Tag Archives: right to farm law

Budget bill brings changes to Ohio’s Right to Farm law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Legal defenses for agricultural production activities

Whether producing crops, livestock, or other agricultural products, it can be challenging if not impossible for a farmer to completely prevent dust, odors, surface water runoff, noise, and other unintended impacts.   Ohio law recognizes these challenges as well as the value of agricultural production by extending legal protections to farmers.  The protections are “affirmative defenses” that can shield a farmer from liability if someone files a private civil lawsuit against the farmer because of the unintended impacts of farming.  A court will dismiss the lawsuit if the farmer successfully raises and proves an applicable affirmative legal defense.

In our latest law bulletin, we summarize Ohio’s affirmative defenses that relate to production agriculture.  The laws afford legal protections based on the type of activity and the type of resulting harm.  For example, one offers protections to farmers who obtain fertilizer application certification training and operate in compliance with an approved nutrient management plan, while another offers nuisance lawsuit protection against neighbors who move to an agricultural area.  Each affirmative defense has different requirements a farmer must meet but a common thread among the laws is that a farmer must be a “good farmer” who is in compliance with the law and utilizing generally accepted agricultural practices.  It is important for farmers to understand these laws and know how the laws apply to a farm’s production activities.

To learn more about Ohio’s affirmative defenses for agricultural production activities, view our latest law bulletin HERE.

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Did you know that states’ “right-to-farm” protections can apply to aquaculture, too?

Written by Ellen Essman, Sr. Research Associate

A few weeks ago we attended the American Agricultural Law Association’s (AALA) annual conference, which was held in Portland, Oregon this year. While we were there, we had the opportunity to learn about numerous topics related to agricultural law.  One such topic was presented by our colleague from the National Sea Grant Law Center, Amanda Nichols.  Nichols presented her research on state “right-to-farm” statutes and their applicability to aquaculture.

What is aquaculture?

For those who don’t know, aquaculture is defined by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as “the breeding, rearing, and harvesting of fish, shellfish, plants, algae, and other organisms in all types of water environments.”  Thus, aquaculture is essentially the farming of aquatic species in freshwater and saltwater, in manmade and natural bodies of water.

What are right-to-farm laws?

Right-to-farm laws are meant to protect agricultural operations against nuisance lawsuits brought by neighboring landowners complaining about smell, dust, noise, or other annoyances.  In terms of “traditional,” terrestrial farming, for example, right-to-farm laws could potentially protect against lawsuits claiming the spreading or accumulation of livestock manure is a nuisance to neighbors.  Every state in the U.S. has their own right-to-farm statute, and some of the statutes protect farming operations more completely than others do.  For example, Ohio’s right-to-farm language provides farmers with a complete defense to civil nuisance lawsuits when certain conditions are met.  On the other hand, neighboring Michigan and Pennsylvania’s statutes provide no such defenses.

Where aquaculture and right-to-farm laws overlap

In her research on the topic of which states include protection of aquaculture operations in their right-to-farm laws, Nichols found that twenty-six states, including Ohio, “expressly include fish or aquaculture within the scope of their right-to-farm protections.” As a result, any right-to-farm protections to traditional agriculture, as well as any conditions agricultural operations must meet in order for the right-to-farm language to apply, would also extend to aquaculture in those twenty-six states.  Nichols found that one state, New Jersey, did “not mention aquaculture or fish expressly” but has adopted a manual for best management practices (BMPs) for aquaculture within the state, which shows the state’s “intent” to protect aquaculture from nuisance lawsuits.

Ohio’s right-to-farm legislation

As mentioned above, Ohio’s right-to-farm legislation “expressly include[s]” aquaculture.  It does so by defining “agricultural production” not only as “animal husbandry” or production of plants for “a commercial purpose,” but also as “commercial aquaculture” and “algaculture meaning the farming of algae.”

Ohio farmers, including those involved in aquaculture, have right-to-farm protection in two parts of the Ohio Revised Code (ORC).  ORC Chapter 929 establishes “agricultural districts.”  Generally, in order to place land in an agricultural district, the owner of the land must file an application with the county auditor.  Certain requirements must be met in order for an application to be accepted.  Slightly different rules apply if the land in question is within a municipal corporation or is being annexed by a municipality.  If the application is accepted, the land is placed in an agricultural district for five years.  The owner may submit a renewal application after that time is up.

Being part of an agricultural district in Ohio can help farmers and landowners to defend against civil lawsuits.  ORC 929.04 reads:

In a civil action for nuisances involving agricultural activities, it is a complete defense if:

A. The agricultural activities were conducted within an agricultural district;

B. Agricultural activities were established within the agricultural district prior to the plaintiff’s activities or interest on which the action is based;

C. The plaintiff was not involved in agricultural production; and

D. The agricultural activities were not in conflict with federal, state, and local laws and rules relating to the alleged nuisance or were conducted in accordance with generally accepted agriculture practices.

The ORC’s chapter on nuisances provides additional protection for those “engaged in agriculture-related activities.”  Under ORC 3767.13, people who are practicing agricultural activities “outside a municipal corporation, in accordance with generally accepted agricultural practices, and in such a manner so as not to have a substantial, adverse effect on public health, safety, or welfare” are typically exempt from claims of nuisance due to farm noise, smells, etc.

Not only is Ohio’s right-to-farm legislation more forceful in its protection of agriculture than many other states, but it also explicitly includes aquaculture under that protection.  AALA gave us the chance to learn about this very interesting study of right-to-farm legislation as applies to aquaculture, which is an area of agriculture that many Ohioans might not necessarily think about.  If you are interested in learning more about state right-to-farm laws and aquaculture, the National Sea Grant Law Center’s report is available here.

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The Ag Law Harvest

Here’s our gathering of recent agricultural law news you may want to know:

Case highlights value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund.  The recent prosecution and guilty plea of a grain handler who withheld $3.22 million in proceeds from grain he sold on behalf of 35 farmers in northern Ohio illustrates the value of Ohio’s Grain Indemnity Fund.  The farmers had received approximately $2.5 million in reimbursement from the fund, which protects farmers from grain handlers who become insolvent.  Though the fund, a farmer is reimbursed 100% for open storage grain in the elevator and 100% of the first $10,000 of a loss for future contracts, delayed price and basis transactions, with 80% reimbursement beyond the first $10,000 of loss.  The grain handler, Richard Schwan, must now reimburse the fund and pay additional amounts to the farmers and the state.  For more about the Grain Indemnity Fund, read our previous post.

More on North Carolina nuisance lawsuits against hog farms.  A jury decision on June 29, 2018 awarded $25.13 million to a couple living next door to a 4,700 head hog farm in North Carolina owned by a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods.  The award included $25 million in punitive damages.  The apparent reason for the jury’s significant punitive damage award is Smithfield’s failure to finance and utilize new technologies that could reduce the impacts of current anaerobic lagoon and spraying application technologies.  This is the second successful verdict in the second of many nuisance lawsuits filed by over 500 neighbors of hog farms owned by Smithfield.

North Carolina legislature reacts to nuisance wins.  In response to the first two jury awards against Smithfield, the North Carolina legislature adopted new restrictions on nuisance lawsuits against farm and forestry operations.  The legislation requires that a nuisance suit be filed within a year of the establishment of an agricultural or forestry operation or within a year of a “fundamental change” to the operation, which does not include changes in ownership, technology, product or size of the operation.  The bill also limits the awarding of punitive damages to operators with criminal convictions or those who’ve received regulatory notices of violation.  North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper vetoed the bill, but the legislature successfully overrode the veto.

Meanwhile, Court upholds Iowa Right-to-Farm law.  The Iowa Supreme Court declined a request to declare the Iowa Right-to-Farm law facially unconstitutional for exceeding the state’s police power.  The court concluded that the Right-to-Farm law, which protects animal feeding operations that are in compliance with applicable laws and utilizing generally acceptable agricultural practices from nuisance lawsuits, falls within the legislature’s police power but could be unconstitutional as applied to a particular situation.  However, such a determination requires application of a three part test and extensive fact finding by the court.  Read more on Honomichl v. Valley View Swine, LLC here from Iowa State’s Center for Agricultural Law and Taxation.

IRS reveals the new Form 1040.  It’s not quite post card size, but the IRS claims that its draft of the revised Form 1040 is about half the size of the current form.  The agency unveiled the draft form, which it intends to be shorter, simpler and supplemented with applicable schedules, and is seeking comments from the tax community.  The new form, when complete, will replace the 1040, 1040A and 1040EZ.

Ohio legislation on the move.  A flurry of activity at the Statehouse followed the lengthy re-election of a new House speaker that had stalled legislation this spring.  Several bills have now been signed by Governor Kasich and a few bills have passed through one or both houses, as follows:

  • Plugging idle and orphan oil and gas wells.  A bill we reported on back in January, H.B. 225, was signed into law on June 29, 2018.  The new law provides an increase, from 14% to 30%, in funding for plugging unused oil and gas wells.   Landowners can report an idle or orphaned well to the Chief of the Division of Oil and Gas Resources, who must then inspect the well within 30 days and prioritize how soon the well should be plugged and the land surface be restored.  The Chief’s duty to find prior owners and legal interests in the well is limited to records less than 40 years old.  The law also includes procedural changes for entering into contracts for restoration or plugging of wells.
  • Tax appeals.  One provision in H.B. 292 allows a party to appeal a decision of the Board of Tax Appeals directly to the Supreme Court if it concerns a final determination of the Tax Commissioner or a municipal corporation’s income tax review board.  This reverses a recent change that removed the Supreme Court option for such appeals.  The act also removes a provision that allowed a party to file a petition requesting that the Supreme Court take jurisdiction over an appeal from the Court of Appeals, which the Supreme Court was authorized to do if the appeal involved a substantial constitutional question or a question of great general or public interest.  Governor Kasich signed the legislation on June 14, 2018.
  • Hunting and fishing licensesS.B. 257 creates multi-year and lifetime hunting and fishing licenses for residents of Ohio and allows the Division of Wildlife to offer licensure “packages” for any combination of licenses, permits, or stamps.  The law also establishes the “Lake Erie sport fishing district,” consisting of the Ohio waters of Lake Erie and its tributaries.   Nonresidents must obtain a $10 special permit to fish in the Lake Erie sport fishing district from January 1 to April 30, with the fees earmarked specifically to benefit Lake Erie.  The legislation received the Governor’s signature on June 29, 2018.
  • High volume dog breeders.  New standards addressing sustenance, housing, veterinarian care, exercise and human interaction for dogs bred for sale in high volumes are in H.B. 506, signed by the Governor on June 29, 2018.
  • Dogs on patios.  H.B. 263, which we wrote about previously, has passed both the House and Senate.  The bill allows retail food establishments and food service operations to permit customers to bring a dog into an outdoor dining area if the dog is vaccinated.  The establishment must adopt a policy requiring customers to control their dogs and keep their dogs out of indoor areas.  The bill just needs a signature from Governor Kasich to become effective.
  • Alfalfa products.  H.R. 298 was adopted by the House on June 7, 2018.  The resolution recognizes the existence of two alfalfa products, direct dehydrated alfalfa and sun-cured alfalfa, as defined by the Association of American Feed Control Officials. The resolution further calls on alfalfa processors and suppliers use the defined terms in their labeling.    A companion resolution in the Senate remains in committee.
  • Township laws.  A number of changes affecting township authority are in H.B. 500, which unanimously passed the House on June 27 and was introduced in the Senate on July 5.  Of most consequence to agriculture are proposals to broaden township zoning authority over agricultural activities in platted subdivisions and authority for townships to impose fees for zoning appeals.

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