How should government payments be allocated?  If a farmer sells all of their commodities to a cooperative and receive a government payment (i.e. ARC or PLC), should that be treated as cooperative income or not. Hopefully, the final regulations will provide some further clarity on these issues.

The information in this article is the opinion of the author and is intended for educational purposes only. You are encouraged to consult professional tax or legal advice in regards to your facts and circumstances regarding the application of the general tax principles cited in this article.

Posted In: Tax
Tags: agricultural tax law, farm tax law, tax, 199A, cooperatives
Comments: 0
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, July 25th, 2019

The funny thing about a "budget bill" is that it’s not all about the budget.  Many laws that are not related to the budget are created or revised within a budget bill.  That’s the case with Ohio’s HB 166, the "budget bill" signed on August 18 by Governor Dewine.  In the midst of the bill’s 2,602 pages are revisions to an important law for agricultural landowners—the “Right to Farm” Law.

Ohio’s Right to Farm Law, also referred to as the "Agricultural District Program," provides immunity from a civil nuisance claim made by those who move near an existing farm.  To receive the immunity under the old law, the land must be enrolled as an “agricultural district” with the county auditor, agricultural activities have to be in place first, i.e., before the complaining party obtained its property interest, and the agricultural activities must not be in conflict with laws that apply to them or must be conducted according to generally accepted agricultural practices.  The immunity comes in the form of an affirmative defense that a farmer can raise if sued for nuisance due to agricultural activities such as noise, odors, dust, and other potential interferences with neighbors.  If the landowner can prove that the activities are covered by the Right to Farm law, the law requires dismissal of the nuisance lawsuit.  For years, we’ve been encouraging farmers to enroll land in this program to protect themselves from those who move out near a farm and then complain that the farming activities are a nuisance.

The new revisions to the law in the budget bill change the requirements for the land and agricultural activities that can receive Right to Farm immunity.  In addition to protecting agricultural activities on land that is enrolled with the county auditor as agricultural district land, the law will now also protect the following from nuisance claims:

  • Agricultural activities on land devoted exclusively to agricultural use in accordance with section 5713.30 of the Revised Code, which is Ohio’s Current Agricultural Use Valuation Program (CAUV), and
  • Agricultural activities conducted by a person pursuant to a lease agreement, written or otherwise.

These two provisions significantly expand the geographic scope of the Right to Farm law.   A landowner may not have to take the step to actively enroll and re-enroll land in the agricultural district program in order to obtain Right to Farm immunity.  Instead, the agricultural activities are automatically covered by the Right to Farm law if the land is enrolled in Ohio’s CAUV property tax reduction program or is under a lease agreement, presumably a farmland lease, whether that lease is in writing or is verbal.  This means that any land in Ohio that is actively being used for commercial agricultural production will likely qualify for the Right to Farm law’s nuisance protection.

The budget bill also added new language to the Right to Farm law that clarifies that “agricultural activities” means “common agricultural practices.”  The law specifically includes the following as “common agricultural practices:”

  • The cultivation of crops or changing crop rotation;
  • Raising of livestock or changing the species of livestock raised;
  • Entering into and operating under a livestock contract;
  • The storage and application of commercial fertilizer;
  • The storage and application of manure;
  • The storage and application of pesticides and other chemicals commonly used in agriculture;
  • A change in corporate structure or ownership;
  • An expansion, contraction, or change in operations;
  • Any agricultural practice that is acceptable by local custom.

This new language answers a question that we’ve long heard from farmers:  if I expand my farming operation or change it from the farming activities that I, my parents or grandparents have always done, will I still have Right to Farm protection?  We couldn’t answer this question with assurance because the law is unclear about whether it would also protect such changes.  Under the new law, the answer is clear:  transitions to new or expanded agricultural activities will also receive Right to Farm immunity.  The law also states that certain practices, such as storing and applying fertilizers, pesticides, chemicals and manure, are “common agricultural practices.”

The final change to the Right to Farm law concerns a provision that addresses farmers suing other farmers for nuisance.  Under the old law, Right to Farm immunity does not apply if the plaintiff who brings the nuisance law suit is also involved in agricultural production.  That is, farmers don’t receive Right to Farm protection from nuisance claims by other farmers.  The new law removes this provision.  Under the revised law, farmers will be able to raise the Right to Farm law as an affirmative defense if sued for nuisance by another agricultural producer.

Many lawmakers who were focused on understanding and negotiating the financial provisions in Ohio’s recent budget bill may have missed the inclusion of changes to our Right to Farm law in the bill.  Even so, with the passage of the budget bill, the legislature significantly expanded the reach of the Right to Farm Law and agricultural activities in Ohio now have broad protections from nuisance lawsuits.

Find the changes to Ohio’s Right to Farm Law--Ohio Revised Code 929.04, on pages 308 and 309 of HB 177, which is available on this page.

 

By: Ellen Essman, Friday, July 19th, 2019

It’s been a busy week in Columbus, with the Ohio General Assembly sending multiple bills to Governor Mike DeWine for his signature.  One of the bills is one we have been following very closely—Substitute Senate Bill 57, or the “hemp bill.”

Bill history

Ohio’s hemp bill was originally introduced in the Senate in February.  The bill was written in response to the 2018 federal Farm Bill, which gave states the option to create hemp programs so that citizens within the state could cultivate and sell hemp products.  For a breakdown of the Farm Bill, see our post here.  Ohio’s hemp bill passed the Senate in March, and was sent to the House, where numerous amendments were made. 

House amendments

The Ohio House made many changes to the Senate’s original hemp bill.  In June, we highlighted those changes in a post you can find here.  Most importantly, the House version, in addition to requiring a license to cultivate hemp, also requires a license to process hemp into different products. Additionally, the House’s substitute version of the bill created a Hemp Marketing Program, which would be similar to other grain and soybean marketing programs, added legally cultivated hemp to the list of agricultural uses permitted under CAUV, required setbacks between hemp and medical marijuana cultivation, and banned people from obtaining both hemp licenses and medical marijuana licenses, among other changes. 

This week’s developments

We were not expecting the hemp bill to pass the General Assembly this week, as House Speaker Larry Householder indicated in June that the House would not vote on the bill until September 2019.  However, on July 17, 2019, the bill passed in the House with emergency language, and the changes were quickly accepted by the Senate. During the July 17 afternoon legislative session, we were given some possible insight into why the bill passed so quickly and unexpectedly; State Representative Koehler spoke about the need to help Ohio’s farmers given all the struggles they currently face.  Representative Koehler viewed quick passage of the bill as an opportunity for Ohio farmers to potentially have a new commodity crop in the ground next spring.

 The emergency language in the final version of the bill means that once signed by the Governor, the law will go into immediate effect.  In other words, once the bill passes, hemp and hemp products will be decriminalized in Ohio and the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) will be able to immediately begin the process of writing regulations to carry out the new hemp cultivation and processing programs. 

Great! Can I plant hemp right now?

No. Even with the emergency language in the bill, a few things still need to happen before farmers can plant hemp.  First and most obviously, Governor DeWine still needs to sign the bill into law.  Then, ODA must begin its hemp program rulemaking.  The rules will not become effective until the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) approves of Ohio’s hemp program.  After USDA approves the program, then ODA will be able to approve licenses for those who want to cultivate and process hemp. The Ag Law Blog will keep you updated on the hemp rules and USDA’s decision—stay tuned!

Posted In: Crop Issues, Uncategorized
Tags: hemp, industrial hemp
Comments: 0

Written by Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management & Director, OSU Income Tax Schools

Prevented Planting Crop Insurance Indemnity Payments

With unprecedented amounts of prevented planting insurance claims this year in Ohio and other parts of the Midwest, many producers will be considering different tax management strategies in dealing with this unusual income stream. In a normal year, producers have flexibility in how they generate and report income. In a year such as this when they will have a large amount of income from insurance indemnity payments the flexibility is greatly reduced. In a normal year a producer may sell a part of grain produced in the year of production and store the remainder until the following year to potentially take advantage of higher prices and/or stronger basis. For example, a producer harvests 200,000 bushels of corn in 2019, sells 100,000 bushels this year and the remainder in 2020. As most producers use the cash method of accounting and file taxes as a cash based filer, the production sold in the following year is reported as income in that year and not in the year of production. This allows for flexibility when dealing with the ups and downs of farm revenue.

Generally, crop insurance proceeds should be included in gross income in the year the payments are received, however Internal Revenue Code Section (IRC §) 451(f) provides a special provision that allows insurance proceeds to be deferred if they are received as a result of “destruction or damage to crops.”

As prevented planting insurance proceeds qualify under this definition, they can qualify for a 1 year deferral for inclusion in taxable income. These proceeds can qualify if the producer meets the following criteria:

  1. Taxpayer uses the cash method of accounting.
  2. Taxpayer receives the crop insurance proceeds in the same tax year the crops are damaged.
  3. Taxpayer shows that under their normal business practice they would have included income from the damaged crops in any tax year following the year the damage occurred.

The third criteria is the sometimes the problem. Most can meet the criteria, although if producers want reasonable audit protection, they should have records showing the normal practice of deferring sales of grain produced and harvested in year 1 subsequently stored and sold in the following year. To safely “show that under their normal business practice they would have included income from the damaged crops in any tax year following the year the damage occurred” the taxpayer should follow IRS Revenue Ruling 75-145 that requires that he or she would have reported more than 50 percent of the income from the damaged or destroyed crops in the year following the loss. A reasonable interpretation in meeting the 50% test is that a farmer may aggregate the historical sales for crops receiving insurance proceeds but tax practitioners differ on the interpretation of how this test may be met.

One big problem with these crop insurance proceeds is that a producer can’t divide it between years. It is either claimed in the year the damage occurred and the crop insurance proceeds were received or it is all deferred until the following year. The election to defer recognition of crop insurance proceeds that qualify is an all or nothing election for each trade or business IRS Revenue Ruling 74-145, 1971-1.

Tax planning options for producers depend a great deal on past income and future income prospects. Producers that have lower taxable income in the last 3 years (or tax brackets that weren’t completely filled) may want to consider claiming the prevented planting insurance proceeds this year and using Income Averaging to spread some of this year’s income into the prior 3 years. Producers that have had high income in the past 3 years and will experience high net income in 2019 may consider deferring these insurance proceeds to 2020 if they feel that this year may have lower farm net income.

Market Facilitation Payments

When the next round(s) of Market Facilitation Payments (MFPs) are issued, they will be treated the same as the previous rounds for income tax purposes. These payments must be taken as taxable income in the year they are received. As these payments are intended to replace income due to low prices stemming from trade disputes, these payments should be included in gross income in the year received. As these payments constitute earnings from the farmers’ trade or business they are subject to federal income tax and self-employment tax. Producers will almost certainly not have the option to defer these taxes until next year. Some producers waited until early 2019 to report production from 2018 and therefore will report this income from the first round of Market Facilitation Payments as taxable income in 2019.

Producers will likely not have the option of delaying their reporting and subsequent MFP payments due to the fact they are contingent upon planted acreage reporting of eligible crops and not yield reporting as the first round of MFP payments were.

Cost Share Payments

Increased prevented planting acres this year have many producers considering cover crops to better manage weeds and erosion and possibly qualify for a reduced MFP. There is also the possibility that producers will be eligible for cost-share payments via the Natural Resources Conservation Service for planting cover crops. Producers should be aware that these cost-share payments will be included on Form 1099-G that they will receive and the cost-share payments will need to be included as income.

You are advised to consult a tax professional for clarification of these issues as they relate to your circumstances.

This article is being reposted with the author's permission from the Ohio Ag Manager blog.

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