Monday, March 27, 2017 North Carolinians’ right to farm is under attack.

For more than two decades, two out-of-state trial lawyers have made millions suing farmers across the country. Four years ago, they came to North Carolina and started picking fights between about 90 hog farms and their neighbors, alleging the farms were nuisances. The lawyers told the neighbors they could recover substantial damages far exceeding the value of their homes. They didn’t ask the farmers to address the alleged nuisances—they just asked for money.

Interestingly, a judge kicked these lawyers off the cases, finding there was “credible undisputed evidence” they had violated North Carolina’s legal ethics rules as they recruited clients. Nevertheless, the cases were allowed to continue with new attorneys.

Most reasonable people understand there are some aspects of farming that are unpleasant. You can’t raise animals without some odor; you can’t transport farm products without trucks; and you can’t work the soil without occasionally stirring up dust. Recognizing this reality, North Carolina’s right-to-farm statute provides farmers with a limited defense against some nuisance lawsuits. But the right-to-farm law is silent about the amount of damages that can be recovered in nuisance actions.

In 2015, a federal judge considering these cases ruled that North Carolina’s nuisance law isn’t clear on damages. If this isn’t clarified, more lawsuits will be filed, pitting neighbor against neighbor. That means more money for the lawyers.

That’s why a bill was introduced last week in the N.C. House of Representatives. House Bill 467, introduced by Reps. Jimmy Dixon, John Bell, Ted Davis and David Lewis, would limit the compensatory damages in nuisance cases to the market value of the plaintiff’s property. Basically, if a nuisance reduces the value of your home by $25,000, you can be awarded up to $25,000.

The bill doesn’t prevent a neighbor from recovering damages in a legitimate nuisance suit. It cuts off the incentive for lawyers to use farmers and their neighbors to grow their bank accounts.

Farmers care about the communities they live in. Many times, they work with their neighbors to address problems and create solutions without unnecessarily wasting resources settling complaints in court. House Bill 467 is an assurance to all farmers that they can farm their land without the fear of repeated litigation and without the specter of catastrophic damages and legal fees.

The General Assembly should quickly pass H. 467.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017 Health Insurance Cost Crisis

The following commentary is by North Carolina Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten, first published in the Spring 2017 issue of NC Field and Family.

Quality, affordable and transparent healthcare system needed

America’s healthcare system is in need of intensive care, and it will take the best efforts of Congress and the new administration to save the nation’s sickest patient: the health insurance system.

The future of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is on the minds of most Americans. Farm Bureau members in every county, and in each income level, are impacted by our nation’s dysfunctional healthcare system. While based on good intentions, the Affordable Care Act does not work for all Americans. We’re looking to Congress to fix this law.

The current healthcare system provides little competition or checks and balances for runaway prices. In 2016, annual premiums for an average family reached $18,142, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. The average price increase for 2017 was 25 percent. At best, this system is unsustainable.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017 Farmers Flock to Jones Street for 2017 Agriculture Awareness Day

Ask most farmers and they’ll probably tell you they don’t like taking days off the farm. The job demands a lot of time and attention, and it’s critical that farmers stay on top of the day-in day-out tasks (like covering strawberries before a freeze) that lead to a successful year. But today, hundreds of dedicated farmers and friends of agriculture from communities all across the state have left their farms to do another kind of work—meeting with their legislators. That’s because today is NC Agriculture Awareness Day, a day for farmers and ag leaders to bring awareness to the legislature about the importance of agriculture in North Carolina. And it’s an essential task too; with so few legislators involved in agriculture, today’s rally is a valuable opportunity to help legislators understand the challenges that farmers face.

So what are some of those challenges farmers will be discussing with their legislators? Ask ten farmers and you might get ten different answers, but there are a few themes that rise to the top. This year, the key messages that Farm Bureau members will be delivering are:

Hurricane/Wildfire Recovery

  • Last year, the legislature appropriated $200 million in hurricane/wildfire relief.
  • But even though we’re many months removed from those disasters, many NC farmers are still recovering.
  • We support additional disaster relief funding during appropriations process.

Preserve Present Use Value Program

  • The Present Use Value Program provides qualifying farms with property tax relief by taxing the land based on its present use (farming or forestry) and deferring market value taxes.
  • This helps farms continue production and preserves farmland.
  • We support the preservation of this vital tax program.

Preserve Ag Sales Tax Exemptions

  • Eligible farmers are exempt from sales tax on farm equipment, inputs, and services.
  • This helps prevent double taxation on farm products and products derived from agriculture.
  • The legislature should maintain these exemptions if tax reform legislation is considered.

Healthcare Costs

  • Most farmers purchase health care in the individual market because they are often small businesses or sole proprietorships that don’t have access to group coverage.
  • Farmers are bearing the brunt of significant health insurance increases and struggle with inconsistencies in premium subsidies.
  • Farmers are also dealing with a sluggish ag economy and disaster recovery, further cutting into their bottom line.
  • Legislators should work to keep health care costs down.

North Carolina Agriculture is not only our state’s largest economic driver but it also supports more than 600,000 jobs—about one out of every six in the state. That’s why it’s important that legislators are kept up to date on ag issues; because if ag is hurting, then so is our economy.

NC Farm Bureau would like to thank all of the legislators who take time to meet with our farmers and hear their concerns.


Wednesday, March 8, 2017 Is Farming America’s Most Dangerous Job?

Farming is a dangerous job. In fact, agriculture occupations, along with forestry and fishing, are routinely cited as some of the most dangerous jobs in America by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Farmers operate heavy machinery, interact with large animals, and work in confined spaces like grain bins. And, farming is a physically demanding job, too. On top of all that is the simple fact that, like forestry and fishing, farming is a rural occupation and injuries often happen miles from the nearest hospital or medical professional.

In its most recent report, the BLS found that fatalities among agricultural workers rose to 180—a 22 percent increase—while fatalities among farmers, ranchers and other agricultural managers registered at 252. The majority of these fatalities were the result of transportation incidents and contact with objects and equipment. While other professions and industries also have high injury and fatality rates, farming, fishing, and forestry topped the list.


Click image for more BLS charts

That’s why health and safety are so important to Farm Bureau. This week is Agriculture Safety Awareness Progam (ASAP) Week, and the focus this year is SPACE. Topics include:

Wednesday, March 1, 2017 Ray Starling’s White House Appointment and What It Means for Agriculture

First and foremost, congratulations to Ray Starling on being named Special Assistant to the President for Agriculture, Trade and Food Assistance. NC Farm Bureau President Larry Wooten said it best, “This appointment sends a clear message that the White House is serious about addressing the needs of American farmers and rural communities, and I believe Ray Starling has the knowledge, experience, and vision to be a strong advocate for American agriculture.”

Wooten added, “Having grown up on a farm in Eastern North Carolina, Ray has a deep and personal understanding of what our farmers are experiencing and what they need to grow and succeed. Combined with his extensive knowledge of agriculture policy, Ray has proven to be an invaluable asset in supporting farmers and growing North Carolina agriculture.”

Now that he has been appointed, what will he do?