The business of agriculture, including farming, is changing faster than ever. Each change in how agriculturists think and operate dictates corresponding changes in agricultural law. Attorneys who deal with agriculture regularly are already adjusting to those changes by adapting documents and agreements to reflect the ever-changing industry and way of life of agriculture.
There are five fundamental changes in agriculture that will correspondingly change agricultural law in the next 18 months:
• First, the crop-focused agriculture of our region is assertively following national trends in integrating cover crops into commercial crop production. To date, especially locally, cover crops are only beginning to catch on. However, their integral role in agriculture production will continue to grow. This cover crop revolution will require legal changes to leases, custom farming agreements and farm management (timing of planting, cultivation, and harvest) structures over the next 18 months.
• Second, government policies will have a larger impact on farmers’ decisions. Uncertainty regarding the future of the Federal Renewable Fuels Standards will drive many farmers to minimize risk in other aspects of their businesses, such as lease durations, rent rates, the timing of machinery purchases, the purchasing or culling of livestock and the forward contracting of inputs and commodities. Attorneys will be ready to help facilitate those actions.
Similarly, farmers will eventually be forced to comply with soil and water conservation plans as a condition for government program participation. These changes will manifest themselves in how attorneys draft contracts and structure farm businesses and succession plans so that government program eligibility is not jeopardized.
• Third, technology will continue to overtake the industry. Global positioning system integration into agriculture will introduce more ways for farmers and agribusinesses to make mistakes. Attorneys already advise concerning liability protection to ensure that a simple mistake made in a new way is not just a new way for an agriculturist to lose his or her business and way of life.
• Fourth, formalized and sometimes regimented procedures and practices will become more of the norm for farmers and agribusinesses. The recent incredibly fast and potent spread of the Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea Virus has demonstrated the interconnected nature of America’s food chain. Further, the rumblings of requiring the tracking all food from its literal field or barn of origin makes it clear that farmers may need to monitor and document as well as they already grow and market. Attorneys are trained to think and analyze, and attorneys will play a key role in ensuring that proposed policies and procedures for each farm couple compliance with practicality.
• Fifth, the magnitude of the risk in agriculture will continue to increase. The financial investments necessary to participate in agriculture increase each year. As those investments increase, the importance of protecting those investments will increase. Attorneys will help that protection by structuring businesses and agreements to minimize risk.
Agriculture is expected to change as much as any other industry over the next 18 months. Those changes will directly modify the behaviors and resources that attorneys provide to agriculture’s front-line participants.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney with Schroeder, Blankemeyer and Schroeder LLP in Ottawa. He limits his practice to business, real estate,estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 419-523-5658. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.