I didn’t think it was possible, but this may have been the busiest week for ag law news of the entire year! Here are some of the major stories making headlines this week.
* Congress passes Farm Bill, now on President Trump’s desk. Congress has passed a new Farm Bill. The bill was approved by the Senate on Tuesday and was passed by a landslide–the most votes ever in favor of a Farm Bill–in the House on Wednesday. The bill is now on President Trump’s desk, and it is expected he will sign next week. As for what’s in the bill, key provisions include an expansion of funding for conservation programs, the opportunity for farmers to choose between ARC and PLC coverage on a yearly basis starting in crop year 2021, permanent funding for certain programs related to farmers markets, and the legalization of hemp production. There were neither cuts to the SNAP program funding, nor the imposition of work requirements that were included in the prior House version. I’ll have a podcast coming up in 2019 that will delve further into these provisions. [Read article here.]
*EPA unveils new proposed WOTUS definition. On Tuesday, the Environmental Protection Agency and US Army Corps of Engineers unveiled their new proposed WOTUS defintion. You may recall that in 2015, the Obama administration published a final rule defining the term, as found in the Clean Water Act. That 2015 rule has been the subject of litigation across the county ever since. The new rule will be open for public comment for 60 days after being published in the Federal Register. [View fact sheet here.] I’ll be getting a blog post and a webinar out with more detail in January.
*Judge gives final approval in Syngenta class action settlement. It’s official. Judge Lungstrum has signed his final approval of the $1.5 billion settlement in the nationwide class action litigation pitting farmers and agribusinesses against Synegnta. For more about the litigation and settlement, click here. Class counsel have advised farmers that, at the earliest, claims checks will be processed in April 2019, but if there are any appeals to the settlement, that date could certainly be pushed back. [Read article here.]
*Judge rules no punitive damages allowed in fourth North Carolina hog farm nuisance trial. You may recall from this prior blog post that there are a number of nuisance lawsuits being tried in North Carolina against Smithfield Foods related to hog farms. This week, the fourth trial went to a jury. This case was presided over by Judge Dvid Faber, rather than Judge Britt who sat on the prior three trials. Judge Faber entered an order bifrucating the trial, meaning that initially, the jury would only consider whether to award compensatory damages. Once that initial verdict was in, then a second trial could begin in punitive damages. On Wednesday, the jury came back with a relatively small compensatory damage award for the eight plaintiffs involved. The award totaled just over $100,000, awarding four plaintiffs $100 each, two plaintiffs $1,000 each, one plaintiff $25,000 and the last plaintiff, who had lived in the area the longest, $75,000. On Thursday, the punitive damages trial was slated to begin, but Judge Faber held that the plaintiffs failed to put forth sufficient evidence that would permit the consideration of punitive damages. Thus, he determined no second trial was necessary. [Read article here.]
Program Next Week
I know I said last week that I had completed all of my presentations for 2018. Well, I’m doing an encore! The American National CattleWomen invited me to give a 2018 Ag Law Year in Review webinar. It is free and open to the public, so feel free to join us on Tuesday at 9 CST.