Wednesday, November 1, 2017 2017 Legislative Long Session Recap

The NC General Assembly adjourned (again) a couple weeks ago, and with November officially upon us it’s probably as good a time as any to put a bow on this year’s legislative session. Overall, it was a good session for North Carolina agriculture, with the General Assembly enacting several important measures to help farmers. Today, we want to give you a quick overview of a few key legislative actions.

Farm Nuisance Legislation

House Bill 467, Agriculture and Forestry Nuisance Remedies, became law in May after the General Assembly overrode Governor Cooper’s veto with bipartisan support. The bill was drafted in response to a judge’s ruling in an ongoing lawsuit between landowners and Smithfield Foods.

[READ: North Carolinians’ Right to Farm is Under Attack]

  • North Carolina’s nuisance law is intended to compensate property owners for the loss of the use and enjoyment of their property when their neighbor engages in unreasonable conduct
  • But some trial lawyers are distorting North Carolina’s longstanding case law to turn nuisance lawsuits into a personal injury claim (e.g., fear of future illness due to smells emanating from farms)
  • H. 467 clarified North Carolina’s law relating to available damages in nuisance lawsuits against farms
    • In 2015 a federal judge ruled our law is unclear about the damages that may be awarded in temporary nuisance actions against farms
    • This bill limits damages to the diminished market value of the plaintiff’s property for permanent nuisances, or the loss of fair rental value for temporary nuisances, but never more than the full market value of the property
    • The bill provides these same protections for third parties who may be sued based on their contractual relationship with a farm
  • In short, H. 467 provides a clear rule for applying damages in farm nuisance cases
    • It compensates people for the value of their property, but not for subjective claims for annoyance, discomfort, and fear of future harm
  • The new law doesn’t prevent lawsuits against farms that create nuisances, operate negligently, or break the law.
  • It simply discourages lawsuits that seek damages far beyond the full market value of a property

Budget & Tax

The primary purpose of the long session is to adopt a two-year state budget. The 2017-19 state budget, S. 257, authorizes $23 billion in spending including a number of agriculture related provisions:

  • Provides $20 million for agriculture disaster relief, including $1 million for drought relief in Western North Carolina
  • Increases funding for NC Cooperative Extension, Ag WRAP, farmland preservation, Golden LEAF and Tobacco Trust Fund
  • Lowers personal and corporate tax rates by 2019

Additionally, the Legislature adopted S. 628, which revised our state tax code in various ways. One provision exempts agritourism activities from sales tax on admission fees. The treatment of agritourism activities under the sales tax law had caused confusion for farmers and the NC Department of Revenue for several years, and this provision will clarify the issue.

Farm Act of 2017

Finally, the legislature adopted S. 615, the North Carolina Farm Act of 2017, with bipartisan support. Governor Cooper signed it into law on July 12th. The bill contained numerous provisions important to North Carolina’s farmers, including:

[READ: Why Do We Need a Farm Act?]

  • Present use value (PUV) for grazing fees and sale of bees and products of beehives
    • Allows grazing fees for livestock and the sale of bees or products from beehives, excluding honey, to apply towards PUV income requirements
  • Abandoned livestock
    • Defines abandoned livestock as those placed in custody of a person for treatment, boarding, or care and whose owner does not reclaim the animal within two months of the last day the owner paid a boarding fee
    • After the two-month period, the person left with the animal may sell or humanely dispose of the livestock
  • Clarifies when a farm engaging in agritourism is exempt from county zoning authority
    • To be exempt from county zoning power, agritourism operations must:
      • Possess a qualifying farmer sales tax exemption certificate; or
      • Be enrolled in the present use value program
    • Agritourism includes activities taking place on the farm for recreational, entertainment, or educational purposes, including weddings, receptions, etc.
  • Other zoning statute changes
    • Clarifies that residences may be built on bona fide farm properties
    • Defines farm buildings as any nonresidential building or structure used for bona fide farm purposes
    • Provides that therapeutic equine facilities are considered farm buildings
    • Eliminates a county authority to zone swine farms with 600,000 lbs. steady state live weight or greater
  • Intrastate farm truck exemptions
    • Exempts farm vehicles engaged intrastate commerce from marking their vehicles with farm identification and NCDOT/USDOT numbers
  • Professional engineer not required to decommission animal waste structures
    • Decommissioning performed by Soil & Water Technical Specialists
    • Does not apply to design or installation of spillway
  • Authorizes wine sales at farmers markets
    • Qualified individuals holding a winery special event permit are allowed to give free tastings and sell wine by the glass or in closed containers at farmers markets and other special events if allowed under local law
  • Allow farmers who suffer an natural- or weather-related disaster to extend conditional farmer sales tax exemption certificates for one year, if the farmer meets certain requirements
  • Amends agricultural labor organization policies
    • An agricultural producer’s status as a union or nonunion employer cannot be used as a condition for an agreement to sue or settle litigation
    • Exempts agricultural producers from transferring funds to a labor union or labor organization to pay for an employee’s membership fees or dues


Another issue that we’ve been following and will continue to keep an eye on is the legal battle over redistricting. North Carolina’s congressional and legislative maps are currently being reviewed by federal courts and appeals are likely. In other words, we don’t expect a resolution soon. Stay tuned.