NECC2203: Legal Issues in Agriculture and Natural Resources

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

NECC2203: Legal Issues in Agriculture and Natural Resources

Duration: 10/01/2022 to 09/30/2027

Administrative Advisor(s):


NIFA Reps:


Statement of Issues and Justification

Unlike traditional areas of the law, agricultural law is not just one field of study but is made of those areas of law that impact agriculture (Schneider, 2009).  Production agriculture is at the heart of agricultural law (Kershen, 2008).  As has been highlighted by many agricultural law scholars, the study, research, and education related to agricultural law are necessary because agriculture is important to human existence (Schneider, 2009).  Understanding the impacts of laws on production agriculture can assist policymakers, producers, and service providers to better adopt to the changing needs being placed on agriculture.

Legal risks are pervasive in agricultural and natural resource industries. Stakeholders’ decisions are often constrained by limited knowledge of laws and their impacts on operations, including environmental laws, contract laws, agricultural leasing, bankruptcy, estate planning, food safety, and others. Legal risk impacts vary across agricultural firm types, geographic regions, and government agencies ranging from local ordinances to state laws to federal law.

Legal risk impacts are becoming a growing concern of agriculture and natural resources operations.  For example, in Maryland, 60 percent of agricultural producers and service providers responded that laws and regulations in the state affect farm businesses to a high degree.  In this survey, respondents highlighted a wide range of issues impacting agricultural operations from environmental law issues, zoning and planning issues, estate planning, and USDA programs as potential areas of concern for producers (Millet-Williams et al, 2019).  This is just one example in one state with other states having similar to truly unique issues depending on the conditions in that state.

While much progress has been made in understanding making decisions with legal risks, the knowledge base remains incomplete due to the continually evolving nature of U.S. law.  There is a continuing need to examine both short- and long-term effects of legal changes in agriculture and other natural resource-based industries.  The ever-evolving definition of waters covered under the Clean Water Act is a good example, highlighting the importance of understanding the changing nature of the law and legal risk management. A better understanding of how legal changes affect these businesses will improve and help firm-level decision-making in adapting to changes in the laws. Though proposed in the Northeast, one of the strengths of this project is it will bring a national scope of institutions represented by the participants and allow us to understand a breadth of the local, state, and federal laws impacting the agricultural and natural resource industries.

While many legal issues are initially driven by local and/or state interests, these may turn into concerns in other states as well.  In response to legal challenges involving North Carolina’s right-to-farm law, in 2018, the North Carolina legislature amended that law to provide additional statutory protections to agricultural operations.  Following the North Carolina amendments, several other states looked at modifying their state’s right-to-farm law to provide similar protections.   Pulling together a coalition of national institutions working together on these issues will help all states’ understand the effects of changes in agricultural law.

This proposed coalition would allow researchers to present work to a broader group of peers and allow for a more successful understanding of applying these legal issues to a broader range of legal risks impacting the agricultural and natural resource industries.  In addition, the information exchange format creates opportunities for researchers to interact on issues of mutual interest, fostering extramural grant-writing efforts.

Objectives

  1. Provide a scientific/professional forum to facilitate the exchange of theoretical and methodological approaches to agricultural law, and to develop original concepts and preliminary research related to agriculture and natural resources.
  2. Develop and communicate legal analysis of contract law, succession planning, nuisance, and environmental legal issues and legal risk management strategies in agriculture, including analysis of how these laws impact firm-level decisions, technology adoption, and access to information.
    Comments: This would relate to the areas mentioned below in agritourism, labor, environmental, and heirs' property initially.
  3. Develop and communicate legal analysis of federal laws and regulations impacting agricultural and resource businesses.
  4. Develop and communicate legal analysis of how state laws and regulations vary among the states can impact agricultural and resource businesses.
    Comments: This would relate to the areas mentioned below in agritourism, labor, environmental, and heirs' property initially.

Procedures and Activities

Our research approach would be that utilized by many in applied agricultural law research.  We would focus on using literature reviews, case law reviews, and comparative law reviews (both nationally and internationally).  The U.S. is made of 50 states that often adopt different state laws that will allow us an opportunity to better understand what legislative language could work in one area and potentially not in others.

The primary activity would be an annual meeting, allowing for the exchange of ideas and information related to legal issues surrounding agricultural and natural resources law.  Project members will hold this meeting in conjunction with the American Agricultural Law Association’s (AALA) annual meeting/Extension Risk Management Educators (ERME) Conference, with individual tracks for the project members to exchange ideas and information.

Initially, we would propose four areas of agricultural law on which we would focus our research efforts on.  At the same time, we would be nimble enough to focus on developing issues that could impact agriculture in the region.  Many growers in the region (and across the U.S.) are focused on adding agritourism and agri-entertainment options to the farm.  We would propose to collaborate together on research projects related to agritourism.  This would include potential liability issues, strategies to limit liability, and land use issues.  We would imagine that research outputs would include best practices for legislation or ordinances related to agritourism and suggestions for state policies that would allow for agritourism.  At the same time, we would offer outreach to attorneys, state officials, insurance providers, and land use planners to allow these key groups to better understand the issues and work with agricultural operations looking to expand to agritourism.  The group has already seen success in similar outreach efforts for these audiences by offering continuing education credit through the National Ag Law Center and typically reaching 200 plus professionals through webinars.

Labor demands in the Northeast and across the country often rely on domestic and foreign labor to work in fruit and vegetable, livestock, dairy, and poultry operations.  At the same time, agricultural operations often struggle to understand the myriad of federal and state labor laws to comply with.  We would propose to collaborate on agricultural labor legal issues.  We would imagine that research outputs would include best practices for legislation related to labor and suggestions for state policies that would allow for improvements to the labor laws in a state. We would disseminate this information to agricultural operations, agricultural services providers, and state officials to promote better compliance with existing laws.

Although often considered a problem in the South and the West, heirs’ property is also a problem in the Northeast region.  We would focus on comparative law analysis of state laws across the region to determine optimal solutions for heirs’ property issues.  We would imagine that research outputs would include best practices for legislation related and suggestions for state policies that would allow for improvements to the heirs' property regimes across the region. This research would potentially go beyond the agricultural field in the region and could also have impact in urban areas as well. We would disseminate this information to agricultural operations, agricultural services providers, and state officials to promote better compliance with existing laws.

We would propose collaborating on research projects related to environmental law as it impacts agriculture.  This research would have implications across the region and across the country.  We would imagine that research outputs would include best practices for legislation related and suggestions for state policies that would allow for improvements to the environmental law impacts on agriculture across the region.  We would disseminate this information to agricultural operations, agricultural services providers, and state officials to promote better compliance with existing laws.

Based on this increased collaboration, we would expect to increase the development of organized symposia sessions for the AALA’s annual meeting, for meetings of agricultural economists and policy professionals, and for risk management conferences.  We would also expect this collaboration to help us develop theme issues for interested law journals focusing on agricultural law, including the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Law, and the Texas A&M Law Review.

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • Exchange of ideas, information/data, and research results at a multi-day professional meeting of project members held in the fall of each year and virtual quarterly meetings.
  • Coordination of research and extension programs surrounding legal issues impacting agricultural and natural resources firms.
  • Research results and insights to directly inform and evaluate federal and state laws and their impact on decisions in agriculture and natural resources and the future landscape.
  • Development of themed publications about developing issues, as this group works with existing law journals, such as Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, Kentucky Journal of Equine, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Law, and the Texas A&M Law Review, and other outlets such as Choices Magazine.
  • Formal interaction with private practice attorneys, governmental attorneys, in-house counsels, and other professionals. By holding our annual meeting in conjunction with the AALA’s annual meeting/ERME conference, we will be able to interact with those professionals working on these issues and better develop academic research focused on current legal issues.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

Organization/Governance

A three-member executive committee consisting of a past project chair, project chair, and program chair will govern the project.  Administrative issues will be addressed during the business meeting held in conjunction with the annual meeting. The committee will conduct elections to fill the position of program chair during the business meeting. The program chair coordinates the program for the next annual meeting and the quarterly virtual meeting sessions. The outgoing program chair becomes the project chair and is responsible for conducting the business meeting, submitting an annual report on project activities, and maintaining communication with the administrative advisor and the Northeast Association of Agricultural Experiment Station Directors.  The outgoing project chair will become the past project chair to provide additional support to the executive committee.  Initially, at the first annual meeting, the project team would elect project team members to fill the three executive committee positions.  

We would also incorporate into this project an advisory panel of key stakeholders such as attorneys, Experiment Station Directors, agricultural operators, and other ag service providers.  This advisory panel would be integrated into our annual meetings to help provide additional feedback on research to ensure its timely and valuable to our target audience.

Literature Cited

Selected works focused on agricultural and natural resource laws

Ellixson, Ashley, et al. "Legal and Economic Implications of Farm Data: Ownership and Possible Protections." Drake J. Agric. L. 24 (2019): 49.

Ferrell, Shannon L., and Eric A. DeVuyst. "Decommissioning wind energy projects: An economic and political analysis." Energy policy 53 (2013): 105-113.

Ferrell, Shannon L., et al. "The Future of Agricultural Law: A Generational Shift." Drake J. Agric. L. 18 (2013): 107.

Ferrell, Shannon L., and Rodney Jones. "Legal Issues Affecting Farm Transition." Data Development and Policy Analysis Conference, Washington, DC. 2013.

Ferrell, Shannon L. "Legal Issues on the Farm Data Frontier, Part I: Managing First-Degree Relationships in Farm Data Transfers." Drake J. Agric. L. 21 (2016): 13.

Ferrell, Shannon L. "The Technical and Ethical Challenges for Lawyers in Evaluating Wind Energy Development Agreements." Drake J. Agric. L. 17 (2012): 55.

Goeringer, Paul. "Adapting to the Changing World of Biotechnology: Syngenta AG MIR162 Corn Litigation as Regulation by Litigation." Tex. A&M L. Rev. 4 (2016): 373.

Goeringer, L. Paul, and Harold L. Goodwin. "An Overview of Arkansas' Right-to-Farm Law." J. Food L. & Pol'y 9 (2013): 1.

Goeringer, L. Paul, H. L. Goodwin, and Michael Popp. "The New Fuel Frontier: Biomass Contracting." Ky. J. Equine Agric. & Nat. Resources L. 5 (2012): 71.

Goeringer, Paul, Ashley Ellixson, and Jon Moyle. "Privacy Issues and the Use of UASs/Drones in Maryland." (July 30, 2015) (2015).

Goeringer, Paul, et al. "Understanding the Diverse Legal Needs of the Maryland Agricultural Community." (2014).

Kershen, Drew. “What is Agricultural Law? Proposing Production Agriculture as the Core.” Agricultural Law Update. American Agricultural Law Association (Dec. 2008)

Lashmet, Tiffany Dowell. “Eminent Domain in Texas: A Landowner’s Guide.” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension (March 2020).

Lashmet, Tiffany Dowell. “Impact of Conversion of Land from Agricultural Use Property Tax Valuation to Wildlife Use Valuation on the Livestock Industry.” No. 1459-2016-120536. 2015.

Lashmet, Tiffany Dowell. “Owning Your Piece of Texas: Key Laws Texas Landowners Need to Know” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension (May 2019). 

Lashmet, Tiffany Dowell, Shannon Ferrell, Rusty Rumley, & Paul Goeringer. “Ranchers Agricultural Leasing Handbook: Grazing, Hunting, & Livestock Leases.” Texas A&M AgriLife Extension (June  2016).

Lashmet, Tiffany Dowell, and Amber Miller. "Texas exempt wells: Where does fracking fit?." Natural Resources Journal 55.2 (2015): 239-268.

Millet-Williams, Nerice, et. al. “2019 Ag Law Education Assessment Evaluation in Maryland.” University of Maryland (August 2019).

Schneider, Susan A. “What is Agricultural Law?” (January 22, 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1331422 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1331422

Suri, Mayhah, and Paul Goeringer. "Community Supported Agriculture: How do Maryland Operators Manage Legal Risks." Ky. J. Equine Agric. & Nat. Resources L. 9 (2016): 211.

Attachments

Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

MD

Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

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