Delmarva Farmer Columnists


A constitutional right to farm? (July 22, 2014)

Ag Law

By Paul Goeringer, University of Maryland’s Center,  for Agricultural and Natural Resource Policy

State constitutions typically guarantee their citizens freedom of speech, the right to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, and the right to a jury trial, but what about a right to farm?  In the past few years, a few states in the Midwest have put forward constitutional amendments which enshrine a right to farm in their states’ constitutions.
In 2012, North Dakota voters approved a constitutional amendment guaranteeing just that - a right to farm using modern agricultural technology and practices. 
This year, voters in Missouri and Oklahoma will consider constitutional amendments which guarantee farmers in their states a right to farm.
Although each of these states has enacted a right-to-farm law (as have Maryland and Delaware), a right-to-farm constitutional amendment goes a step further than a right-to-farm law. 
Right-to-farm laws traditionally only provide a defense against a nuisance action, a legal action claiming the farm interfered with a landowner’s use and enjoyment of the landowner’s property. 
A right-to-farm law does not offer a defense when the claim is that an agricultural producer violated a state or federal environmental law or other state law violation other than nuisance. 
A right-to-farm constitutional amendment offers broader protection to agricultural operations.  North Dakota’s amendment guarantees the right to farm when the operation adopts modern farming and ranching practices.
Oklahoma’s proposed amendment would limit the state legislature’s ability to pass laws to force an agricultural operation to adopt or not adopt certain farming practices.  Missouri’s proposed amendment is potentially broader than North Dakota’s or Oklahoma’s and offers those engaged in farming and ranching a right guaranteed forever by the state.
Just how broad are the protections offered by the right–to-farm amendment? Missouri is currently heavily debating this very topic as voters prepare to go to the polls on August 5 and decide the fate of the proposed amendment. (See Alan Guebert’s column related to this issue on page 5.)
Missouri agricultural groups argue that the right-to-farm constitutional amendment is needed to protect the farm industry from aggressive actions by environmental and animal rights groups. 
Supporters see this amendment as a way to limit the influence of out-of-state interests and keep these interests from meddling in rural affairs. 
To many supporters, a constitutional amendment protecting the right to farm is just an update on the existing right-to-farm law and works to protect agricultural producers better in changing times.
Opponents, on the other hand, in Missouri see this constitutional amendment as an effort to shield agricultural operations, especially big concentrated animal feeding operations, from further state and local environmental and animal welfare laws. 
Opponents see this amendment as a way for large agri-corporations (such as Monsanto and Dow) to evade regulations by municipalities and counties in the state.
Passing a right-to-farm amendment does ensure that the state’s legislature would not be able to pass severe restrictions on agriculture, but would still allow for reasonable restrictions on agriculture.  All constitutionally protected rights (such as free speech, freedom of religion, and right to own a gun) are allowed to be reasonably restricted. 
For example, you are guaranteed a right of free speech in both the state and federal constitutions, but a city may reasonably restrict the time, place, and manner in which you exercise that right.  You may not have the right to walk down a city street at 2 am with a bullhorn to shout your dislike of X because a city can reasonably restrict your right of free speech to a time of day when your neighbors will not be disturbed.
Once one of these constitutional amendments passes, how will we know what a reasonable restriction is? 
Good question - and there is no definite answer.  There is no exact formula for determining if a restriction on a constitutional right is reasonable.  It usually takes years of litigation in the court system to make such a determination. 
Although these constitutional amendments offer more protections than a traditional right-to-farm law, the amendment does create the problem that potentially every law impacting agriculture would have to be litigated to determine if it was reasonable (creating more work and money for folks like me). 
This could actually create more costs for small farmers.
The agricultural community will have to keep an eye on states like Missouri, Oklahoma, and North Dakota to determine what the true impact of such constitutional amendments will be on agriculture in their states.
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(Editor’s note: This article is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney and should not be viewed as legal advice.)

Arm yourself with knowledge (July 29, 2014)

Keeping the Farm

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

I have recently been naïve enough to begin dabbling in the stock market.
Granted, I’m not managing my own 401K, just a few rainy day dollars that I want to see what I can do with.
I have debated making this leap for years and finally figured, why not?
The results have been mixed so far.
And of course by “mixed,” what I really mean is bad.
But it is the experience that I am enjoying (and paying for).
As someone who has wanted to pursue a career in agriculture since I was 13, the business world has always been a little bit of an enigma to me.
Kind of strange because farming and business are a lot more closely related than what you would think when you see a farmer and a businessman standing side by side.
However, I am learning a lot.
I’m using my free time to study dividends, positions, calls, and other words I have hardly thought of prior to me taking this leap.
It has been fun, and educational.
Granted I would rather this “fun” occur while I’m making money, but life and the stock market, don’t always work out that way.
I have always enjoyed learning things, and I especially like to learn when the subject gives me an edge in life.
When it comes to making money and careers you never stop learning and honestly why would you?
Which brings me to our next topic, the University of Maryland Department of Agriculture and Resource Economics, University of Maryland Extension, the Maryland Department of Agriculture, USDA’s Risk Management Agency, and USDA’s Farm Service Agency have joined forces to provide six workshops about the new 2014 Farm Bill.
These workshops will be spread across the state with the following dates and locations:
• Aug. 12 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Rockawalkin Community Center in Hebron, Md.;
• Aug. 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Queen Anne’s County Fairgrounds in Centreville, Md.;
• Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the St. Mary’s Agricultural Service Center in Leonardtown, Md.;
• Aug. 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baltimore County Agricultural Center in Cockeysville, Md.;
• Aug. 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Dutch’s Daughter Restaurant in Frederick, Md.; and
• Aug. 21 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at a location to be determined in Western Maryland.
Each workshop will cost $10, which will be used to cover the cost of lunch.
This is your chance to arm yourself with knowledge about the 2014 Farm Bill and see how it is going to affect your operation.
The 2014 Farm Bill has many changes from the previous bill some of which is going to require you to make decisions on your operation, decisions that could save you or cost you money.
When it comes to your money, you can never educate yourself enough.
Granted, I’m learning and still losing money.
However, I like to think it could be so much worse if I didn’t take the time to study all the options and nuances of the market.
In this case the market is the 2014 Farm Bill and this is your chance to get yourself some inside knowledge, and all for the price of just $10.
Heck, I’ve probably lost that much in the time it has taken me to write this article.
Hope to see you there.