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Do you have that in Writing

In each of these cases reviewed below, having it in writing was central to the case. Sometimes a writing is good enough and some times it isn't worth the paper it is printed on. Stopping to think about whether or not a "handshake" will hold up in a dispute is worth the time and effort it takes.

Collect the data or don't collect the reward

Using grid soil sampling and yield monitoring is the industry standard for modern farming. Consider all the ways you can establish your yield. Monitors, weigh wagons, grain warehouse receipts, scale tickets. A farmer filed suit against a Cooperative for impaired crop due to lack of proper spraying. The farmer had no yield records to support his claim. This farmer apparently had no records to support his yield claim and yet demanded compensation. It is a true stretch in those cases to get anywhere. The farmer learned that the hard way. The lesson is to invest in your operation and ensure you have accurate data, especially if you think you are going to have a loss based on some one else's misconduct.

Sometimes, a handshake agreement just leads to being slapped. An older farmer agreed to help a young farmer with access to land and equipment. The older farmer allowed the young farmer to trade the older equipment off on newer equipment. Nothing was documented or written down. The relationship went south and the young farmer left with all of the shiny new equipment. The older farmer sued for theft of the equipment. The court found that ownership wasn't clearly proven and the young farmer retained ownership of the equipment. 

Parental Releases
In a recent case, parents signed a field trip release, holding the school harmless for negligence. During the trip, a child was hit by a car and the parents filed suit. The supreme court indicated that the pre injury release for was void and allowed the suit to proceed. For those farm operations that have orchard tours, corn mazes, and like, it would appear that requesting parents to sign releases for their children is not going to be adequate protection. This is because the courts are adopting the concept that parent's cannot waive their children's claims, the children would have do to that. But since children are insane, they would need to have a guardian appointed to them to help them make the decision on whether to waive or not. Guardian ad litems are appointed by the court. Insurance policies drafted against the risk seem to be a much better option.
Bad Drafting Bad Result
An estate plan called for the farm property to be left to an LLC and then the LLC had instructions to pass out membership interests to various heirs. The LLC had to pay inheritance tax on the transfer. If the will had left the property to the children directly or left membership interests of the LLC to the children, no tax would have been due. This failure to consider all angles is why using off the self products like do it your self wills or legal zoom can lead to unplanned for disaster. And when the disaster hits, suing the box the software came in or the website your received "legal help at your direction" is not likely to fix the problem.

In these cases, the outcome could have been avoiding by proper documentation. Investing in a consult with a lawyer when the farmer suspected crop loss would have helped him gather the right data. When the two farmers formed a plan to transition from the elder farmer to the next, investing in a written plan would have been far cheaper than the legal fees that resulted. The parental release ruling would be hard to anticipate without talking to a lawyer who is following those types of cases, as the outcome goes against what our "common sense" says the result would be. In the estate case, it is apparent that lack of investing in a drafting lawyer who understands the area of the law you are working with can have terrible outcomes.


The law in Iowa is that a farmer has the responsibility to fence in livestock, but if an animal escapes because of poor fencing by the neighbors, the neighbors can't recover. If the animal's owner has the poor fence, he is the responsible party. Taking time to inspect your fence (and note it in a journal) is a good plan for livestock owners.

A land owner, even one that doesn't own livestock, can be compelled to erect fence upon written request of an adjacent owner.  Also, a land owner can be made to build or maintain a fence on ground where fencing agreement is in place. A written fencing agreement is the best and where that doesn't work, the owner can request  an order from township trustees. The township trustees will order the fence equally regardless of who benefits most from the fence's installation.

A legal fence is

  • 3 rails (10 feet apart for posts);
  • 3 boards (six inches wide and 3/4in thick posts no more than 8 feet apart) ;
    high tensile wire (4 parallel, coated, steel, smooth ASTM wire not more than 2 rods apart and at least 40 inches high) 
    three barbed wires (36 iron barbs of two points each or 26 barbs of 4 points, no more than 2 rods apart, 2 stays between posts or 1 rod apart without stays top wire between 48-54 inches);
    four wires 2 smooth and two of 25 barbs, 4 points each, 2 rods apart, 2 stays between posts or 1 rod apart without stays )
    with all having not more than 20 inches or less than 16 inches from the lowest run to the ground and top run   between 48-54 inches)
  • A tight fence requires the addition of woven wire to restrain sheep and swine with posts not more than 20 feet apart.

If livestock escape 3 times in a 12 month period and trespass on the same landowner, the land owner can make a request to compel that animal owner to make a fence. If the complaining land owner is a neighboring landowner, the complaint may result in the complaining landowner having to put up fence as well.

Saturday, July 13, 2024
  • Patrick B. Dillon
  • Jill Dillon
  • Tori Beyer
Dillon Law PC
Patrick B. Dillon enjoys finding solutions to legal issues and catching problems for clients. Pat practices in the Sumner office regularly represents clients in district, associate district and magistrate courts for agricultural, real estate, criminal and collection issues. He drafts wills and trusts, creates estate plans and helps clients through the probate process.
Dillon Law PC
Jill is a University of Northern Iowa undergraduate (Political Science Cum Laude) and a Drake University Law School graduate. Jill is a firm owner but not currently accepting private pay clients. Jill still has ties to her family farm operation which includes a dairy herd.
Dillon Law PC
Tori is a University of Iowa undergraduate where she double majored in Criminology, Justice, and Law and Ethics and Public Policy and a North Dakota Law School graduate. Tori practices in the Sumner office. Tori's areas of practice include but are not limited to estate planning, wills/probate, criminal defense, and civil litigation.

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