TheFirstFurrow

Wednesday, June 7, 2017 Why Do We Need a Farm Act?

Stick with us here. Most people probably understand the wisdom, or can at least appreciate the purpose, of maintaining your home. Over time your home gets cluttered, things break, and some of those deep, dark corners you never visit have to be dealt with. It’s not always a fun job, but doing it can make your home a more enjoyable place to live.

North Carolina’s statutes, just like a home, require ongoing maintenance. So it’s necessary, on occasion, for the Legislature to take a look at our statutes and clean up some of the confusing, unhelpful, and out-of-date provisions.

That’s where the annual Farm Act comes into play. Each year since 2013 state legislators have passed a Farm Act to make necessary changes to the law to better serve North Carolina’s farmers.

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 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, February 22, 2017 Why NC Should Fix Its Eminent Domain Law

News flash: Farmers own a lot of land. In fact, they own about 8.3 million acres in North Carolina, which is more than a quarter of the state and is roughly the size of Maryland and Delaware combined. It’s not surprising, then, that they pay attention when the General Assembly takes up bills relating to eminent domain. Last week the N.C. House of Representatives passed an eminent domain bill, H. 3, by a large bipartisan vote. It’s a good bill, so let’s use this opportunity to briefly talk about eminent domain and why H. 3 is needed.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017 2017 Legislative “Long” Session Preview

The North Carolina General Assembly gaveled in its 2017-18 long session a couple weeks ago, but so far the action has mainly been getting bills filed and holding a few committee meetings. As state legislators prepare to roll up their proverbial sleeves, let’s take a moment to talk about a few issues we’ll be watching this session.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017 Farmers on Jones Street

Last week, the 2017-18 General Assembly opened this year’s session, and in a few weeks they will dig in on their new legislative agenda. As you probably know, Republicans hold a 74-46 majority in the NC House and a 35-15 majority in the NC Senate. In the NC House, there are 19 new members, seven Democrats and 12 Republicans; in the NC Senate, there are five new members, all of whom are Republicans.Demographic information is important to understanding the composition of the legislature. Instead of looking at the usual race or gender breakdown, we decided to take a look at another bit of demographic information: occupation. Based on NC House and NC Senate Clerk Reports, the leading occupations are attorney, business owner, real estate broker, business executive, and consultant.

So how many farmers are there in the legislature?

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 Gas Shortage? Think About a Food Shortage

This week’s gas shortage in North Carolina presents an opportunity to talk about another reality of daily life some people often take for granted: our food supply.

The recent Colonial Pipeline leak in Alabama is a reminder that a disruption in local gas deliveries can create panic and confusion among consumers. But what would it look like if North Carolinians were facing a food shortage? We’re talking about a situation in which consumer access to food is significantly disrupted and people have difficulty finding basic food products such as milk, bread, meat and produce. It wouldn’t be a pretty picture that’s for sure.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016 A Summer with Farm Bureau

This week’s post is written by Catherine Harward, a rising senior at North Carolina State University. As a Warren Leadership Fellow, Catherine spent this summer interning with North Carolina Farm Bureau learning about public policy and agricultural advocacy.

Three years ago, I never could have imagined where I would be today. If someone would have told me that I would be interning in agricultural policy for the largest agricultural organization in North Carolina, I would have shook my head in disbelief.

Me at 10 years old, helping with my family’s livestock market

To give you some background, I grew up on a beef cow/calf operation in Stanly County raising purebred and commercial cattle with my father, mother, and four sisters. Even though my dad has all daughters, he never allowed any of us to think because we are girls we could not work on the farm. Since I was little, I enjoyed riding with my dad to feed cows, check fences, and vaccinate the herd, among other work. As I grew older, I became increasingly active in my family’s cattle operation in addition to our livestock marketing businesses. We market cattle across North Carolina and in adjoining states, keeping all members of our large family busy and involved in the family businesses. In my spare time, between school, sports, and the farm, I showed cattle at fairs and exhibitions, sparking my interest in youth agricultural organizations. I loved growing up in a farm family, and I appreciate the life lessons the farm taught me that have motivated me to work hard and to be successful.

I realized that even if you are not interested in politics, it still affects you, and it is crucial that we have farmers at the table helping to make decisions.

Over the past three years as a college student, I acknowledged my increasing passion for agricultural advocacy. Farm Bureau’s Young Farmers and Ranchers program at NC State opened my eyes to the diverse avenues for advocacy and the power of networking. I met various professors who motivated me to look into my passions and purpose in agriculture. Each time, my passions circled back to cattle and advocacy. I never had a great interest in politics and tended to shy away from those discussions. However, reality hit me over time and I began to recognize how important it is to have people working in agricultural policy to keep farmers farming. I realized that even if you are not interested in politics, it still affects you, and it is crucial that we have farmers at the table helping to make decisions.