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Help wanted sign in front of corn field.
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Friday, February 16th, 2024

The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has introduced a new independent contractor rule, aiming to provide clarity and guidance for both employers and workers. The classification of workers as employees or independent contractors has become increasingly complex in recent years, resembling an endless carousel ride for many businesses, particularly those in the agricultural sector that frequently hire part-time and seasonal help. The DOL's new rule, published under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), seeks to put an end to this perpetual uncertainty surrounding worker classification once and for all.

Background
The FLSA establishes federal standards for overtime pay, minimum wage, and child labor. Ohio law explicitly aligns its interpretation of the term "employee" with that of the FLSA for wage and hour purposes. For the FLSA to apply to an agricultural employer, an employment relationship must be established. This entails determining whether a worker is classified as an employee or an independent contractor.

However, the FLSA itself is silent on how to exactly distinguish an independent contractor from an employee. So, for years the DOL relied on the court system to develop the standard for determining whether a worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor. The court system developed an “economic realities test” to help determine whether an employment relationship exists with a worker. The economic realities test is a totality of the circumstances test – which means all factors should be weighed evenly – and relies on six factors. These factors are: 

  1. The nature and degree of control over the work; 
  2. The individual’s opportunity for profit or loss;
  3. The permanency of the work relationship;  
  4. Whether the work being performed is an integral part of the Employer’s business; 
  5. The worker’s investment in facilities and equipment; and 
  6. Skill and initiative. 

For decades courts and the DOL have applied these factors, or a similar variation of them, to help define employee and independent contractor under the FLSA. However, courts across the country have applied the factors inconsistently and have given certain factors different degrees of weight. 

2021 Independent Contractor Rule
In 2021, the DOL sought to resolve the inconsistent and subjective application of the factors by publishing a formal independent contractor rule (“2021 IC Rule”). This 2021 IC Rule marks the DOL’s first attempt to establish a standardized test for distinguishing between independent contractors and employees.  

The 2021 IC Rule used a variation of the economic realities test but gave greater weight to “two core factors” rather than applying each factor equally. The “two core factors” are: 

  1. The nature and degree of control over the work; and 
  2. The individual’s opportunity for profit or loss.

In the 2021 IC Rule, the DOL stated that the two core factors “are the most probative as to whether or not an individual is an economically dependent ‘employee’ . . . and each therefore typically carries greater weight in the analysis than any other factor.” The DOL also stated that if the two core factors “both point towards the same classification, whether employee or independent contractor, there is a substantial likelihood that is the individual’s accurate classification.” This is because, according to the DOL, the other factors are less probative and may not be probative at all and are “highly unlikely, either individually or collectively, to outweigh the combined probative value of the two core factors.” 

In other words, the DOL established a rule that looked at two core factors to determine the economic reality of the relationship between a worker and an employer. Thus, under the 2021 IC Rule, the economic realities test looked something like this: 

  1. Core Factors
    1. The nature and degree of control over the work; and
    2. The individual’s opportunity for profit or loss.
  2. Other Factors
    1. The permanency of the work relationship;  
    2. Whether the work being performed is an integral part of the Employer’s business; 
    3. The worker’s investment in facilities and equipment; 
    4. Skill and initiative; and
    5. Any additional factors 

New 2024 Rule
The carousel ride does not stop at the 2021 IC Rule, unfortunately. In January of 2024, the DOL published another rule, repealing the 2021 IC Rule and reverting back to a totality of the circumstances analysis of the economic realities test in which there are no core factors, and all factors are weighed evenly. The new rule, effective March 11, 2024, evaluates the following factors: 

  1. Opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill; 
  2. Investments by the worker and the employer; 
  3. Degree of permanence of the work relationship; 
  4. Nature and degree of control; 
  5. Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business;
  6. Skill and initiative; and
  7. Any additional factors. 

Below is a more detailed analysis of the above seven factors. 

  1. Opportunity for profit or loss depending on managerial skill. This factor assesses whether a worker possesses managerial abilities that impact their capacity to generate profit or incur losses. Relevant considerations include: 
    1. Negotiating pay for services rendered 
    2. Having the freedom to accept or decline jobs 
    3. Choosing the order or time in which jobs are completed 
    4. Engaging in marketing, advertising, or other business expansion efforts
    5. Making decisions regarding hiring, purchasing materials and equipment, or renting space 

If a worker lacks the opportunity for profit or loss, they are likely an employee. 

  1. Investments by the worker and the employer. This factor examines whether a worker’s investments are capital or entrepreneurial in nature. Costs incurred by a worker to perform their job, like purchasing tools or equipment, are not indicative of entrepreneurial investment and suggest employee status. Conversely, investments supporting an independent business, such as expanding capabilities, reducing costs, or broadening market reach, suggest entrepreneurial investment and independent contractor status.  
  1. Degree of permanence of the work relationship. If the work relationship is indefinite in duration or continuous, the worker is probably an employee. If the work relationship is definite in duration, non-exclusive, project-based, or sporadic because the worker is in business for himself or herself and marketing his or her services or labor to multiple entities, then the worker is probably an independent contractor. 
  1. Nature and degree of control. This factor assesses the level of control the employer exercises over the work and economic aspects of the relationship. Greater control by the employer suggests and employee relationship, while more control by the worker indicates independent contractor status.  Factors include the employer setting the worker’s schedule, supervising work performance, limiting the worker’s ability to work for others, using technological means for supervision, reserving the right to supervise or discipline workers, determining who sets the prices or rates for services provided by the worker, and the marketing of the services or products that the worker provides. 
  1. Extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business. This factor evaluates whether the work performed is essential to the employer's business operations. It focuses on the function performed rather than the individual worker. If the service provided is indispensable for the employer's functioning, it favors an employee classification. Conversely, if the work is not crucial to the employer's core business, it leans towards independent contractor status.
  1. Skill and initiative. The skill and initiative factor evaluates whether the worker utilizes specialized skills and demonstrates entrepreneurial initiative in their work. If the worker lacks specialized skills or relies on employer-provided training, it suggests employee status. Conversely, if the worker brings specialized skills and exhibits business-like initiative, they are likely an independent contractor. 
  1. Any Additional Factors. Additional factors may be relevant in determining the status of a worker. These additional factors may indicate whether the worker operates as an independent business entity or is economically reliant on the potential employer for work opportunities.

Under the new rule, no one factor is dispositive of determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor. For example, a landscaper may perform work that does not require specialized skills, but application of the other factors may demonstrate that the landscaper is an independent contractor (e.g. the landscaper may determine the price charged for the work, make decisions affecting opportunity for profit or loss, determine the extent of capital investment, work for many clients, and/or perform work for clients for which landscaping is not integral). 

What does it all mean? 
In announcing the new rule, the DOL said “[i]t is the Department’s obligation to administer and enforce the FLSA to ensure that workers who should be covered under the [FLSA] are properly classified as employees.” Many seem to suggest that this new rule is more employee friendly and makes it easier to classify a worker as an employee than the 2021 IC Rule.

The new rule, however, only affects a worker’s classification under the FLSA. The same standard does not apply to other federal laws, like the Internal Revenue Code. Nevertheless, those standards used in other federal laws may look eerily similar to the standard used here.  

Lastly, the carousel ride may not yet be over. There are already legal challenges to the new rule that might put the DOL’s hopes of ushering in a new period of clarity at risk (See Warren v U.S. Dep’t of Labor, 2:24-cv-00007, N.D. Ga.). 

Consequences of Misclassifying Workers. 
Misclassifying a worker can come with harsh consequences. An employer that misclassifies a worker may be required to pay unpaid wages owed to the employee, civil money penalties, and/or attorneys’ fees associated with litigation. Furthermore, employers may be held criminally and/or civilly liable under other federal and state statues for misclassifying a worker. It is vital that agricultural employers take classification of a worker seriously because all it takes is one disgruntled misclassified worker or workplace injury to a misclassified worker to seriously jeopardize an operation. 

Sources: 
Independent Contractor Status Under the Fair Labor Standard Act, 86 CFR 1168
Employee or Independent Contractor Classification Under the Fair Standards Act, 89 CFR 1638

 

Posted In: Labor
Tags: Farm Labor, Independent Contractor, Employee, DOL
Comments: 0
First page of U.S. EPA existing stocks order for dicamba products.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Thursday, February 15th, 2024

A federal court decision last week vacated the registrations of dicamba products XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium for over-the-top applications on soybean and cotton crops, making the use of the products unlawful (see our February 12, 2024 blog post).  The decision raised immediate questions about whether the U.S. EPA would exercise its authority to allow producers and retailers to use "existing stocks" of dicamba products they had already purchased.  Yesterday, the U.S. EPA answered those questions by issuing an Existing Stocks Order that allows the sale and use of existing stocks of the products that were packaged, labeled, and released for shipment prior to the federal court decision on February 6, 2024 For Ohio, the EPA's order allows the sale and distribution of existing stocks until May 31, 2024 and the use of existing stocks until June 30, 2024.

Here is the EPA's order:

  1. Pursuant to FIFRA Section 6(a)(1), EPA hereby issues an existing stocks order for XtendiMax® with VaporGrip® Technology (EPA Reg. No. 264-1210), Engenia® Herbicide (EPA Reg. No. 7969-472), and A21472 Plus VaporGrip® Technology (Tavium® Plus VaporGrip® Technology) (EPA Reg. No. 100-1623). This order will remain in effect unless or until subsequent action is taken. The issuance of this order did not follow a public hearing. This is a final agency action, judicially reviewable under FIFRA § 16(a) (7 U.S.C. §136n). Any sale, distribution, or use of existing stocks of these products inconsistent with this order is prohibited.
  2. Existing Stocks. For purposes of this order, “existing stocks” means those stocks of previously registered pesticide products that are currently in the United States and were packaged, labeled, and released for shipment prior to February 6, 2024 (the effective date of the District of Arizona’s vacatur of the dicamba registrations). Pursuant to FIFRA section 6(a)(1), this order includes the following existing stocks provisions:

a.  Sale or Distribution by the Registrants. As of February 6, 2024, sale or distribution by the registrants of these products is prohibited, except for the
purposes of proper disposal or to facilitate lawful export.
b.  Sale or Distribution by Persons other than the Registrants. Persons other than the registrants, including but not limited to co-ops and commercial distributors, who are already in possession of these products as of February 6, 2024, may sell or distribute these products until the end date for sale and distribution of existing stocks identified in Table 1; except that such persons may distribute these products after the date identified in Table 1 solely for purposes of proper disposal, lawful export, or to facilitate return to the manufacturer.
c.  Distribution or Sale by Commercial Applicators. Notwithstanding paragraph 2.b, for the purpose of facilitating use no later than the relevant end date for use of existing stocks identified in Table 1, distribution or sale of existing stocks of these dicamba products that are in the possession of commercial applicators is permitted
until the relevant end date for use in Table 1.
d.  Use of Existing Stocks. As of the date of this order, use of XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium is permitted until the relevant date identified in Table 1, provided that such use of existing stocks is consistent in all respects with the previously approved labeling accompanying the product.

What happens next? 

The Existing Stocks Order addresses dicamba over-the-top applications for the current growing season, but it's not the end of the dicamba controversy.  One potential next step could come from the petitioners in the federal case that vacated the dicamba product registrations, Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA.  The petitioners could file a motion asking the Court to review the Existing Stocks Order--an action that took place in the previous dicamba cancellation case, National Family Farm Coaltion v. EPA (Monsanto).  The petitioners in that case unsuccessfully sought an Emergency Motion to enforce the vacatur and hold the EPA Administrator in contempt for issuing an Existing Stocks Order.  A second next step that may yet play out is an appeal of the recent federal decision by the EPA, which has 30 days from the February 6 decision date to file an appeal.  At least one thing is clear at this point:  the long-term future of dicamba over-the-top products will continue to exist in a state of uncertainty.

Read the full text of the EPA's Existing Stocks Order.

By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Wednesday, February 14th, 2024

As we enter the 2024 crop season, it's time for an update on economic and legal information that affects Ohio farmland leasing. Join our Farm Office team members on March 1, 2024 from 10 a.m. until noon for a special edition of our Farm Office Live webinars.  In the Ohio Farmland Leasing Update, we'll share the latest information on these leasing topics:

  • Cash Rent Outlook – Key Issues and Survey Data
  • Negotiating Capital Improvements on Leased Farmland
  • Dealing with Conservation Practices in a Farmland Lease
  • Executing and Recording Farm Leases
  • Legal updates and new Farmland Leasing Resources

Our speakers for the webinar include:

  • Barry Ward, Leader, OSU Production Business Management
  • Peggy Hall, Attorney, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program
  • Robert Moore, Attorney, OSU Agricultural & Resource Law Program

There is no cost to attend the Ohio Farmland Leasing Update, but registration is necessary unless you're already registered for our Farm Office Live webinars.  To register, visit go.osu.edu/register4fol.

 

Field of soybeans
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Monday, February 12th, 2024

A federal district court in Arizona has vacated the registrations for dicamba products XtendiMax, Engenia, and Tavium, finding that the U.S. EPA violated pesticide registration procedures when it approved the product registrations in 2020.  As a result of the decision in Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA, the dicamba products are no longer legally authorized for use and application in the U.S.  Although there will likely be appeal of the decision, the new ruling creates uncertainty over the use of dicamba products for the upcoming crop season.

History of the case

If the court’s ruling feels familiar, that’s because it is a repeat of a 2020 Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision in National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  In that case, the court vacated the first “conditional” dicamba product registrations granted by the EPA in 2018.  The court found that the EPA had “substantially understated” and failed to acknowledge the risks of dicamba’s volatility and its effects on non-users.  The EPA then cancelled the product registrations in June of 2020, but allowed producers to use “existing stocks” of already purchased products to apply the products until July 31, 2020.  The Ohio Department of Agriculture shortened that timeline in Ohio due to growing conditions within the state, prohibiting applications of dicamba after June 30, 2020.

Bayer, BASF, and Syngenta immediately revised the label application instructions and restrictions for their dicamba products and resubmitted their registration requests to the EPA. In October of 2020, the EPA granted the applications and issued “unconditional” five-year registrations for over-the-top applications (OTT) of the products on cotton and soybean crops.  The EPA did not provide a notice and opportunity for the public to submit comments before it made the registration decision. The National Family Farm Coalition, Pesticide Action Network, Center for Food Safety, and Center for Biological Diversity filed the current lawsuit, claiming that the EPA violated federal law by granting the unconditional registrations without a notice and comment period.

The court’s reasoning in this case

EPA’s error.  The primary basis for the court’s decision is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), Section 136a(c)(4), which contains the notice and comment requirement for registration of a “new use” of a pesticide or herbicide.  It states that the EPA:

“. . . shall publish in the Federal Register. . . a notice of each application for registration of any pesticide that contains any new active ingredient or if it would entail a changed use pattern. The notice shall provide for a period of 30 days in which any Federal agency or any other interested person may comment.”

FIFRA further states that a “new use” of a product means, in part, “any additional use pattern that would result in a significant increase in the level of exposure, or a change in the route of exposure, to the active ingredient of man or other organisms.”

The EPA took the position that it did not have to provide the FIFRA notice and a comment period because the 2020 registration requests were not applications for a “new use” since EPA had previously approved the products.  The court strongly disagreed, however, emphasizing the previous court decision that had vacated those registrations because the EPA had failed to fully consider the risks of the products.  The EPA’s conclusion that the 2020 registrations were not for a new use “is so implausible that the Court cannot ascribe it to be a mere difference in view,” the court stated.  Stakeholders who would be affected by the dicamba registrations should have had an opportunity to “meaningfully weigh in during the decision-making process before EPA concluded whether OTT dicamba has unreasonable adverse effects on the environment,” said the court.

Remedy for the error.  The court explained that upon finding an agency has violated federal law, the presumed remedy a court must grant is to vacate the agency’s action.  The law requires that only in limited circumstances, when equity requires it, should a court remand without vacating an agency decision.  There are two factors the law requires a court to review in determining the remedy:  the seriousness of the agency’s error and the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision.  The court’s next step was to review those two factors and determine whether it should remand the issue with or without vacating the dicamba registrations.

Examining the first factor, the court concluded that the EPA’s error was “very serious” because it was likely that, had the agency considered field studies, data, and other information that would have been submitted during the comment period, the EPA’s registration decision likely would have differed from the decision it made to grant the five-year unconditional registration.  The history of the dicamba registrations were important to the court, and the judge noted that there had not been a notice and comment period for stakeholders who were opposed to approving dicamba products since 2016, when the EPA considered the original registration.  The court reiterated a long list of field studies, incident reports, and data generated since 2016 that the agency could have considered had it provided a comment period.  Noting that the EPA was “highly confident that control measures would eliminate dicamba offsite movement to only a minimal effect,” the court pointed to years of incident reports on dicamba offsite movement and concluded:

“This Court believes hearing from all stakeholders is likely to change the OTT dicamba registrations at least from unconditional to conditional, with data gathering requirements reinstated. Hearing from non-users of OTT dicamba may change the EPA’s circular approach to assessing costs for risks from OTT dicamba offsite movement. Instead of simply concluding there is no risk and, therefore, no costs to these stakeholders, EPA is likely to include the costs to these stakeholders when balancing the risks and benefits for OTT dicamba. Accordingly, the Court finds the EPA’s procedural error to unconditionally issue the “new use” 2020 dicamba registration, without notice and comment, was serious.”

The court then examined the second factor, the disruptive consequences of vacating the agency’s decision. The court recognized the benefits of dicamba products to the agricultural industry and that growers, through no fault of their own, would be in the difficult position of finding legal herbicides to protect their crops if the dicamba registrations were vacated.  Nevertheless, the court agreed with the reasoning in the previous dicamba case, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto), that the seriousness of the EPA’s failure to assess the risks and costs for non-users of dicamba warranted vacating the registration despite the disruptive consequences.

What happens next?

There are two issues to watch now in the wake of the court’s decision. First is whether the EPA will appeal the federal district court’s decision.  The appeal would go the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the same appellate court that reviewed the decision in the first dicamba appeal, National Family Farm Coalition v. EPA (Monsanto).  If the EPA also requests a stay, the appeal would put the federal district court’s decision on hold.

If there is not an appeal, the second issue to watch for is how the EPA and state agencies will direct the use of existing stocks of dicamba products.  The EPA could use its authority to allow continued use of existing stocks of dicamba products until a certain date, as it did in the previous case.  If the EPA does issue an existing stocks order, states could also address the extent of existing stocks use within their borders, as Ohio did in the previous case.

Follow the Ohio Ag Law Blog for continued legal information about Center for Biological Diversity v. EPA and review the federal district court’s opinion through this link.  Ohio growers should also refer to information from OSU’s Weed Science Extension Specialist, Dr. Allyssa Essman, available through OSU’s C.O.R.N. newsletter.

 

By: Barry Ward, Wednesday, February 07th, 2024

Barry Ward, Leader, Production Business Management

Large increases in the Current Ag Use Value (CAUV) of farmland throughout Ohio in 2023 has resulted in higher property taxes (some have seen significant increases) for farmland owners in 2024. Forty-one of Ohio’s eighty-eight counties will see property tax increases in 2024 due to higher CAUV. Several factors have led to this increase in ag use valuation.

The Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) Program is a differential real estate tax assessment program for owners of farmland. The program allows for the farmland parcels to be taxed according to their use value in agriculture (or their value related to income from agriculture) rather than the market value (defined as the value if the land were sold by a willing seller to a non-related willing buyer). To arrive at this “use value”, a formula is used that includes several variables to capitalize the net income from agricultural products.

Landowners with farmland and woodlands in Ohio are eligible to sign-up for the CAUV program through their county auditor’s office if they meet the requirements.

There are two paths for a parcel to qualify for the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) Program. To qualify for CAUV, land must meet one of the following requirements during the three years preceding an application.

•             Ten or more acres must be devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use; or

•             If under ten acres are devoted exclusively to commercial agricultural use, the farm must produce an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500.

Each of the approximately 3500 different soil types in Ohio is assigned a CAUV value each tax year. The value represents the expected net present value of an acre of land devoted solely to agricultural production for the dominant field crops in Ohio. To determine this value, an average of yields and prices for corn, soybeans, and wheat is used to determine gross income. Non-land costs are then subtracted from gross income for a measure of net income. Finally, this net income is divided by a capitalization rate based upon recent values of farm interest and equity rates.

Large increases in the Current Ag Use Value (CAUV) of farmland in Ohio in 2023 has resulted in higher property taxes (some have seen significant increases) for farmland owners in 2024. Counties are subject to an update in CAUV every 3 years so only a portion (41 of the 88 Ohio counties) have been updated in 2023 that have impacted 2024 property taxes. As counties see updated values only every three years, there is the opportunity for large changes as many farmland owners will see this year.

Several factors have led to much of this increase in ag use valuation. Higher crop market prices and increased crop yields included in the formula have been significant drivers in the higher current ag use values. Price increases have been substantial as compared to the prices used in the 2020 calculations.

Corn price increased 16%, soybean price increased 12% and wheat price increased 7.4%. Yields used to determine values for each soil type increased 7.3% for corn, 5.4% for soybeans and 7.2% for wheat as compared to the yields used for the 2020 calculations. These are substantial increases in both prices and yields in an historical context.

Low interest rates (capitalization rate) have also contributed to the increasing current ag use values as recent higher interest rates aren’t yet fully represented in the formula. The capitalization rate used in the formula in 2023 CAUV calculations was 8.0% as compared to the rate of 7.9% used in 2020, the last time these counties saw an update in CAUV. Recent higher interest rates will increase the capitalization rate (denominator in the CAUV calculation) in future years which will likely help to moderate current ag use values.

For a detailed look at the variables and calculations that are used to determine CAUV for farmland, access the Ohio Department of Taxation online publication “2023 Current Agricultural Use Value of Land Tables Explanation of the Calculation of Values for Tax Year 2023”.

The Ohio Department of Taxation annually publishes this explanation of the CAUV valuation method complete with the measures used to calculate CAUV and examples of the calculations for certain soil units for the present year. This year’s document is titled “2023 Current Agricultural Use Value of Land Tables Explanation of the Calculation of Values for Tax Year 2023” and is available online at:

https://tax.ohio.gov/government/real-state/cauv

 

Posted In: Business and Financial, Crop Issues, Tax
Tags:
Comments: 0
By: Robert Moore, Monday, February 05th, 2024

Legal Groundwork

For many family farms, Long-Term Care (LTC) costs are the biggest threat to the future viability of the farm.  Nursing homes can cost well over $100,000 annually and about 20% of people who require LTC will need it for five years or more.  While there are no easy solutions to the LTC issue, there are strategies that can be implemented to lessen the risk of LTC on the family farming operation.

On February 20, the OSU Agricultural and Resource Law Program, PA Farm Link and the National Agricultural Law Center will be offering a webinar to discuss LTC issues for farms and the strategies available to them.  Topics that will be covered include:

  • Costs for LTC
  • LTC statistics
  • Practical insights from an experience Care Manager who has helped families determine their LTC needs
  • Developing a LTC risk assessment and applying it to your specific situation
  • Strategies to reduce the risk of LTC costs
  • Reviewing the LTC risk calculator application

The webinar will be held from 7:00 – 9:00 (EST).  The webinar is free but registration is required.  For more information and registration, go to https://farmoffice.osu.edu/long_term_care .

 

Calf standing in the snow
By: Jeffrey K. Lewis, Esq., Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Happy 2024! We hope your new calendar year has gotten off to a delightful start. As we close out the first of twelve months, we bring you another edition of the Ag Law Harvest. In this blog post, we delve into the intricate world of employment contracts and noncompete agreements, classifying workers as independent contractors or employees, Ag-Gag laws, and agricultural policy. 

Ohio Man Violates Employer’s Noncompete Agreement. 
Kevin Ciptak (“Ciptak”), an Ohio landscaping employee, is facing legal trouble for allegedly breaching his employment contract with Yagour Group LLC, operating as Perfection Landscapes (“Perfection”). The contract included a noncompete agreement, which Ciptak is accused of violating by running his own landscaping business on the side while working for Perfection. Perfection eventually discovered the extent of Ciptak’s side business, leading to Perfection filing a lawsuit.

During the trial, Ciptak testified that Perfection was “too busy” to take on the jobs he completed. Additionally, Ciptak stated that the profits from his side jobs amounted to over $60,000. Perfection countered that they would have been able to perform the work and, because of the obvious breach of the noncompete agreement, Perfection lost out on the potential profits. The trial court ruled in favor of Perfection, ordering Ciptak to pay the $60,000 in profits along with attorney's fees and expenses, exceeding $80,000. Ciptak appealed, arguing that, according to Ohio law, Perfection could only recover its own lost profits, not Ciptak's gains from the breach. He also claimed that Perfection was not harmed as they were "too busy," and Perfection failed to provide evidence of lost profits. 

The Eighth District Court of Appeals ultimately found in favor of Perfection.  The court reasoned that “[t]his case came down to a credibility determination.” The court held there was no dispute that Ciptak had violated the noncompete agreement. What was in dispute was whether Perfection could have and would have performed the work. The Eighth District held that the trial court’s finding that Perfection could have performed the work was not unreasonable. The Eighth District noted that although Ciptak claimed that Perfection was “too busy” to do any of those jobs, Ciptak “provided no other evidence to support this assertion.” The Eighth District ruled that the evidence presented at trial showed that Perfection would have realized approximately the same amount of profit on those jobs as Ciptak did and, therefore, Perfection was damaged as a result of Ciptak’s breach of the noncompete agreement. 

New Independent Contractor Rule Announced by Department of Labor. 
The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) has published a final rule to help employers better understand when a worker qualifies as an employee and when they may be considered an independent contractor. The new rule gets rid of and replaces the 2021 rule. As announced by the DOL, the new rule “restores the multifactor analysis used by courts for decades, ensuring that all relevant factors are analyzed to determine whether a worker is an employee or an independent contractor.” Thus, the new rule returns to a “totality of the circumstances” approach and analyzes the following six factors: (1) any opportunity for profit or loss a worker might have; (2) the financial stake and nature of any resources a worker has invested in the work; (3) the degree of permanence of the work relationship; (4) the degree of control an employer has over the person’s work; (5) whether the work the person does is essential to the employer’s business; and (6) the worker’s skill and initiative. The new rule goes into effect on March 11, 2024. 

Federal Appeals Court Reverses Injunctions on Iowa “Ag-Gag Laws.” 
On January 8, 2024, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit issued two opinions reversing injunctions against two Iowa “ag-gag laws”. At trial, the two laws were found to have violated the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In its first opinion, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals analyzed Iowa’s “Agricultural Production Facility Trespass” law which makes it illegal to use deceptive practices to obtain access or employment in an “agricultural production facility, with the intent to cause physical or economic harm or other injury to the agricultural production facility’s operations . . .” The Eighth Circuit found that the intent element contained within the Iowa law prevents it from violating the First Amendment. The court reasoned that the Iowa law “is not a viewpoint-based restriction on speech, but rather a permissible restriction on intentionally false speech undertaken to accomplish a legally cognizable harm.” 

In its second opinion, the Eighth Circuit reviewed an Iowa law that penalized anyone who “while trespassing, ‘knowingly places or uses a camera or electronic surveillance device that transmits or records images or data while the device is on the trespassed property[.]’” The court found that the Iowa law did not violate the First Amendment because “the [law’s] restrictions on the use of a camera only apply to situations when there has first been an unlawful trespass, the [law] does not burden substantially more speech than is necessary to further the State’s legitimate interests.”  The court noted that Iowa has a strong interest in protecting property rights by “penalizing that subset of trespassers who – by using a camera while trespassing – cause further injury to privacy and property rights.” 

Both cases have been remanded to the trial courts for further proceedings consistent with the forgoing opinions. 

USDA Announces New Remote Beef Grading Program.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced a new pilot program to “allow more cattle producers and meat processors to access better markets through the [USDA’s] official beef quality grading and certification.” The “Remote Grading Pilot for Beef” looks to expand on the USDA’s approach to increase competition in agricultural markets for small- and mid-size farmers and ranchers. The pilot program hopes to cut expenses that otherwise deter small, independent meat processors from having a highly trained USDA grader visit their facility. 

Under the pilot program, trained plant employees capture specific images of the live animal and the beef carcass. These images are then sent to a USDA grader that will inspect the images and accompanying plant records and product data, who then assigns the USDA Quality Grade and applicable carcass certification programs. The “Remote Grading Pilot for Beef” is only available to domestic beef slaughter facilities operating under federal inspection and producing product that meets USDA grading program eligibility criteria. More information can be found at https://www.ams.usda.gov/services/remote-beef-grading

USDA Accepting Applications for Value-Added Producer Grants Program. 
On January 17, 2024, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) announced that it is “accepting applications for grants to help agricultural producers maximize the value of their products and venture into new and better markets.” These grants are available through the Value-Added Producer Grants Program. Independent producers, agricultural producer groups, farmer or rancher cooperatives, and majority-controlled producer-based business ventures are all eligible for the grants. The USDA may award up to $75,000 for planning activities or up to $250,000 for working capital expenses related to producing and marketing a value-added agricultural product. For more information, visit the USDA’s website or contact your local USDA Rural Development office.

 

Tractor pulling wagon of grain across beanfield at sunset.

Written by David L. Marrison, Professor & Field Specialist in Farm Management, OSU Extension

“I guess it comes down to a simple choice, really. Get busy living or get busy dying.” This famous line was quoted by Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, in the iconic movie titled “The Shawshank Redemption” released in 1994.

As we each traverse through our lives, we all are presented with moments that make us pause and reflect on how precious the time is we have been given here on earth. Every time I watch The Shawshank Redemption, I pause and think of the deeper message in this line:  that life can be spent going through the motions and waiting around for something to happen or you can make something happen.

As we look at developing a plan for transitioning the farm to the next generation, are we waiting around for something to happen? Or will we work to make something happen? As farmers, we have to contend with and solve the day-to-day problems which arise on the farm. And there is never a shortage of problems that arise. Because of this, the time for deeper planning functions such as farm transition planning is often pushed down the to-do list.  So, what will be the trigger to make something happen with regards to your succession plan?

What will be your trigger?

One of the hypothetical questions we pose in farm succession workshops is, “What knowledge would you need to pass on if you knew you had only two months to live?” This exact scenario happened to our family in 2010 when my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just as we entered into Spring planting season on our dairy farm in northeast Ohio. 

My father valiantly battled this disease but passed away seven weeks later. Our family learned a lot and had to scramble to manage the farm in the midst of his illness. I am grateful for the short time we had with my dad to make preparations. But it was not long enough to learn everything we needed to know to run the farm without him.

I challenge you to think how your farm and family would react to the loss of the principal operator.  What knowledge and skills need to be transferred to the next generation so they can be successful without you? What can you do today to make something happen?

Who Will Manage the Farm in the Future?

As you develop your succession or transition plan, there are a myriad of decisions to be made. These decisions include identifying the next leader/manager of the farm, how to be fair to off-farm heirs without jeopardizing the future of the on-farm heirs, how to distribute assets through the estate plan, how and when the senior generation will retire, and how the business will deal with unexpected issues such as divorce, disability or paying for nursing home expenses. I would contend that the most crucial planning functions are to identify the next manager of the farm and then strategically plan how to develop them to lead the farm in the future.

The first step is to identify who the next leader or leaders of the farm will be. The next generation could be an immediate family member (son, daughter, grandchild) or extended family member (brother, sister, niece, nephew). With that said, the next leader does not have to be from your family as some farms have transitioned successfully to a non-blood friend or neighbor. The key is to choose a successor who will be the best caretaker of the farm and the land they will be entrusted with.

As you review potential managers and heirs to your farm, it is important to talk with them about their vision for the future and how it aligns with the current farming operation. What are their goals and aspirations for the farm? What concerns do they have about the future of the farm? 

Complete a skills assessment with each potential heir/manager to examine their current strengths and which areas they will need to receive training in order for them to be a better leader for the farm in the future. Talk with them to learn more about what they would be most concerned or scared about if they had to take over the farm today. Are there additional responsibilities they would like to assume and what is their expectation for an appropriate time for management control to be transferred?

The new manager should have experience with how other farms are operated. Having the future manager work on another farm prior to returning to the home farm is a valuable experience. Mentor relationships should also be developed for the new manager to have a trusted team to help them grow.

Putting the Transition into Motion

The transition can be accomplished gradually by turning over more responsibility and authority to the successor.  In fact, this process may (and should) take 5-10 years. It is important to develop a timeline for transferring ownership, management responsibilities, and knowledge from one generation to the next.

As the senior generation transitions their role and responsibilities to the next generation, thought should be given to the overall labor hours which will be available. In some cases, the responsibilities of two members of the senior generation will be transitioned to a single successor. Think of husband/wife combination transitioning to one of their children. This could cause a labor shortage. Could some tasks be outsourced to independent contractors (like accountants)? Can some production practices be accomplished through custom hire arrangements (silage harvest or cattle breeding)?

The biggest task in the transition plan is making sure the next generation has a firm foundation of knowledge to manage the operation in the future. This will look different for each farm and for the type of manager that is needed.

Owner-Operator. If the next manager is going to be an owner-operator, then training will need to include how to manage all aspects of the farm. These include production skills to raise livestock and/or crop enterprises and marketing skills to effectively market each commodity produced. The owner-operator will also need financial skills to manage the operation’s finances and taxes and human resource skills to manage employees. Additionally, they will need to know how to maintain facilities, tools, and equipment as well as how to manage risk through crop, livestock, and farm insurance.

Owner-Landlord. To the contrary, if the next manager will be more of an owner-landlord, they will need to be trained less on the day-to-day production activities and more on how to manage the farm asset. Some skills which are necessary for landlords include tenant and farm rental management, farm finance and tax management, farm insurance decision making, and facilities and other farm assets maintenance.

Strategies recommended for farm businesses to utilize in the transition process are:

  • Every person who is part of the business (family member and employees) should have a written job description which includes job duties, responsibilities, and expectations.
  • Create an organization chart of all employees and how each employee relates to one another.
  • Develop a timeline for the successor to work through each job description on the farm. It is good to start the new family member as an employee and not the top manager.
  • Provide meaningful opportunities for decision-making as well as accepting responsibility for the future manager.
  • Develop a plan on how the future manager can increase their equity in the farm business through gifting, purchasing or inheritance.
  • Develop a timeline for retirement and managerial transfer from senior generation to the succeeding generation.
  • Utilize family business meetings to discuss the transfer and changing roles within the business.

Some experts advise that the current manager take a number of planned absences before retiring to provide an opportunity for the successor to see what it is like to manage the business alone. This will also allow the current manager to see that the farm does not fall apart without them. So how do you know if the next generation is ready?  There are two other approaches which you can use to help prepare the next generation to lead without you:  

Opossum Approach. Just as an opossum plays dead, so too should the principal operator.   Take an unannounced week away from the farm during one of the busiest times of the year for your farm and allow the junior generation to take over with no communication from the senior generation.  I know this sounds crazy but how else will you know what knowledge and skills need to be transferred?  It is a lot easier to come back after a short vacation and be able to answer the questions your son or daughter has.  You won’t have this opportunity when you pass away.

365-Day Challenge.  Outside of using the opossum approach, it should be the goal of the senior generation to transfer at least one knowledge point or skill to the next generation each day. So, by the end of the year, your heirs will have 365 new tools in their management toolbox. If you do this over the next five to ten years, you can teach your heirs an incredible amount.

Take Advantage of OSU Extension Workshops

Attend one of our Planning for the Future of Your Farm” workshops this Winter to learn about the communication and legal strategies that provide solutions for dealing with farm transition needs and decision making.  A webinar version and several in-person options for the workshop are being offered.

Webinar version.  You and your family members can attend the workshop individually and online from the comfort of your homes. The four-part webinar series will be February 5, 12, 19, and 26, 2024, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. via Zoom. Pre-registration is required so that a packet of program materials can be mailed in advance to participating families. Electronic copies of the course materials will also be available to all participants. The registration fee is $75 per farm family.  Register by February 2, 2024 to receive course materials in time. Register on this page.

In-person workshops.  Our local Extension Educators are hosting in-person workshops at five regional locations across Ohio. Registration costs vary by location due to local sponsorships. 

More information about our Planning for the Future of Your Farm workshops is available at: go.osu.edu/farmsuccession.

Final Thoughts

So, are you ready “to make something happen” to transition your farm to the next generation?  Farm managers are encouraged to think about how the next generation can be prepared to lead the farm in the future.  And as Andy Dufresne stated in The Shawshank Redemption, “remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”  Good luck as you plan for the future of your farm!

Cattle standing at a board fence with farm field behind them.
By: Peggy Kirk Hall, Tuesday, January 23rd, 2024

Recent collisions involving cattle on Ohio roadways raise the question of who is liable when a farm animal causes a roadway accident?  Ohio’s “animals at large law” helps answer that question. It’s an old law that establishes a legal duty for owners and keepers of farm animals to contain their animals.  The law states that an owner or keeper shall not permit their animals to run at large “in the public road, highway, street, lane, or alley, or upon unenclosed land.”  But as with many laws, the answer to the question of “who’s liable” under the law is “it depends.”  Here’s how the law works.

The law applies to both owners and “keepers.”  The animals at large law places responsibility on both the owners and the “keepers” of the animals.  The reference to “keepers” can expand the duty to someone other than the animal owner.  Ohio courts have interpreted the “keeper” language to include a person “who has physical care or charge” of the animal or has “some degree of management, possession, care, custody or control” over the animal.  Whether someone is a “keeper” is a fact specific determination made on a case-by-case basis.

Animals that must be contained.  Several years ago, Ohio legislators added poultry to the list of animals an owner must prevent from running at large.  The full list of animals an owner or keeper must contain now includes horses, mules, cattle, bison, sheep, goats, swine, llamas, alpacas, and poultry. 

The law creates both civil and criminal liability.  There are two potential outcomes to violating the animals at large law.   The first is civil liability for “negligently permitting”  animals to run at large.  The owner or keeper who does so is responsible for all damages resulting from injury, death, or loss to a person or property caused by the animal.  The second is criminal liability.  An owner or keeper who “recklessly” permits the animals to run at large can be charged with a fourth degree misdemeanor.

An owner’s negligent conduct creates civil liability.  An owner can be liable for “negligently permitting” animals to run at large, but what does “negligently permitting” mean?  Courts have answered this question by stating that the law requires “negligent conduct” by the owner or keeper and that failing to exercise “ordinary care” to contain animals would be negligent conduct.  As an example, a court determined that an owner who leaned a gate against a barn opening without fastening the gate to the barn or to any fence posts did not exercise ordinary care to contain his cattle.  But the law allows an owner to rebut the presumption that the animals were out because of the owner's negligent conduct.  An owner can offer proof of “ordinary care” taken to contain the animal, such as maintaining fences, locking gates, or checking animals regularly.  If the owner had exercised reasonable care and the animals escaped for other reasons, such as being spooked by a storm or a gate left open by someone else, the owner might not be liable for the animals running at large. Whether the owner or keeper “negligently permitted” the escape would be a fact specific determination, made on a case-by-case basis.

Reckless conduct can result in criminal charges.  In the example above, the court determined that the owner who merely leaned a gate up against the barn opening behaved “recklessly.”  Legally, recklessness is acting with complete disregard to the consequences.  Reckless behavior can lead to a criminal charge against the animal owner, with a maximum jail sentence of 30 days and a fine of up to $250.

Reducing liability risk under the animals at large law

  1.  Regular management practices.  In the court cases that apply Ohio’s animals at large law, the owner or keeper’s management practices are critically important to a liability determination.  Animal owners and keepers can reduce liability risk by following routine management practices and documenting those practices, which include:
  • Regularly checking and maintaining fences.
  • Locking gates.
  • Inspecting and maintaining stalls and similar enclosures.
  • Checking and counting animals regularly, and immediately after a storm or similar event.
  • Installing cameras.
  • Training employees to follow management practices.
  1. The fence matters.  It's also important to build a sufficient fence.  OSU Extension offers helpful resources on fencing in this video on fencing systems by Educator Ted Wiseman and this article on common fencing mistake posted by the OSU Sheep Team.  Be aware that another Ohio law requires a new boundary line fence for livestock to be a certain type of fence.  Ohio’s “partition fence law” requires a new boundary line fence for containing livestock to be:

“a woven wire fence, either standard or high tensile, with one or two strands of barbed wire located not less than forty-eight inches from the ground or a nonelectric high tensile fence of at least seven strands and that is constructed in accordance with the United States natural resources conservation service conservation practice standard for fences, code 382.” If adjacent owners agree in writing, a new line fence to contain livestock can also be a barbed wire, electric, or live fence. 

  1. Insurance and business entities.  Insurance is necessary risk management tool for farm animal owners and keepers.  It’s important to review all animals and animal activities with an insurance provider and ensure adequate liability coverage.  In some situations, using a separate business entity like a Limited Liability Company might be helpful for liability purposes.  Animal owners and keepers should consult with insurance and legal advisors to determine individual insurance and legal needs.

Ohio’s animals at large law is in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 951.  Ohio’s partition fence law is in Ohio Revised Code Chapter 971.

 

By: Robert Moore, Thursday, January 18th, 2024

Legal Groundwork

Managing the inherent risks of a farm is a top priority for most farm managers.  The challenge for those managers is how best to manage the risks.  We often are encouraged to invest in liability insurance or establish a business entity such as an LLC.  The question becomes: is one better than the other and do we need both?

For most legal questions, the answer is “it depends on the situation.”  However, regarding farm insurance, the answer is a definite “yes, you need good liability insurance.”  Farm liability insurance is the best, most cost-effective liability management strategy for a farming operation. Insurance should always be the primary risk management tool with a business entity being the backup plan. Before spending time and money on setting up a business entity, make sure the farm’s liability insurance policy has adequate coverage limits and protects all the farm’s activities and assets.

There is no precise answer as to how much liability insurance a farm should carry.  For farms with higher risk exposure like customer visitors or trucks and large machinery frequenting roadways, the coverage limit should be higher.  Smaller farms with less liability exposure may need a smaller coverage limit.  Every farm should probably have at least $1 million in liability coverage.  A coverage limit of $3 million to $5 million is probably better for farms with moderate liability exposure.  Farms with high liability exposure for visitors or trucks/equipment may want $5 million or more in coverage.  With liability insurance, more is better although the premium costs must be considered.  Liability insurance is relatively low-cost compared to the protection it provides.  The best solution is to talk to the insurance agent to determine the best coverage limits for the specific farming operation.

When discussing the liability insurance policy with the insurance agent, it is vital to make sure the agent is aware of all activities and assets on the farm.  If the agent does not know about it, the activity or asset might not be covered.  For example, farmers who lease their land for hunting may not be covered by a typical farm policy for injuries to hunters.  To address issues like this, a checklist of unique farm activities and assets has been developed and is available here.  Each activity and asset that applies to the farming operation should be checked and the completed list provided to the insurance agent.  The agent can them make sure that all activities and assets are covered.

For a more thorough discussion on farm insurance, see the Farm Insurance: Covering Your Assets Bulletin available at farmoffice.osu.edu.

After ensuring an adequate liability insurance policy is in place, focus can then turn to a business entity.  Whether a business entity is needed in addition to the insurance depends on the situation.  Generally, a business entity will help provide backup liability protection if the business has any of the following:

  • Multiple owners;
  • Employees;
  • Many visitors;
  • External liability exposure such as food safety or product liability.

If none of the above factors apply to a farming operation, a business entity might have limited value for liability protection.  The reason is if a liability issue occurs, the owner of the business will have caused it.  The business owner will likely be personally liable regardless of what type of business entity they may have.

Consider the following examples:

Example 1.  Farmer is a sole proprietor with no employees.  He only occasionally receives help from family members.  If a liability incident happens with machinery on the roadway, Farmer will likely to have caused it.  Farmer will be personally liable.   Even if Farmer had an LLC, Farmer would still be personally liable because they caused the liability incident. Farmer’s best liability protection is liability insurance. 

Example 2. Farmer adds a full-time employee to help on the farming operation and continues to operate as a sole proprietor.  If employee has a liability incident while driving equipment, Farmer will probably be fully liable for employee’s actions.  Under Ohio law, an employer is liable for an employee’s actions during the course of work.  Again, Farmer’s only protection is insurance.

Example 3. Farmer establishes an LLC for his farming operation when they hire the employee.  Now, the LLC is the employer, not Farmer.  When the employee has an incident driving the machinery, the LLC is liable for the employee, not Farmer.  All of Farmer’s assets outside of the LLC are safe because Farmer is not personally liable.  The LLC may be liable and the assets in the LLC are still at risk, but the LLC contains the employee’s liability to only the LLC. 

As these examples show, the utility of a business entity to provide liability protection depends on the situation.  In some cases, the business entity will provide little protection while in other cases, the entity will provide significant protection.  The best course of action is to consult with an attorney to determine the best strategy for a particular situation. 

The type of entity used also affects the protection provided.  A general partnership provides no liability protection and a limited partnership provides some, but not complete, liability protection.  An LLC or corporation are the best entities to use for liability protection.  For a detailed discussion on business entities and liability protection, see the Using Business Entities to Manage Farm Liability Risk Bulletin available at farmoffice.osu.edu.

To summarize, let’s go back to the original question: do you need liability insurance, a business entity or both?  There is no doubt every farm should have liability insurance.  Working closely with the insurance agent to ensure that all activities and assets are covered is a goal that every farm should have.  Business entities can provide a good backup plan but, in some situations, may only provide limited protection.  So, it depends on the situation as to whether a business entity is needed.  Consulting with an attorney is the best way to determine if a business entity is a good choice.

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