Pop Quiz… Name the only segment of the economy with a division of government devoted to it.  The answer is agriculture. From the regulation of food preparation to the use of food aid as a foreign policy tool, agricultural and the laws surrounding it impacts all of us whether we like to admit it or not.

The term agricultural law may not as common as personal injury law  or divorce law , but make no mistake, agriculture and the law are forever intertwined. It naturally follows that where government is, so will be the lawyers advocating for their client. Much like a farmer, an agricultural lawyer in rural Iowa has to know a little bit about of lot of things related to agricultural law and be willing to know when it is time to get a dedicated specialist. This column will touch on the various segments of agricultural law trends and identify the potential impact on members of the northeast Iowa farm community.

Estate planning, business planning, government farm policy and taxation readily come to mind as legal issues facing the farm community. However, food safety regulations, interpretation of federal pesticide laws, land use regulation decisions and foreign food aid policy have an impact on our local community, often time without knowledge until far after the decisions have been made. For example, one decision by the Supreme Court  applied the government's right of eminent domain to allow a city to take a private citizen's land and after paying for it, turn the seized property over to another private citizen who put it to use for profit.  In the struggle between expanding urban population centers and agricultural land owners, this precedent could be used to the detriment of land owners.  


Some time,s no matter wha the state does, the federal government overrule it. The federal Supreme Court has found that the Texas's attempt to allow pesticide users whose pesticide did not perform as expected was preempted by federal pesticide law that largely protects the producers of pesticide from being sued.  The Court's decision centered around theoretical Constitutional principles balancing state's rights versus Federal government's rights. In application, the impact on agribusiness is real and definite, the restriction to litigate about a defective product Despite a state level right of action against a supplier of product, federal law may stop a party from seeking recovery against the supplier.

    These are two examples from high profile cases. Other shaping of our agricultural laws occur with far less time in the lime light.  The National Appeals Division of the USDA determines compliance issues with farm programs in an administrative law setting. The Tax Court issues decisions on what is allowed for current year expenses and what must be taken as a capital expense. Choices by political figures, such as Iowa's Attorney General's, to issue a consent decree rather than fight with large hog concerns like Smithfield have impacts on other  hog producers ability to obtain a fair price for their livestock. Reviewing laws and regulations and trends in the legal community with an eye toward the impact on agriculture will yield a fresh perspective