June 1 is the deadline to be compliant with conservation requirements in order to be eligible for federal crop insurance premium subsidies and other USDA programs. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) just released a brief resource for checking to ensure your farm meets Conservation Compliance requirements. You can view the full resource on the NRCS website, and a brief summary is provided below. Conservation compliance means complying with the requirements for highly erodible lands (HEL) and wetlands. Farmers who have HEL or wetlands must comply with requirements to be eligible to receive many USDA benefits, including loans, disaster assistance, federal crop insurance premium subsidies and conservation assistance.
In 2011, Missouri adopted a "right to farm" law (Missouri Revised Statute 537.296), which precludes recovery of non-economic damages caused by a nuisance that emanates from property used primarily for agriculture. This law effectively means that neighboring landowners are limited to recover the reduction in the fair market value for their property and any expenses for medical conditions resulting from the nuisance. Neighbors may not recover for non-economic damages, such as loss of use and enjoyment, inconvenience, or discomfort caused by a nuisance. Nuisances commonly associated with agricultural uses stem from confined animal feeding operations, or CAFO's.
The federal government has in recent years demonstrated an increased propensity for bringing criminal charges against farmers and food producers who violate food safety regulations. Cantelope farmers in Colorado received probation after introducing adulterated fruit and most recently, Quality Egg LLC, the company owner, and a top executive were sentenced in federal court in Sioux City, Iowa. The owner of Quality Egg LLC, Jack DeCoster, and his son, Peter DeCoster of Clarion, Iowa, were each sentenced to serve three months and fined $100,000. The company was fined $6.79 million and placed on probation for three years.
Like many states, Missouri law provides different rules in terminating a lease of agricultural land. Farming operations require planning several months or more in advance. Recognizing this fact, state laws often require greater notice before a landlord cannot terminate the farm tenancy. The notice requirements in Missouri will, however, depend on the specific characteristics of the lease arrangement.
Farm leases are a special creature with several unique requirements that don't apply to other leases. This is particularly true in Iowa. A farm lease is a contract, but it is also a conveyance of a real property interest that transfer rights of possession and use. The extent of these rights, however, depends on the terms of the lease contract and on state law. In 2010, the Iowa legislature adopted Iowa Code Section 562.5A, a statute betowing ownership of any above-ground portion of a plant to farm tenants, unless the parties agreed to a different arrangement in writing. This includes corn-stalks, stover, or any other residue from the plant. The details of the Iowa crop residue law are examined in an earlier post.
The USDA announced today that farmers will have one more week to elect Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC), the safety-net programs established by the 2014 Farm Bill. April 7, 2015 will also be the final day to update yield history or reallocate base acres. Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, said, “This is an important decision for producers because these programs help farmers and ranchers protect their operations from unexpected changes in the marketplace. Nearly 98 percent of owners have already updated yield and base acres, and 90 percent of producers have enrolled in ARC or PLC. These numbers are strong, and continue to rise. This additional week will give producers a little more time to have those final conversations, review their data, visit their local Farm Service Agency offices, and make their decisions."
In order to be eligible to receive payments under many USDA farm programs, including the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program and the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program, a person must qualify as "actively engaged in farming." Under current regulations actively engaged in farming means a contribution of land, capital, or equipment as well as labor or active personal management. The 2014 Farm Bill requires the USDA to formulate a new definition of "actively engaged in farming," or, more specifically, to further define what "active personal management" means. This mandatory change from Congress stems in large part from critics of the program alleging that wealthy landowners were qualifying for farm program payments
Easements allowing access for farm equipment are common in Missouri and Iowa. However, as farm equipment and machinery become larger, the dimensions of existing easements may no longer be adequate to provide access. This often creates disagreements between landowners and easement holders that wind up in court. The result from the court varies depending on how the easement was established, and, if written, on the language of the easement. In a case recently heard by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District, a party sought to expand an existing written easement for a 16 foot wide road by claiming additional property adjacent to an easement road had been acquired by prescription.
Southern Iowa and Northern Missouri contain some of the most prized whitetail deer hunting ground in the country. Whether you're letting a neighbor, farm tenant, or a non-resident use your land for hunting, a written lease is crucial for protecting your rights on the property, ensuring quality deer management, and protecting yourself from liability and lawsuits. This article discusses some of the basic provisions of a hunting lease as well as more in-depth issues that should be addressed by a lease with quality deer management as a priority. This article may not cover all of the needs of your particular situation and should not be construed as legal advice. You should speak with an attorney to ensure a hunting lease that addresses your specific priorities and protects you and the land.
I recently had the opportunity to give a presentation on the legal issues involved in mentoring new farmers or using "internships" on your farm. Such arrangements have become particularly prevalent for small retail farms - those selling vegetables, meat, or value added goods directly to consumers through farmers markets, food coops, or community supported agriculture (CSA). The below powerpoint was developed for the Women, Food & Agriculture Network's "Harvesting Our Potential" mentor training.