The Legal Tutorial

By Kathy Meyer

Communicate with Neighbors

“We live in an age with complex genetics and crops. To avoid problems, communicate with your neighbors to learn what they’re growing and the pesticides that can be safely used nearby.” Todd Janzen, Janzen Ag Law, Indianapolis, Ind.

What’s up with neighbors. Share crop plans and visit https://fieldwatch.com/. FieldWatch provides information about specialty crops and nearby beehives to help avoid disputes.

Contract third-party applicators when in doubt. Hire custom spray applicators with a contract that assumes liability for any negligence or wrong-doing. The more complex the cropping scenario, the easier it is to shield against liability by engaging a third-party applicator. Keep easily accessible records and substantiate everything planted and applied.

Secure land leases and lines of credit. Have a written agreement with landlords and provide information they need to feel secure about management. Don’t wait to talk to a banker when you sense trouble on the horizon – even though it may be a tough discussion.

Monitor Federal Regulations

“Don’t let legal requirements fall off the radar. You can get into the weeds quickly.” Tiffany Lashmet, Texas A&M Extension  

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dicamba extension and new label requirements. Become familiar with changes for 2019. One key difference: only those with certified training can apply dicamba. Previously, if an application supervisor took the training, it was enough. “I urge applicators to not simply go through the motions to obtain the Continuing Education Unit credit. Note critical changes and prepare to implement,” she says. 

EPA definition of U.S. waters. EPA is expected to publish a new definition and take comments in 2019. “This legal definition requires federal permits for some actions taken on private property, including certain discharges and activities involving moving dirt. The scope of federal jurisdiction related to water is important to all landowners. In Illinois, the 2015 definition is in effect, yet farmers need to watch it in 2019,” she says.

Commercial hauling regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCA) established new rules of commercial truck hauling that may require an electronic logging device. These new regulations may affect farmers’ trucks used to haul grain, livestock, fertilizer and other agricultural property. Currently, there’s an exemption in place making an electronic logging device requirement inapplicable to livestock, but that could change in 2019.

Set Up Well-Thought Farm Plans

“Farmers need a three-prong approach to manage legal issues, and give thought to how these three aspects work together.” Cari Rincker, Rincker Law, Champaign, Ill.

Estate plan. Legal documents should include a last will and testament with advance directives and power of attorney. It’s needed not only upon death, but also when someone is incapacitated. It’s quicker, easier and less expensive than to have a guardianship proceeding.

Succession plan. Document how the farm will transition from one generation to the next (see related story page x). Develop an operations manual that guides new roles. Include vendors, phone numbers and other information needed to make all decisions.

Business plan. A trust is often a recommended legal device because it bypasses probate, which can stall transitions for six to 12 months. A trust insures estate matters remain private. Without a legal plan, an estate that goes into probate court is public information.

In a nutshell. Get all agreements and plans in writing. Draft legal documents, ask for contracts, document buy-and-sell decisions. Oral agreements can cause problems and misunderstandings.