Agricultural law refers to law that deals with agricultural infrastructure. Put another way, agricultural law pertains to agricultural production, marketing, and distribution. Agricultural law is intended to ensure the efficient production and distribution of foods and fibers. Since the industry is so broad in scope, the law and regulations in this area of law are extremely complex. Agricultural laws often overlap with other laws, such as labor laws, environmental laws, commercial laws, and more.
Agricultural lawyers provide services to a variety of clients in the agricultural industry, including chemical suppliers, agricultural equipment manufacturers and distributers, farm owners (such as hogs, commercial trees, or poultry), meat, fruit, and vegetable producers, agricultural finance institutions, and agribusinesses. An agribusiness is one that involves producers or manufacturers of agricultural goods and services, such as fertilizer and farm equipment makers, food and fiber processors, wholesalers, transporters, and retail food and fiber outlets.
Agricultural law is a relatively recent area of law. While farmers have always engaged in business and real estate contracts in their operations, state laws pertaining to the production of food and fiber have only become commonplace since the mid-1980s. Now, there are a number of federal statutes that regulate or pertain to agricultural activity in the United States. A number of these laws focus on agricultural workers and farm owners. For example, The Federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act is designed to protect migrant and seasonal agricultural workers as well as providing financial help to farmers and others for the building or improving of farm housing and other agriculturally related purposes. Another example is The Agricultural Assistance Act of 2003, which provides assistance to producers who have suffered losses due to weather-related disasters or other emergency conditions.
The U.S. Congress has the power to regulate agricultural production under Article 1, Section 8 of the Federal Constitution. Programs and laws that pertain to farming are overseen by the Secretary of Agriculture, who represents the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the President’s cabinet. The USDA is the federal executive department responsible for developing and executing federal government policy on farming, forestry, and food. The USDA has a number of purposes, such as being responsible for the safety of poultry, egg products, and meat.
The Agricultural Adjustment Acts establish and maintain prices for crops by precluding extreme fluctuation in availability. These laws allow the Secretary of Agriculture to allocate a certain amount of farmland for the production of a particular crop, and to divide the land among the states capable of producing the crop. The system is intended to protect against crop surpluses and shortages, thereby preserving economic stability.
The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution gives states the right to pass laws that promote the general safety and well-being of the public. Courts have found that agricultural production and consumption directly affect public health and safety. Thus, the Tenth Amendment is the basis for states being able to enact their own agricultural laws as long as those laws are not in contravention of federal laws and regulations.
What are the main types of agricultural leases? The main types of agricultural leases are cash rent leases and crop-share leases. In a cash rent lease, the tenant pays a certain price to the landowner for the parcel of land that they are farming, sometimes calculated by acre. In a crop-share lease, the tenant gives the landowner a certain percentage of the crops that they produce.
How does a farmer benefit from a production contract? A farmer benefits from a production contract by setting a fixed price for their commodity. They may receive technology and other support from the contractor that help them produce the commodity. A farmer also may find it easier to finance their operations if they have set up a contract.
How do farmers form or join a cooperative? Farmers must meet formal state requirements to form a cooperative. The founders of the cooperative must file articles of incorporation or other founding documents, adopt bylaws, and elect a board of directors. Joining a cooperative usually requires a farmer to make an initial investment.
Do minimum wage and overtime rules apply to agricultural workers? Federal minimum wage and overtime rules apply only to some agricultural employers. These are employers that used more than 500 man-days of agricultural labor during any calendar quarter of the preceding calendar year. State and local laws may provide stronger protections.
How does a food company get approval for an additive? Generally, an additive must be reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration before it is released for consumption. The FDA will consider whether the additive is safe under the circumstances after reviewing safety data provided by the food company. However, a substance generally recognized as safe (GRAS) is not subject to the requirements for additives.
Financing and Credit in Agriculture If farmers cannot access traditional financing sources, they can seek assistance from the Farm Service Agency or the Farm Credit System, which issue loans to agricultural producers and cooperatives.
Labor Laws in Agriculture Agricultural laborers are often exempt from federal laws that provide protections for workers, but they may have rights under federal laws specific to agriculture or under state or local laws.
Farmland Preservation Zoning and other initiatives aim to preserve farmland and the way of life long enjoyed by farmers and ranchers, in addition to securing the national food supply and protecting the environment.
Food Safety Regulations and Standards The US has enacted some of the tightest food safety standards in the world, with severe penalties for violations, but regulations must constantly evolve to combat new types of foodborne illnesses.