Category Archives: Property

The Ag Law Harvest

Written by Ellen Essman

In Ohio and around the country, farmers are gearing up for a new planting season.  Spring is (almost) here! Before we leave winter totally behind, we wanted to keep you up to date on some notable ag law news from the past few months.

Here’s a look at what’s going on in ag law across the country…

New law signed to ramp up ag protections at U.S. ports of entry. Last summer, a bill was introduced in the United States Senate by a bipartisan group of senators.  The purpose of the bill was to give more resources to Customs and Border Control (CBP) to inspect food and other agricultural goods coming across the U.S. border.  On March 3, 2020, the President signed the bill into law.  The new law authorizes CBP to hire and train more agricultural specialists, technicians, and canine teams for inspections at ports of entry.  The additional hires are meant to help efforts to prevent foreign animal diseases like African swine fever from entering the United States.  You can read the law here.

The Renewable Fuel Standard gets a win.  We reported on Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) issues last fall, and it seems as though the battles between biofuel producers and oil refineries have spilled over into 2020.  For a refresher, the RFS program “requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel” and other fuels.  Renewable fuels include biofuels made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane.  In recent years, the demand for biofuels has dropped as the Trump administration waived required volumes for certain oil refiners.  As a result, biofuels groups filed a lawsuit, asserting that EPA did not have the power to grant some of the waivers it gave to small oil refiners.  On January 24, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit agreed with the biofuels groups.  You can find the 99-page opinion here. If you’re not up for that bit of light reading, here’s the SparkNotes version: the court determined that EPA did not have the authority to grant three waivers to two small refineries in 2017.  The court found that EPA “exceeded its statutory authority” because it extended exemptions that had never been given in the first place. To put it another way, the court asked how EPA could “extend” a waiver when the waiver had not been given in previous years. The Trump Administration is currently contemplating whether or not to appeal the decision.

Virginia General Assembly defines “milk.” To paraphrase Shakespeare, does “milk by another name taste as sweet?” Joining the company of a number of other states that have defined “milk” and “meat,” the Virginia General Assembly passed a bill on March 4, 2020 that defines milk as “the lacteal secretion, practically free of colostrum, obtained by the complete milking of a healthy hooved mammal.” The bill would make it illegal to label products as “milk” in Virginia unless they met the definition above.  Essentially, products like almond milk, oat milk, soy milk, coconut milk, etc. would be misbranded if the labels represent the products as milk.  Governor Ralph Northam has not yet signed or vetoed the bill. If he signs the bill, it would not become effective until six months after 11 of 14 southern states enact similar laws. The 11 states would also have to enact their laws before or on October 1, 2029 for Virginia’s law to take effect.  The states are: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia.  North Carolina has already passed a similar law.

And now, for ag law in our neck of the woods.

Purple paint bill reintroduced in Ohio.  You may recall that the Ohio General Assembly has been toying with the idea of a purple paint law for the past several years.  On March 4, 2020, Senator Bill Coley (R-Liberty Township) once again introduced a purple paint bill.  What exactly does “purple paint” mean? If passed, the bill would allow landowners to put purple paint on trees and/or fence posts. The marks would have to be vertical lines at least eight inches long, between three and five feet from the base of the tree or post, readily visible, and placed at intervals of at most 25 yards. If the bill passed, such marks would be sufficient to inform those recklessly trespassing on private property that they are not authorized to be there.  People who recklessly trespass on land with purple paint marks would be guilty of a fourth degree criminal misdemeanor.  You can read the bill here.

Bill giving tax credits to beginning farmers considered. Senate Bill 159, titled “Grant tax credits to assist beginning farmers” had a hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on March 3, 2020.  The bill, introduced last year, seeks to provide tax incentives to beginning farmers who participate in an approved financial management program, as well as to businesses that sell or rent agricultural land, livestock, facilities, or equipment to beginning farmers. A nearly identical bill is being considered in the House, HB 183. Back in February, Governor Mike DeWine indicated he would sign such a bill if it passed the General Assembly.  SB 159 is available here, and HB 183 is available here.

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Filed under ag law harvest, Animals, Business and Financial, Food, Property, Tax, Uncategorized

Ohio Legislation on the Move

Written by Ellen Essman

The year is still fairly new, and 2020 has brought with it some newly-introduced legislation in the Ohio General Assembly.  That being said, in 2020 the General Assembly also continues to consider legislation first introduced in 2019.  From tax exemptions to CAUV changes, to watershed programs and local referendums on wind turbines, here is some notable ag-related legislation making its way through the state house.

New legislation

  • House Bill 400 “To authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for the retail sale of high-ethanol blend motor fuel”

HB 400 was introduced after our last legislative update in November, so while it was first introduced in 2019, it still technically qualifies as “new” to us.  Since its introduction, the bill has been discussed in two hearings in the House Ways & Means Committee.  The bill would give owners and operators of gas stations a tax rebate of five cents per gallon for sales of ethanol.  To apply, the fuel would have to be between 15% and 85% ethanol (E15).  If passed, the tax credit would be available for four years.  The bill is meant to encourage gas station owners in Ohio to sell E15, which is much more readily available in other states.  The bill is available here.

  • House Bill 485 “To remove a requirement that owners of farmland enrolled in the CAUV program must file a renewal application each year in order to remain in the program”

Introduced on January 29, 2020, HB 485 would make it easier for farmers to stay enrolled in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program.  CAUV allows agricultural land to be taxed at a much lower rate than other types of land.  If HB 485 were to pass, instead of filling out and turning in a CAUV renewal application every year, owners of agricultural land would simply have to submit documentation on the annual gross income of the land to the county auditor each year. The CAUV bill can be found here.

Legislation from 2019 still being considered

  • House Bill 24 “Revise Humane Society law”

In November, we reported that HB 24 passed the House unanimously and was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources.  Since that time, the committee has held two hearings on the bill. The hearings included testimony from the bill’s House sponsors, who touted how the bill would improve humane societies’ public accountability. The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations, require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve, and would establish procedures for seizing and impounding animals. It would also remove humane societies’ current jurisdiction over child abuse cases and make agents subject to bribery laws. Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense.  Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats.  You can read HB 24 here.

  • House Bill 109 “To authorize a property tax exemption for land used for commercial maple sap extraction”

HB 109 was first introduced in February of 2019, but has recently seen some action in the House Ways & Means Committee, where it was discussed in a hearing on January 28, 2020.  The bill would give owners of “maple forest land” a property tax exemption if they: (1) Drill an average of 30 taps during the tax year into at least 15 maple trees per acre; (2) use sap in commercially sold maple products; and (3) manage the land under a plan that complies with the standards of reasonable care in the protection and maintenance of forest land.  In addition, the land must be 10 contiguous acres. Maple forest land that does not meet that acreage threshold can still receive a tax exemption if the sap produces an average yearly gross income of $2,500 or more in the three preceding years, or if evidence shows that the gross income during the current tax year will be at least $2,500.  You can find the text of the proposed bill here.

  • House Bill 160 “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”

Have you ever thought, “Gee, this ice cream is great, but what could make it even better?” Well this is the bill for you! At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol in Ohio must obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol.  This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. HB 160 passed the House last year and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate.  Since our last legislative update, the committee has had three hearings on the bill. In the hearings, proponents testified in support of the bill, arguing that it would allow their businesses to grow and compete with out of state businesses. Senators asked questions about how the ice cream would be kept away from children, how the bill would help business, and about other states with similar laws. To read the bill, click here.

  • Senate Bill 2 “Create watershed planning structure”

In 2019, SB 2 passed the Senate and moved on to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director.  Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region.  The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices.  Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus.  Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption.

Since SB 2 moved on to the lower chamber, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee has held multiple hearings on the bill, and has consented to two amendments.  The first amendment would keep information about individual nutrient management plans out of the public record. Similarly, the second amendment would keep information about farmers’ agricultural operations and conservation practices out of the public record. The text of SB 2 is available here.

  • Senate Bill 234 “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”

SB 234 was introduced on November 6, 2019.  Since that time, the bill was assigned to the Senate Energy & Public Utilities Committee, and three hearings have been held. The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote.  The bill would also change how minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured.  The committee hearings have included testimony from numerous proponents of the bill. SB 234 is available here.  A companion bill was also introduced in the House.  HB 401 can be found here.

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What’s on our Christmas wish list? More written farmland leases in 2020

Christmas is a good time to make wishes for the peace and well-being of others.  One of our top wishes this year does that:  we hope for all Ohio farmers to have written farmland leases.  It’s an odd wish, we know.  But putting leases in writing can help landowners and farm tenants live in peace, and we like that.

Farm leases have always been prone to being verbal agreements, sealed with a handshake.  Simplicity and trust are two plausible reasons we’ve done business that way.  But a written farm lease can be simple, and using one doesn’t have to mean that the parties don’t trust each another.  Instead, a lease can keep distrust from arising between the parties by anticipating needs and foreclosing uncertainties and disagreements.

One of the strongest disagreements we hear about verbal farm leases is whether one party can terminate the lease without giving the other much notice of that termination.  For example, if Riley has rented land from Dale every year for the past ten years, can Dale terminate the lease for the 2020 planting season in February of 2020?  What if Riley has already purchased inputs, added nutrients, or planted a cover crop?  Or perhaps Dale passes away at the end of the year.  Will Riley lose the lease if Dale’s children sell the land before planting season begins?  These are the uncertainties that can lead to fighting, distrust, and sometimes, costly and difficult litigation.

A written farmland lease can prevent these uncertainties that can arise with verbal leases.  A written lease can state how much notice is required in order for one party to terminate the lease.  It can address other potentially problematic issues, such as who repairs drainage tiles, fences and access points, how to address new subsurface drainage and soil fertility needs, and whether and how to adjust annual lease rental rates.  When an issue or question about the arrangement develops, the written farm lease can provide the already agreed-upon answer or solution.

When it comes to the peace and well-being of farmers, written farmland leases are a good thing to wish for.  So let’s keep the Grinch of uncertainty from showing up in 2020, and put those farmland leases in writing.   For our resources on what to include in a written farm lease, how to create an enforceable lease, and other farm lease needs, please visit this page.

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A hunting we will go: laws landowners need to know

With archery season in full swing and deer gun season opening today, hunters will be out in full force across Ohio.  That means it’s also high season for questions about hunting laws, trespassers, property harm, and landowner liability.  Below, we provide answers to the top ten frequently asked questions we receive on these topics.

  1. I gave them permission to hunt on my land, but do I have to sign something?   Permission to hunt should be in writing.  Ohio law requires a person to obtain written permission from a landowner or the landowner’s agent before hunting on private lands or waters and to carry the written permission while hunting.  A hunter who doesn’t obtain written permission can be subject to criminal misdemeanor charges.  ORC 1533.17.  The ODNR provides a permission form at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/Portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/hunting/Pub8924_PermissiontoHunt.pdf.   If a hunter uses another form, read it carefully before signing and ensure that it only addresses hunting and doesn’t grant other rights that you don’t want to allow on the land.
  2. Do family members need a license to hunt on my land? Some of them will, depending on their relationship to you.  Resident landowners, their children of any age and their grandchildren under the age of 18 are exempt from the hunting license requirement when hunting on the landowners’ private lands and waters.  The same rule applies if a limited liability company (LLC), limited liability partnership (LLP) or a trust holds the land and the LLC, LLP or trust has three or fewer members, partners, trustees and beneficiaries, as long as the LLC member, LLP partner or trustee is a resident of Ohio.   When the landowner is not a resident, only the landowner, spouse and children of any age may hunt without a license, and only if the landowner’s state of residency grants the same rights to Ohioans who own land in that state.  ORC 1533.10.  Family members who don’t fall under the license exemption must obtain a hunting license and follow the written permission requirement.
  3. Does a hunter need my permission to retrieve an animal injured on another property?   The written permission requirement applies to all of these activities:  shooting, shooting at, catching, killing, injuring, or pursuing a wild bird, wild waterfowl or wild animal.  ORC 1533.17.
  4. Will I be liable if a hunter is injured on my land? Probably not.  Two laws apply to this situation, depending upon whether you gave the hunter permission.   A landowner is not liable for injuries to or harm caused by a hunter who does not have written permission to be on the land.  ORC 1533.17.  Ohio’s Recreational User Statute applies when a hunter does have permission to be on the land; it states that a landowner has no legal duty to keep the premises safe for a hunter and assumes no responsibility for or incurs liability for any injury to person or property caused by any act of a hunter.  ORC 1533.181.  Note that this immunity doesn’t apply if the landowner charges a fee for hunting, unless the fee is a payment made under a hunting lease with a hunter or hunting group.  ORC 1533.18.  Read more about the law in our law bulletin, here.  These laws provide significant protection from liability for hunter injuries, but won’t protect a landowner who willfully or recklessly causes harm to hunters.  One situation that might rise to the level of willful or reckless conduct by a landowner is granting permission to too many hunters and failing to inform or manage the hunters, explained below.
  5. What if several people want to hunt on my land—how many should I allow? Ohio law does not state how many hunters can have permission to hunt on a parcel, but be careful about setting up a dangerous situation by allowing multiple hunters on the land at onceIf you do give permission to several hunters, let them know that others could also be hunting on the land and designate a particular parking area so that they know when other hunters are present.  You could even consider scheduling hunters on certain days.  If the hunters are part of a hunting club, consider leasing your land to the hunting club and letting the club decide how to manage multiple hunters (see our Hunting Lease checklist, here).  Taking such steps to manage multiple hunters will ensure that you aren’t behaving recklessly and have immunity from liability under the Recreational User Statute.
  6. Should I allow a hunter to bring along someone who’s not hunting? In regards to liability for that person, the Recreational User Statute described above applies to any person engaging in any kind of recreational activity, in addition to hunting. Hiking or walking on the land is a recreational activity covered under the law. As long as you give permission and don’t charge the recreational user a fee, the law provides immunity from liability for their injuries.
  7. What if a hunter leaves a tree stand or a blind on my land—can I get rid of it? It depends.  It’s okay to carefully remove a stand or blind from the area, but be careful about damaging or getting rid of it too soon if it’s the property of a hunter who had permission to be on the land.  According to Ohio common law, you might be liable for the property under a claim of “conversion” if the property is not “abandoned” or “lost.”  Abandoned property is that to which the owner has relinquished all rights with the intention of not reclaiming it, while lost property is that which the owner has involuntarily parted with through neglect, carelessness, or inadvertence.  A finder who possesses abandoned property takes absolute title to the property, while a finder of lost property takes title against everyone except the owner.  In either case, destroying or disposing of property that is not abandoned or lost could lead to a claim of conversion, and you could be liable for the damages.
  8. What if a hunter who had my permission to hunt ends up harming my property? There are two ways with deal with property harm from hunters.  First, the hunting laws prohibit a hunter from acting in a negligent, careless or reckless manner so as to injure persons or property.  Violating this law can lead to first degree misdemeanor charges and compensation to the landowner, as well as revocation of the hunting licenses and permits.  ORC 1533.171 and 1533.99.  Second, Ohio law allows a landowner to seek compensation for the “reckless “destruction of vegetation, trees and crops under ORC 901.51.  Reckless means acting intentionally and without regard for consequences.  If successful, a landowner can receive triple the amount of the harm caused to the property.
  9. What can I do to a trespasser who’s hunting on my land?  Dealing with trespassers is tricky.  First, don’t willfully harm the trespasser, as you could be liable for causing intentional harm.  Second, call your local ODNR wildlife officer or the Turn in a Poacher program, below, to report the incident.  Third, read our law bulletin on “Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Trespassers on the Farm,” available on farmoffice.osu.edu, here.
  10. What if I see someone violating hunting laws? ODNR’s “Turn in a Poacher” program encourages the public to report wildlife violations such as hunting out of season or without a license or permission.  The program provides several ways to report:  complete an online form available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/stay-informed/turn-in-a-poacher-tip and submit it through the internet or via mail,  call the TIP hotline at 1-800-POACHER, or use the same number to text photos of suspects, vehicles or signs of violations.  All reports are confidential.

The nursery rhyme “A Hunting We Will Go” paints a happy-go-lucky picture of hunting.  But hunting raises many questions and concerns for agricultural landowners.  Ohio law offers rules and remedies that can ease those concerns.  Landowners who know and use the laws just might be able to hum along with the nursery rhyme through hunting season.

 

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Ohio Ag Law Blog–Ohio Legislation on the Move

Written by: Ellen Essman

We haven’t done a legislative update in a while—so what’s been going on in the Ohio General Assembly? Without further ado, here is an update on some notable ag-related bills that have recently passed one of the houses, been discussed in committee, or been introduced.

  • House Bill 7, “Create water quality protection and preservation”

This bill passed the House in June, but the Senate Finance Committee had a hearing on it just last month.  HB 7 would create both the H2Ohio Trust Fund and the H2Ohio Advisory Council.  To explain these entities in the simplest terms, the H2Ohio Advisory Council would decide how to spend the money in the H2Ohio Trust Fund.  The money could be used for grants, loans, and remediation projects to address water quality priorities in the state, to fund research concerning water quality, to encourage cooperation in addressing water quality problems among various groups, and for priorities identified by the Ohio Lake Erie commission.  The Council would be made up of the following: the directors of the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA), the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA), and the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) the executive director of the Ohio Lake Erie commission, one state senator from each party appointed by the President of the Senate, one state representative from each party appointed by the Speaker of the House, and appointees from the Governor to represent counties, municipal corporations, public health, business or tourism, agriculture, statewide environmental advocacy organizations, and institutions of higher education. Under HB 7, the ODA, OEPA, and ODNR would have to submit an annual plan to be accepted or rejected by the Council, which would detail how the agencies planned to use their money from the Fund. You can find the bill in its current form here.

  • House Bill 24, “Revise Humane Society law”

HB 24 passed the House unanimously on October 30, and has since been referred to the Senate Committee on Agriculture & Natural Resources.  The bill would revise procedures for humane society operations and require humane society agents to successfully complete training in order to serve.  Importantly, HB 24 would allow law enforcement officers to seize and impound any animal the officer has probable cause to believe is the subject of an animal cruelty offense.  Currently, the ability to seize and impound only applies to companion animals such as dogs and cats.  You can read HB 24 here.

  • House Bill 160, “Revise alcoholic ice cream law”

Since our last legislative update, HB 160 has passed the House and is currently in Agriculture & Natural Resources Committee in the Senate.  At present, those wishing to sell ice cream containing alcohol must in Ohio obtain an A-5 liquor permit and can only sell the ice cream at the site of manufacture, and that site must be in an election precinct that allows for on- and off-premises consumption of alcohol.  This bill would allow the ice cream maker to sell to consumers for off-premises enjoyment and to retailers who are authorized to sell alcohol. To read the bill, click here.

  • House Bill 168, “Establish affirmative defense-certain hazardous substance release”

This bill was passed in the House back in May, but there have been several committee hearings on it this fall.  HB 168 would provide a bona fide prospective purchaser of a facility that was contaminated with hazardous substances before the purchase with immunity from liability to the state in a civil action.  In other words, the bona fide prospective purchaser would not have the responsibility of paying the state of Ohio for their investigations and remediation of the facility. In order to claim this immunity, the purchaser would have to show that they fall under the definition of a bona fide prospective purchaser, that the state’s cause of action rests upon the person’s status as an owner or operator of the facility, and that the person does not impede a response action or natural resource restoration at the facility. You can find the bill and related information here.

  • House Bill 183, “Allow tax credits to assist beginning farmers”

House Bill 183 was discussed in the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee on November 12.  This bill would authorize a nonrefundable income tax credit for beginning farmers who attend a financial management program.  Another nonrefundable tax credit would be available for individuals or businesses that sell or rent farmland, livestock, buildings, or equipment to beginning farmers.  ODA would be in charge of certifying individuals as “beginning farmers” and approving eligible financial management programs. HB 183 is available here. A companion bill (SB 159) has been introduced in the Senate and referred to the Ways & Means Committee, but no committee hearings have taken place.

  • House Bill 373, “Eliminate apprentice/special auctioneer licenses/other changes”

HB 373 was introduced on October 22, and the House Agriculture & Rural Development Committee held a hearing on it on November 12. This bill would make numerous changes to laws applicable to auctioneers.  For instance, it would eliminate the requirement that a person must serve as an apprentice auctioneer prior to becoming an auctioneer; instead, it would require applicants for an auctioneers’ license to pass a course. The bill would also require licensed auctioneers to complete eight continuing education hours prior to renewing their license.  HB 373 would give ODA the authority to regulate online auctions conducted by  a human licensed auctioneer, and would require people auctioning real or personal property on the internet to be licensed as an auctioneer. To read the bill in its entirety and see all the changes it would make, click here.

  • Senate Bill 2, “Create watershed planning structure”

Since our last legislative post, SB 2 has passed the Senate and is now in the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee. If passed, this bill would do four main things. First, it would create the Statewide Watershed Planning and Management Program, which would be tasked with improving and protecting the watersheds in the state, and would be administered by the ODA director.  Under this program, the director of ODA would have to categorize watersheds in Ohio and appoint watershed planning and management coordinators in each watershed region.  The coordinators would work with soil and water conservation districts to identify water quality impairment, and to gather information on conservation practices.  Second, the bill states the General Assembly’s intent to work with agricultural, conservation, and environmental organizations and universities to create a certification program for farmers, where the farmers would use practices meant to minimize negative water quality impacts. Third, SB 2 charges ODA, with help from the Lake Erie Commission and the Ohio Soil and Water Conservation Commission, to start a watershed pilot program that would help farmers, agricultural retailers, and soil and water conservation districts in reducing phosphorus.  Finally, the bill would allow regional water and sewer districts to make loans and grants and to enter into cooperative agreements with any person or corporation, and would allow districts to offer discounted rentals or charges to people with low or moderate incomes, as well as to people who qualify for the homestead exemption. The text of SB 2 is available here.

  • Senate Bill 234, “Regards regulation of wind farms and wind turbine setbacks”

Senate Bill 234 was just introduced on November 6, 2019.  The bill would give voters in the unincorporated areas of townships the power to have a referendum vote on certificates or amendments to economically significant and large wind farms issued by the Ohio Power and Siting Board. The voters could approve or reject the certificate for a new wind farm or an amendment to an existing certificate by majority vote.  The bill would also change minimum setback distances for wind farms might be measured.  SB 234 is available here.  A companion bill was also recently introduced in the House.  HB 401 can be found here.

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USDA rolls out its hemp rule: is Ohio ready?

By Peggy Kirk Hall and Ellen Essman

Legalized hemp production in the U.S. took a major step forward today with the publication of the USDA’s rule establishing the “U.S. Domestic Hemp Production Program.”    States and potential hemp growers have been awaiting this rule since the Farm Bill legalized hemp back in December 2018 but required that regulatory programs be established for overseeing hemp production.  Today’s hemp rule sets up the regulatory framework for state departments of agriculture, Indian tribal governments and the USDA to license producers who want to grow hemp as a commodity crop.

What’s in the hemp rule?

The hemp rule lays out the requirements for establishing hemp production programs within State or Tribal governments and creates a USDA administered licensing program for producers in areas that choose not to regulate hemp production.  Other parts of the rule include definitions, appeal provisions, and reporting requirements.  The rule also addresses the interstate transportation of hemp.  Here’s a quick summary of provisions that affect Ohioans.

Requirements for State and Tribal Hemp Production Plans.    A State or Tribe must include the following in a Hemp Production Plan that the USDA must approve before the State or Tribe can allow hemp production within its borders:

  • Plans to maintain relevant producer and land information. A state must collect, maintain and provide USDA with contact and location information for each licensed hemp producer, including personal information about the individual or business and location information about the land where hemp is produced.
  • Plans for accurate and effective sampling and testing. A plan must include procedures for collecting hemp flower samples; conducting sampling and testing of plants 15 days prior to any harvest; ensuring that sampling methods are reliable and represent a homogeneous composition of the sampling area; preventing commingling of plants from different sampling areas; requiring that producers are present during sampling; and allowing samplers to have unrestricted access to hemp plants and all land and facilities used for cultivating or handling hemp.
  • Procedures to accurately test THC levels in samples. The rule lays out suggested reliable testing methods but does not establish a single, national testing procedure for determining whether a hemp plant falls beneath the 0.3 threshold for THC, the psychoactive ingredient that distinguishes hemp from marijuana.  However, a State or Tribe must use a testing lab that is registered with the Drug Enforcement Agency and must require the lab to follow testing performance standards.  The standards must include evaluation of “measurement of uncertainty,” a concept similar to determining the margin of error, and must account for the uncertainty in THC test results.
  • Procedures for disposal of non-compliant plants. A State or Tribal plan must prohibit any handling, processing, or entering the stream of commerce of any hemp grown in an area that exceeds the acceptable THC level and must have procedures for disposing of the plants, verifying disposal, and notifying USDA of non-compliant plants, including provision of test results to USDA.
  • Inspection procedures. A plan must include procedures for annual inspections of random samples of licensed producers.
  • Reporting procedures. A plan must explain how a State or Tribe will submit all of the information and reports required by the rule, which includes monthly producer reports, monthly hemp disposal reports, and annual reports of total planted, harvested, and disposed acreage.  The plan must also require producers to report crop acreage to the Farm Service Agency.
  • Corrective action plans. A required corrected action plan will address procedures for allowing producers to correct negligent regulatory violations such as failing to provide a legal description, failing to obtain a license, and exceeding the THC level.  The procedures must include a reasonable compliance date, reporting by the producer for two years after a violation, five years of ineligibility for producers with three negligence violations with a five-year period, and inspections to ensure implementation of corrective action plans.
  • Enforcement for culpable violations. A plan must have procedures for reporting any intentional, knowing, willful or reckless violations made by producers to the U.S. Attorney General and chief law enforcement officers of the State or Tribe.
  • Procedures for addressing felonies and false information. The plan must not allow a producer with a felony conviction relating to controlled substances to be eligible for a hemp license for a period of ten years from the felony conviction, and must prohibit a producer who materially falsifies information on an application to be ineligible for a license.

Plan review by USDA.  The rule states that after a State or Tribe submits a hemp plan, USDA has 60 days to approve or deny the plan.  The rule also allows USDA to audit approved state plans at least every three years.

Interstate commerce of hemp.  The rule reiterates an important provision first mentioned in the 2018 Farm Bill: that no state can prohibit transportation of hemp or hemp products lawfully produced under an approved state plan or a USDA license.

USDA issued licenses.  A producer in a state that chooses not to regulate hemp production may apply to the USDA for a license to cultivate hemp.  The USDA’s sets forth its licensing program requirements in the rule, which are similar to provisions for State and Tribal Hemp Production Plans.

Effective date:  today

It’s important to note that the USDA published the rule as an “interim final rule” that becomes effective upon its publication in the Federal Register, which is today, October 31, 2019.  Federal law allows an agency to forego the typical “notice and comment” period of rulemaking and publish a final rule if there is good cause for doing so.  USDA explains that good cause exists due to Congress’s interest in expeditious development of domestic hemp production, critically needed guidance to stakeholders who’ve awaited publication of the hemp rule, previous outreach efforts, and the public’s interest in engaging in a new and promising economic endeavor.  The immediacy of USDA’s rule allows the agency to begin reviewing State and Tribal Hemp Production Plans now, in hopes that producers will be able to plant hemp for the 2020 growing season.   USDA is seeking public input on the interim final rule for the next sixty days, however, and plans to consider such comments when it replaces the interim final rule with a “final rule” in two years time.

Is Ohio ready?

While Ohio’s Department of Agriculture (ODA) won’t be the first in line to have its hemp production program reviewed under the new USDA program, Ohio won’t be too far behind the twenty states and tribes that are already awaiting review.   ODA proposed Ohio’s hemp regulations earlier this month after the General Assembly decriminalized hemp and authorized the agency to develop a hemp program in July of this year via Senate Bill 57.  The USDA rule comes just one day after ODA closed the comment period on the proposed rules, which we summarize here.  Once ODA publishes the final hemp regulations, it can proceed to submit Ohio’s Hemp Production Plan to the USDA for approval.  Ohio’s timing may prove beneficial, as ODA now has the opportunity to review the USDA rule and ensure that Ohio’s plan will meet the federal requirements.

Our comparison of Ohio’s hemp laws and regulations to the USDA’s hemp rule indicates that Ohio is well prepared to meet the hemp rule requirements.  Only a few provisions in the federal rule may require additional attention by Ohio before ODA submits its plan for USDA approval.  Key among those are procedures for THC testing methods (technical details not included in Ohio’s proposed regulations) and procedures for corrective action plans (which are not clearly laid out in the proposed regulations but are addressed in Senate Bill 57).  One potential conflict between the federal and Ohio rules regards destruction of hemp plants that exceed the allowable 0.3 THC level.  The federal rule prohibits any further handling, processing or entering into the stream of commerce of any hemp plants from the sampling area and requires disposal of non-compliant plants, while Ohio’s regulations allow bare hemp stalks for fiber that is free of leaf, seed and floral material to be harvested, processed and used while all other material from plants that exceed 0.3 THC must be destroyed.    We’ll soon see how ODA handles these and other issues when it submits Ohio’s Hemp Production Plan for USDA approval.

Read the interim final rule on “Establishment of a Domestic Hemp Production Program” here, which is also the site for submitting comments on the rule.  USDA will accept public comments until December 30, 2019.

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Ohio Ag Law Blog–The Ag Law Harvest

Written by: Ellen Essman and Peggy Hall

October is almost over, and while farmers have thankfully been busy with harvest, we’ve been busy harvesting the world of ag law.  From meat labeling to RFS rules to backyard chickens and H-2A labor certification, here’s our latest gathering of agricultural law news you may want to know:

Federal judge upholds Missouri’s meat labeling law—for now.  Missouri passed a law in 2018, which among other things, prohibited representing a product as “meat” if it is not derived from livestock or poultry.  As you can imagine, with the recent popularity of plant-based meat products, this law is controversial, and eventually led to a lawsuit.  However, U.S. District Judge Fernando Gaitan Jr. decided not issue a preliminary injunction that would stop the Missouri Department of Agriculture from carrying out the labeling law.  He reasoned that since companies like Tofurky, who brought the suit, label their products as plant-based or lab-grown, the law does not harm them.  In other words, since Tofurky and other companies are not violating the law, it doesn’t make sense to stop enforcement on their account. Tofurky, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the good Food Institute have appealed Judge Gaitan’s decision, asserting that Missouri’s law infringes upon their right to free speech.  This means that the Missouri law can be enforced at the moment, but the decision is not final, as more litigation is yet to come.

Oregon goes for cage-free egg law.   In August, Oregon passed a new law that would require egg-laying chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, or guinea fowl to be kept in a “cage-free housing system.” This law will apply to all commercial farms with more than 3,000 laying hens.  A cage-free housing system must have both indoor and outdoor areas, allow the hens to roam unrestricted, and must have enrichments such as scratch areas, perches, nest boxes and dust bathing areas.  As of January 1, 2024, all eggs sold in the state of Oregon will have to follow these requirements for hens.  The law does allow hens to be confined in certain situations, like for veterinary purposes or when they are part of a state or county fair exhibition.

City can ban backyard chickens, says court.   The Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District upheld the city of Columbiana’s ordinances, which ban keeping chickens in a residential district, finding that they were both applicable to the appellant and constitutional. In this case, the appellant was a landowner in Columbiana who lived in an area zoned residential and kept hens in a chicken coop on his property.  The appellant was eventually informed that keeping his hens was in violation of the city code.  A lawsuit resulted when the landowner would not remove his chickens, and the trial court found for the city. The landowner appealed the trial court’s decision, arguing that he did not violate the city ordinances as they were written, and that the city applied the ordinances in an arbitrary and unreasonable way because his chickens did not constitute a nuisance. Although keeping chickens is not explicitly outlawed in Columbiana, the Court of Appeals for Ohio’s Seventh District found that reading the city’s zoning ordinances all together, the “prohibition on agricultural uses within residential districts can be inferred.”  Furthermore, the court pointed out that the city’s code did not ban chickens in the whole city, but instead limited them to agricultural districts, and that the prohibition in residential areas was meant to ensure public health.  For these reasons, the court found that the ordinances were not arbitrarily and unreasonably applied to the appellant, and as a result, the ordinances are constitutional.  To read the decision in its entirety, click here.

EPA proposes controversial Renewable Fuel Standard rule.   On October 15, EPA released a notice of proposed rulemaking, asking for more public comment on the proposed volumes of biofuels to be required under the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) program in 2020.  The RFS program “requires a certain volume of renewable fuel to replace the quantity of petroleum-based transportation fuel” and other fuels.  Renewable fuels include biofuels made from crops like corn, soybeans, and sugarcane.  In recent years, the demand for biofuels has dropped as the Trump administration waived required volumes for certain oil refiners.  The administration promised a fix to this in early October, but many agricultural and biofuels groups feel that EPA’s October 15 proposed rule told a different story. Many of these groups are upset by the proposed blending rules, claiming that way the EPA proposes calculate the biofuel volumes would cause the volumes to fall far below what the groups were originally promised by the administration. This ultimately means the demand for biofuels would be less.  On the other hand, the EPA claims that biofuels groups are misreading the rule, and that the calculation will in fact keep biofuel volumes at the level the administration originally promised. The EPA plans to hold a public hearing on October 30, followed by a comment period that ends November 29, 2019.  Hopefully the hearing and comments will help to sort out the disagreement. More information is available here, and a preliminary version of the rule is available here.

New H-2A labor certification rule is in effect.    The U.S. Department of Labor has finalized one of many proposed changes to the H-2A temporary agricultural labor rules.  A new rule addressing labor certification for H-2A became effective on October 21, 2019.  The new rule aims to modernize the labor market test for H-2A labor certification, which determines whether qualified American workers are available to fill temporary agricultural positions and if not, allows an employer to seek temporary migrant workers.   An employer may advertise their H-2A job opportunities on a new version of the Department’s website, SeasonalJobs.dol.gov, now mobile-friendly, centralized and linked to third-party job-search websites.  State Workforce Agencies will also promote awareness of H-2A jobs.  Employers will no longer have to advertise a job in a print newspaper of general circulation in the area of intended employment. For the final rule, visit this link.

And more rules:  National Organic Program rule proposals.  The USDA has also made two proposals regarding organic production rules.  First is a proposed rule to amend the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances for organic crops and handling.  The rule would allow blood meal made with sodium citrate to be used as a soil amendment, prohibit the use of natamycin in organic crops, and allow tamarind seed gum to be used as a non-organic ingredient in organic handling if an organic form is not commercially available.  That comment period closes on December 17, 2019.  Also up for consideration is USDA’s request to extend the National Organic Program’s information collection reporting and recordkeeping requirements, which are due to expire on January 31, 2020.  The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service specifically invites comments by December 16, 2019 on:  (1) whether the proposed collection of information is necessary for the proper performance of the functions of the agency, including whether the information will have practical utility; (2) the accuracy of the agency’s estimate of the burden of the proposed collection of information including the validity of the methodology and assumptions used; (3) ways to enhance the quality, utility, and clarity of the information to be collected; and (4) ways to minimize the burden of the collection of information on those who are to respond, including the use of appropriate automated, electronic, mechanical, or other technological collection techniques or other forms of information technology.

Great Lakes restoration gets a boost from EPA.  On October 22, 2019, the EPA announced a new action plan under the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).  The plan will be carried out by federal agencies and their partners through fiscal year 2024.  Past GLRI action plans have removed environmental impairments on the lakes and prevented one million pounds of phosphorus from finding its way into the lakes.  The plans are carried out by awarding federal grant money to state and local groups throughout the Great Lakes, who use the money to carry out lake and habitat restoration projects.  Overall, the new plan’s goals are to remove toxic substances from the lakes, improve and delist Areas of Concern in the lakes, control invasive species and prevent new invasive species from entering the lakes, reduce nutrients running off from agriculture and stormwater, protect and restore habitats, and to provide education about the Great Lakes ecosystem.  You can read EPA’s news release on the new plan here, and see the actual plan here. We plan to take a closer look at the plan and determine what it means for Ohio agriculture, so watch for future updates!

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Filed under ag law harvest, Animals, Conservation Programs, Environmental, Food, Labor, Property, Uncategorized, Water