Delmarva Farmer Columnists


Anatomy of farm protection laws (Sept. 23, 2014)

Ag Law

By Ashley Newhall, Legal Specialist, University of Maryland, CANR Agricultural and Resource Economics

The agriculture community calls them farm protection laws. Animal activists refer to them as “ag gag” laws.
No matter what you call them, they are at the forefront of media headlines and courtrooms.
Farm protection policy is playing a huge role in the agriculture industry, making a strong comeback in popularity since the early 1990s.
What are these laws?
Most recently, farm protection laws generally criminalize the undercover investigation of agricultural operations, no matter the intent of the individual.
Some states’ laws require that the individual have the intent to damage the business, while other farm protection laws do not.
The current trend in farm protection laws are not the first of their kind. Some states have “animal enterprise interference” statutes that intensify penalties for fraud, trespass, and physical damage to facilities.
These laws are more focused on physical damage and trespass and less so on undercover investigations.
Kansas passed the first of its kind, in 1991, followed by Washington, California, Oregon, Montana and North Dakota. Iowa and Arkansas have passed a farm protection law and reflect the modern trend in “ag gag” legislation:
Iowa’s bill, Senate File 431, makes it a crime for anyone without an owner’s permission to make, possess, or distribute any recording made on a farm. Arkansas’s Senate Bill 13 was signed into law in 2013 making improper investigation by anyone who is not law enforcement a class B misdemeanor with a civil penalty of up to $5,000.
North Carolina and Pennsylvania are among states following the current trend, introducing a farm protection bill, but are awaiting results:
North Carolina’s Senate Bill 648, the Commerce Protection Act of 2013, would affect not only farm businesses, but any kind of manufacturing, making fraudulent employment a Class I misdemeanor and secret recordings exempt only during the 24-hour window for the footage to be handed over to law enforcement. Pennsylvania’s House Bill 683 would consider secret recordings on farms without an owner’s permission to be a second or third degree felony. Additionally, this bill includes a section to criminalize anti-fracking activists who do the same.
Several states have also introduced but failed to pass a variation of an “ag gag” bill, such as:
Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1248 was vetoed by Gov. Bill Haslam in 2013 but would have provided for a 24-hour window for witnessed animal abuse on a facility to be handed over to law enforcement.
Nebraska’s Legislative Bill 204 would have prohibited trespassing and applying for employment under false pretenses. The bill also provided for a 24-hour window for     turning over evidence of animal abuse.
One chief reason farm protection laws are making headlines is due to the polar opposition they create. Animal rights groups and activists argue that these laws silence the whistleblower and support animal cruelty while the agriculture industry argues that it needs protection from false information that is perpetrated through the media.
Two laws that are in recent and current litigation for these reasons are in Idaho and Utah.
Idaho’s farm protection law was enacted on Feb. 28 and criminalizes fraudulent employment, trespass, or secretly filming without the owner’s consent.
Since then, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, along with several other plaintiffs, have filed suit challenging the law based on the U.S. Constitutional protection of free speech and freedom of the press.
On Sept. 9, the judge determined that the First Amendment and equal protection challenges to the law are valid and will allow the two claims to move forward to trial.
Similarly, Utah’s farm protection law, passed in 2012, is also being challenged on constitutional grounds.
Utah’s law criminalizes any secret recording on farms without the owner’s consent as well as fraudulent employment.
On July 22, 2013, ALDF, PETA, and others filed a lawsuit challenging Utah’s law alleging violations of the right to freedom of speech and equal protection.
The anticipation of the outcomes of both lawsuits is sky high and will certainly be a tell-tale sign of the future of farm protection laws.
* * *
(Editor’s note: This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney and should not be viewed as legal advice.)

Expecting ARC/PLC (Sept. 23, 2014)

Keeping the Farm

By Bob Wevodau, Ag Program Specialist, Farm Service Agency, Maryland

Before my first child was born, I was nervous about becoming a parent.
Would I know what to do? Would I be a good parent? Will my child grow to love me, or spend most of his or her adult life on a therapists couch talking about what a terrible father I was?
But then I heard a very poignant piece of advice — actually it wasn’t even advice, more like a general observation.
I was listening to a radio show, and someone called in saying that they were going to be a parent, and wondered what they needed to know. The answer was simple, and re-assuring.
The host said “If you are worried about the type of parent you are going to be, you are already on the right track. Just the fact that you are asking the question shows you are going to be fine.”
I think you can say the same about the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage program.
Recently if you are a producer or land owner that has base acres, you should have gotten a letter in the mail which discussed your options with your base acres.
You may not grasp the program or how it is going to work, but if you are asking questions and want to know these answers you are already on the right track.
Within your letter it asks that you contact your local FSA Office within 60 days to fix any missing or incorrect data.
Though we recommend you do that, the 60 days is not a deadline.
The ARC/PLC program is being released piece by piece and we are entering the heart of the harvest season, so there is no hard deadline, but you do need to take care of any blank or in need of updated data before too long.
If you received your letter and all the information is correct, then for the time being you don’t need to do anything.
But eventually you will have to decide which program you want to elect; PLC, ARC-Individual, or ARC-County Level Coverage.
The good news is that there will be a lot more information available for ARC/PLC.
Decision making tools are in the works, and local FSA Offices will soon be getting their training which will lead to more informational and farmer meetings across the region.
We can look at the ARC/PLC Program launch as a series of steps.
The first one is looking into the reallocation of your base acres and filling in any missing information.
That is the stage we are in, and there is no deadline for when we will be out of this stage, but surely it will need to be completed before you can elect or enroll.
Next we will focus on updating yields.
This is an opportunity to update your yields which doesn’t happen very often, in fact this could be your last time, and updating could be beneficial for you.
But we aren’t quite at this step yet. After that we will enter the program election phase, and then finally contract enrollments.
In the meantime, when you have a chance, review your letter and make sure all your information is correct. If it is, you can start thinking about updating your yields, as that will be the next step.
If your information needs corrected or updated, please visit your county office at your earliest convenience.
As more information becomes available and we are ready to move on to the yield update stage, we will let you know.
At the very least, I will use this Delmarva Farmer spot to pass on all I know at the time I know it.
But look for a flood of information from all sources to keep you posted.
I have the utmost confidence that farmers all across the region will have all the opportunities they want to make the best decision for their operation.
So if you are worried about ARC/PLC, I’m not worried about you.
The fact that you are thinking about it, and looking for ways to educate yourself on the process shows you are already the kind of producer who will make the best decision for their operation.
Now all you have to do is wait for the tools and trainings to be provided.
Think of it as Lamaze Class for the Farm Bill.