September 6, 2019 Weekly Round Up

You may have noticed I’ve been a little bit MIA here and on social media.  I spent three weeks in August in and out of the hospital with a medical issue, but I’m feeling much better and am back in the saddle.  I’ve got an overwhelming number of emails and voicemails from my absence, but am working on getting back to folks as soon as possible.

I want to be sure and welcome those of you joining the blog from Beef Cattle Short Course, the Owning Your Piece of Texas program in Cat Spring, the Preserving Family Legacy program in La Grange and Brenham, and the Ranchers Leasing Workshop in Ft. Worth.  We’re glad to have you!

Here are a few of the key ag law stories in the news over the last few weeks.

*Texas Supreme Court will consider SWEPCO v. Lynch.  The Texas Supreme Court has accepted the Petition for Review in SWEPCO v. Lynch.  We previously discussed the Court of Appeals decision in this prior blog post.  The question is whether an old, blanket easement that did not limit the width allowed can be implicitly limited by the use over a period of time.  The ruling of the Supreme Court here could have major implications for Texas landowners holding land containing similar types of older easements.

* Congress increases debt limit for Chapter 12 bankruptcy.  On August 23, 2019, President Trump signed the Family Farmer Relief Act of 2019, which increases the allowable debt limit when filing for Chapter 12 bankruptcy to $10 million.  Prior to this change, the limit was $4.1 million.  Given the increasing value of farmland over the last 30 years, this change was necessary according to bill sponsor, Chuck Grassley of Iowa.  The purpose of this change is to encourage and allow family farmers to utilize the procedures under Chapter 12, rather than the more stringent requirements of Chapter 11, when filing bankruptcy.  There are specific rules as to who qualifies as a “family farmer,” based upon organizational structure, type of dept, and sources of income.  [Read articles here and  here.]

Photo by Michael Bourgault on Unsplash

* Changes to the Endangered Species Act.  The National Ag Law Center published a great summary of some significant rule changes related to the Endangered Species Act.  You will note changes with regard to how species are listed, how critical habitat may be defined, the standard applicable for listing as “threatened,” and the protections afforded to threatened species. Not surprisingly, environmental groups have already filed a lawsuit challenging these new regulations for failure to consider the environmental impacts as required by NEPA.  [Read article here.]

* Department of Labor seeking public comment on changes to H-2A rules.  The Department of Labor has proposed several changes to current regulations related to H-2A workers.  As you may know, the H-2A visa program is designed to allow temporary agricultural workers to enter the country on a work visa.  Changes include mandatory e-filing of applications, changes in how the Adverse Effect Wage Rate will be determined, updated methodology to determine the prevailing wage standards, expanding the definition of “agriculture” to included reforestation and pine straw activities, and allowing staggered entry under one application.    Public comment is open on these proposed rule changes through September 24, 2019. [Read article here.]

* Who I See.  I recently wrote a little blog post about who I see in a crowd when I’m speaking to a room full of farmers, ranchers, and rural landowners.  I feel fortunate to be able to do this work.  [Read blog post here.]

Upcoming Programs

On Thursday, September 12, we are hosting our last Owning Your Piece of Texas program for 2019 in College Station.  We’ve only got a couple seats left, so if you plan to attend, be sure you pre-register by clicking here.

The next day, on Friday, September 13, Dr. Greg Kaase and I will be in Ft. Worth for our Ranchers Leasing Workshop.  To register for that event, which costs $50/person and $80/couple, click here.

To see my complete list of upcoming programs, click here.

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