Saturday, December 31, 2011

Top 5 Ag Stories for 2011

It is hard to believe that it was only last January (2011) when I launched the Janzen Ag Law Blog. The response from farmers, ag industry leaders and other attorneys has been overwhelming. Thanks to Leah Beyer at Indiana Soybean Alliance for suggesting that blogging was a great way to connect my legal practice to the agricultural industry. You were right!

As 2011 comes to an end, I thought it would be helpful to spend a few minutes looking back at the top 5 Indiana ag stories from 2011:

1. Major CAFO ruling against the EPA. In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided National Pork Producers Council v. E.P.A. The case was a landmark decision affecting the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) ability to regulate concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). The court struck down the EPA's interpretation of the Clean Water Act that allowed it to regulate CAFOs even though they did not actually discharge any pollutants into waters of the United States. This case will result in significant changes for Indiana CAFOs in the coming years.

2. Indiana Implements Animal Care Standards. The Indiana Board of Animal Health (BOAH) adopted new animal care standards for Indiana farmers. The new standards are the first of their kind for Indiana (but probably not the last).

3. New Confined Feeding Operation Regulations. November brought new regulations for confined feeding operations (CFOs) in Indiana. Among the many new provisions that are controversial are prohibitions against manure application on frozen or snow covered ground. The new regulations also limit phosphorus application. Needless to say, the regulations have not been without their critics. The new CFO regulations go into effect on July 1, 2012.

4. Continued Tension Between EPA and American Agriculture. There were a number of stories this past year about the EPA and its increasing efforts to further regulate agriculture. Nearly everyone by now has heard about the EPA's involvement in the Cheasapeake Bay area. But the EPA's regulators were also busy outside of the Bay area, imposing fines on Midwestern CAFOs. Agribusinesses too were not off the EPA's radar. December brought a story of a soybean processor agreeing to pay $96,588 in civil penalties for failure to comply with the Clean Water Act. And who could miss all of the articles about whether the EPA was going to regulate farm dust? I predict there will even more stories about the EPA in 2012.

5. New Child Labor Restrictions Shock the Ag Community. When the Department of Labor rolled out new proposed restrictions on child labor, it faced a firestorm of critisicm from farmers and ag industry groups.

Thanks for following my blog. Look for more exciting legal ag topics in 2012!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Phosphorus: Fertilizer or Nemesis?

I recently did an interview for the Indiana Lawyer discussing the various ways in which phosphorus regulations have arisen in the past few years. While farmers view phosphorus as a beneficial nutrient for crop production, some environmental groups worry that there can be too much of a good thing.  Reporter Jennifer Montgomery writes:
Fishing, boating and swimming are popular summer pastimes in Indiana, but increasingly, Hoosiers looking for a relaxing weekend at the lake are being warned to avoid the water altogether due to pollution. 
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows that in 2010, phosphorus was the cause of impairment for 7,023 acres of Indiana’s lakes, reservoirs and ponds. In excess, the nutrient can cause thick, foul-smelling mats of algae called algal blooms. 
Phosphorus can come from a variety of sources, including fertilizers, and some environmentalists say that regulating the use of phosphorus-fertilizers will reduce its presence in waters. But so far, efforts to institute laws restricting the use of phosphorus have generated little support.
Continue reading the full story at the Indiana Lawyer: Opinions Divided on the Need for Phosphorus Regulation

Phosphorus will be a big topic for Indiana agriculture in 2012.  New confined feeding operation regulations go into effect on July 1, 2012, which will require some large livestock farms to start restricting manure application rates based upon a field's existing phosphorus content.  For other smaller farms, the effects of the new phosphorus restrictions will phase in over the next six years.  More about this topic in a previous post:  New Confined Feeding Operations Approved. 

Posted by Todd Janzen

Monday, December 12, 2011

Farmland Prices: How High Will They Go?

I am often asked: What is the value of good Indiana farmland?  The answer, of course, depends on the location, soil type, drainage, row crop versus pasture land, and other factors farmers know well.  But I think its safe to say that the value of Indiana farmland has been going steadily up.  I've personally heard of good corn and soybean farmland in Indiana selling for $10,000 per acre.
Brandon Smith at WTIU states that farmland values have "increased dramatically" over the last year.  He reports that the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago shows a 25% increase in Midwest agricultural land values over the last year and a 29% increase in Indiana.  According to the Federal Reserve, that's the largest gain in more than 30 years.

Last Wednesday, the Des Moines Register reported that farmland in Iowa sold for more than $20,000 per acre, a state record.  This has prompted many economists to question how high prices will go.  One expert in the the Wall Street Journal cautioned:
A bubble appears to be building up and there is a cause for caution because returns are getting squeezed, said Daniel Hough, agricultural product specialist with Macquarie, on the sidelines of an agriculture conference.  
There is no justification for U.S. farmland prices to be three to four times higher than land where the same crop is planted in Brazil, or 30 times the corresponding prices in Russia, he said.
Citing data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, Mr. Hough said that in the year to June 30 there was an average 17% increase in farmland prices across Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan and Wisconsin, the biggest rate of increase for any year since 1977. During 2005-2010, the price of farmland climbed as much as 70% in some Midwest states, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Other experts are less pessimistic. R.D. Schrader of Schrader Real Estate is "bullish" in the long term.

As in any market, land values are being determined by supply and demand, Schrader said, with the increasing global appetite for food, the demand for renewable fuels driving corn prices to new highs and a shrinking value of the U.S. dollar driving sales.
Read the rest of Mr. Schrader's predictions together with others in the High Plains Journal.

Post by Todd Janzen

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Manure a "hazardous substance"?

Brianna Schroeder writes over on The Monitoring Well blog that there are proposed changes to federal CERCLA regulations to make certain that "manure" is not considered a hazardous substance under EPA regulations:
Brianna J. SchroederSeveral federal legislators recently proposed an amendment to the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) to exclude manure from the definition of "hazardous substance" and "pollutant or contaminant" for purposes of CERCLA. H. R. 2997 defines "manure" to mean: (1) digestive emissions, feces, urine, urea and other excrement from livestock; (2) any associated bedding, compost, raw materials or other materials commingled with such excrement from livestock; (3) any process water associated with such items; and (4) any byproducts, constituents, or substances contained in, or originating from, such items or any emissions relating to such items. On September 26, 2011, the bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy. The full text of the bill is available here. A related bill, S. 1729 was introduced in the Senate and referred to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works on October 18, 2011. Additional information on the Senate bill can be viewed here.
Let's hope this legislation succeeds. The last thing any livestock farmer needs is to learn that the EPA considers "manure" to be a hazardous substance.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Soybean Processor to Pay $96,588 Penalty to EPA

A soybean processing facility in Iowa, Ag Processing, Inc., has agreed to pay a $96,588 civil penalty as a result of its failure to develop and implement a Facility Response Plan.

According to the EPA press release, inspections revealed storage capacity for more than one million gallons of fuel oil and/or soy oil was located at the facility, but no Facility Response Plan was in place.  The facility was located within 300 feet of a perennial creek, which flows into two small lakes and eventually the Winnebago River.

A Facility Response Plan is required under the Clean Water Act for certain facilities. Under EPA regulations, a Facility Response Plan is deemed necessary to demonstrate a facilities preparedness to respond to a worst case oil discharge.  To learn more about Facility Response Plans, click here:  EPA Facility Response Plan Rule.