Welcome to the Ag & Food Law Blog

This blog provides a comprehensive news, research, and information resource on agricultural and food law for the nation’s agricultural community. 

It is provided as a partnership of The National Agricultural Law Center, the nation’s leading source of agricultural and food law research and information, and the American Agricultural Law Association, the only national professional organization focusing on the legal needs of the agricultural community.  Located in Fayetteville, Arkansas the National Agricultural Law Center serves the nation's agricultural community and is a unit of the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.  In addition, the Center leads the eXtension Community of Practice for Agricultural and Food Law.

USDA to Limit Payments to Non-Farmers, 2014 Farm Bill

Posted March 25, 2015

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced a proposed rule to limit farm payments to non-farmers, consistent with requirements Congress mandated in the 2014 Farm Bill, according to the USDA press release available here. Farm Futures also published an article available here.

The proposed rule limits farm payments to individuals who may be designated as farm managers but are not actively engaged in farm management.

"We want to make sure that farm program payments are going to the farmers and farm families that they are intended to help. So we've taken the steps to do that, to the extent that the Farm Bill allows," said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. "The Farm Bill gave USDA the authority to limit farm program payments to individuals who are not actively engaged in the management of the farming operation on non-family farms. This helps close a loophole that has been taken advantage of by some larger joint ventures and general partnerships."

"Actively engaged" is defined for managers allows individuals with little to no contributions to critical farm management decisions to receive safety net payments if they are classified as farm managers. For some operations, there were an unlimited number of managers that could receive payments, according to Farm Futures.

Under the new proposed rule, non-family joint ventures and general partnerships must document that their managers are making significant contributions to the farming operation, 500 hours of management work per year, or 25% of the critical management time necessary for the success of the farming operation.

As mandated by Congress, family farms will not be impacted. There will also be no change to existing rules for contributions to land, capital, equipment, or labor. Only non-family farm general partnerships or joint ventures comprised of more than one member will be impacted by this proposed rule, according to USDA.

Stakeholders interested in commenting on the proposed definition and changes are encouraged to provide written comments here by May 26, 2015. The proposed rule is available here.

For more information on farm bills, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

CRS Released WOTUS Report

Posted March 24, 2015

On March 25, 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) announced a proposed rule defining the scope of waters protected under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

The proposal revises regulations that have been in place for more than 25 years. Revisions are proposed in light of 2001 and 2006 Supreme Court rulings that interpreted the regulatory scope of the CWA more narrowly than previously, but created uncertainty about the precise effect of the Court’s decisions.

According to the agencies, the proposed rule revises the existing administrative definition of “waters of the United States” consistent with legal rulings and science concerning the interconnectedness of tributaries, wetlands, and other waters and effects of these connections on the chemical, physical, and biological integrity of downstream waters. Waters that are “jurisdictional” are subject to the multiple regulatory requirements of the CWA. Non- jurisdictional waters are not subject to those requirements.

This report describes the proposed rule and includes a table comparing the existing regulatory language that defines “waters of the United States” with the proposed revisions. The proposal focuses on clarifying the regulatory status of waters located in isolated places in a landscape. It does not modify some categories of waters that currently are jurisdictional by rule (traditional navigable waters, interstate waters and wetlands, the territorial seas, and impoundments).

Congressional hearings have been held and are continuing in the 114th Congress. The FY2015 omnibus appropriations act (H.R. 83/P.L. 113-235) includes a provision directing withdrawal of a controversial related interpretive rule on agriculture exemptions, but it contains no restriction on the “waters of the U.S.” proposal. A bill to bar issuance of the rule has been introduced in the 114th Congress (H.R. 594). The House passed similar legislation in the 113th Congress (H.R. 5078). Other 113th Congress bills included S. 2496, H.R. 4923, H.R. 5071, and H.R. 5171.

For more information on the Clean Water Act, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

Fireman's Fund to Pay $44M

Posted March 24, 2015

The Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. has agreed to pay $44 million to settle allegations under the False Claims Act, according to an Insurance Journal article available here. Reuters also published an article available here.

According to the allegations, they knowingly issued insurance policies that were ineligible under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) federal crop insurance program and falsified documents.

Between 1999 and 2002, Fireman’s Fund operated a crop insurance business and participated in the federal crop insurance program. Under the program, Fireman’s Fund sold and serviced crop insurance policies that were reinsured by the USDA for a portion of the risks.

Crop insurance protects farmers against losses attributable to natural disasters such as disease, droughts, floods, freezes and hail, as well as falling commodity prices, according to Reuters

The Justice Department said the Fireman's Fund settlement involved no determination of liability.

For more information on crop insurance programs, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

WOTUS Concerns Addressed at House Panel

Posted March 20, 2015

Farmers and leaders from agriculture and government agencies expressed their concerns about the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule at a House Agriculture Conservation and Forestry Subcommittee, according to an Agri-Pulse article available here. Brownfield Ag News also published an article here and Hoosier Ag Today here.

Members on one panel spoke on behalf of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, National Association of Counties, National Association of State Foresters and Association of Clean Water Administrators.

A second panel included representatives of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the Waters Advocacy Coalition, and the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association, and farmers raising crops and livestock in Mississippi and Illinois.

Steve Foglesong, an Illinois livestock and crop farmer, said his main concern is the rule’s lack of clarity, according to Brownfield Ag News.

“We hear about exemptions that are there but until we’ve seen it in print—and probably more importantly, seen it in action—we’re not going to understand exactly how it’s supposed to affect us,” said Foglesong.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told the National Farmers Union that she is renaming the Waters of the U.S. rule the Clean Water Rule, according to Hoosier Ag Today.

McCarthy said that she wishes EPA would have done a better job with its Clean Water Rule by calling it WOTUS instead of the Clean Water Rule, being more clear about what EPA was and was not proposing, and talking to farmers and others before EPA put out the interpretive rule.

For more information on the Clean Water Act, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.

FAA Accepting Drone Comments

Posted March 20, 2015

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing to amend its regulations to allow the operation of small-unmanned aircraft systems in the National Airspace System, according to a Federal Register available here.

These changes would address the operation of unmanned aircraft systems, certification of their operators, registration, and display of registration markings, and find that airworthiness certification is not required for small unmanned aircraft system operations that would be subject to this proposed rule.

The proposed rule would also prohibit model aircraft from endangering the safety of the National Airspace System.

Wayne Woldt, a biological systems engineer at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said he would be very surprised if the FAA relaxes the 500 feet visual line-of-sight requirement at this early stage, according to Brownfield Ag News.

“I don’t doubt that at some point in time in the future it will be relaxed as technology evolves and proven capabilities are brought on-line that can help with what’s called ‘de-conflicting the airspace’. In other words, avoiding collisions in the airspace,” said Woldt. “But for now, I think we’re going to be stuck with visual line-of-sight.”

To submit a comment, please see the FAA regulations here before April 24.

ND Voted to Lift Corporate Dairy Farming Ban

Posted March 19, 2015

House lawmakers voted to relax North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law, which could set the precedent for non-family corporations to own dairy and swine operations for the first time in 83 years, according to a Prairie Business article available here. Inforum also published the article here and Grand Forks Herald here.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne condemned the vote and issued a statement that accused legislators of “ignoring the majority of North Dakotans who want farmland ownership and agricultural production to be in the hands of families making a living off the land.”

Rep. Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, stressed that North Dakota is one of nine states with anti-corporate farming laws and the only state without a livestock exemption.

Johnson said the bill would encourage investment in the state’s struggling swine and dairy industries while also benefiting grain farmers by providing fertilizer and additional markets for their crops.

“We could do nothing and watch them fade away. But I think we have an opportunity here to try and help them.”

The House voted 56-37 to approve amended Senate Bill 2351, after the Senate first passed the bill 27-18 last month.

If the Senate agrees to the House amendments, the bill will go to Gov. Jack Dalrymple for his signature.

For more information on corporate farming laws, please visit the National Agricultural Law Center’s website here.