Final report for ENC16-151

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $70,613.00
Projected End Date: 04/30/2018
Grant Recipient: Farm Commons
Region: North Central
State: Minnesota
Project Coordinator:
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Project Information

Abstract:

This project developed the long term stability of sustainable farmers by enabling proactive avoidance of legal vulnerabilities and speedy pathways to resolutions when problems do occur. We achieved this result by training Extension staff, Farm Service Agency staff, Resource Conservation and Development staff, Natural Resources Conservation Service staff, community lending entities and loan officers, nonprofit farm advocates, and nonprofit Farm Beginnings program staff in the basics of sustainable farm law. Our workshops dispelled sustainable farm law myths and gave educators the basic tools they need to guide sustainable farmers, without overstepping their professional bounds. Training occured through three workshops that increased agricultural educators’ knowledge and confidence in farm law. Agricultural educators also received a dozen tip sheets to help them facilitate resolution of sustainable farm law issues. The tip sheets serve both as professional education resources and as handouts for farmers, as suits the participating organization. The tip sheets were created and refined with participation from agriculture professionals from their conception to final editing. We also hosted a concluding discussion session to complete evaluation and set a strong path for integrating project resources into educator’s work. 

Project Objectives:

The following were our project objectives at the outset of the project:

Short Term: As a result of the workshop, program participants will experience the following outcomes:

·      Increased knowledge of sustainable farm law. Ag educators will know the basic contours of the following legal subjects and issues: 1) Lease drafting and lease enforcement, 2) Farm employment law, including minimum wage and workers’ compensation issues, especially the complications arising from diversified, direct-to-consumer farms, 3) Food safety laws and regulations, including new obligations for produce and diversified farms under the Food Safety Modernization Act, the nature of liability for any and all farm businesses, food safety-based regulation of value added production, and permissibility of direct to consumer sales under the Food Code, and 4) Business entities, including when and why farms may want to consider forming an LLC or S Corporation, and what these entities do and do not do to protect the farm. We anticipate these will be the most desired legal issues for education, based on our experience. However, we will adjust our final subjects and focus to match the expressed needs of participants.

·      Increased clarity about the legal position of sustainable and direct to consumer farms within legal frameworks. At present, there are misconceptions within the broader agricultural education community about sustainable farm law. For example, some individuals are under a misimpression that direct sales to schools, restaurants, or institutional buyers are not legal. Although there is a legal basis for this misimpression, it is not illegal as a matter of food safety. Within the lending community, there are misconceptions about whether and how farms can form LLCs or S Corporations and still remain eligible for government programs. This can adversely impact diversified farms with agritourism or value-added aspects who are more likely to form these entities.

·      Increased confidence in ability to lead sustainable farmers to resolution of their legal issues. This confidence will come from two areas: 1) Agriculture educators will be able to relay the fundamentals of a legal issue to farmers. 2) They will be able to provide action steps and sources for more information on a legal issue. We know right now that the agriculture educators who use Farm Commons’ resources right now experience increased confidence in their ability to advise farmers. We look forward to seeing this improvement more broadly.

 

Intermediate Term Outcomes: Within one year of completing our workshop and adopting our tip sheets, agriculture educators will use their learning to do the following:

·      Answer sustainable farm law questions safely, effectively, and with resources that help sustainable farmers move forward with their issue.

·      Advise sustainable farmers in legal best practices and principles that will help them develop stable business models that comply with the law.

·      Provision government and private resources to sustainable farmers, as allowed by law, without misconceptions about the legality of direct to consumer or sustainable farming.

 

Long Term Outcomes: Within 5-10 years of completing our workshop and adopting our tip sheets, we will begin to see the following results in sustainable farmers who received information from participating agriculture educators:

·      More quickly resolve legal vulnerabilities because they have access to accurate, timely information that helps them quickly understand their situation and locate the additional resources they need to move forward

·      Avoid encountering legal difficulties in the first place because they were aware of laws and legal best practices from the start. Sustainable farmers will learn about legal obligations at the beginning of their farm business, when it is easiest to integrate compliance strategies. Sustainable farmers will develop routines and recordkeeping practices that integrate legal obligations.

·      Better access financing and support through private lenders and government programs because lenders have fewer misconceptions and an accurate understanding of the legal stability of sustainable and direct to consumer farming.

·      Create legally stronger and more sustainable business models for future farmers to emulate. For example, farms dependent on unpaid interns are not likely creating a stable business model that can be replicated as unpaid interns often violate employment laws. This work will move the sustainable farming community to long-term business models, faster.

·      Be more profitable as they spend less time managing legal complications and have expanded access to markets, financing, and opportunity.

Education

Educational approach:

This project utilized 2 educational approaches: workshops and distribution of print resources. 

Our print resource production began with in-person focus groups, which we hosted to determine relative to farm law questions when the issues arose, how they were received by the professional, and the legal subjects involved in the questions. We used that information to select the subjects, tone, and content of the tip sheets. We did relevant research, drafted the tip sheets and then submitted drafts to our workshop attendees for feedback. The feedback was incorporated into the final tip sheet text. The tip sheets were then proofed, designed, and distributed. Tip sheets were distributed via email, via download from our website, and via the postal mail.

We hosted 2 in-person workshops- one in Minnesota and one in Wisconsin- for a general farm professional audience. Development of the workshops began by creating the agenda from two sources- the focus groups above and Farm Commons’ existing Farm Law 101 criteria, which explores the essential legal issues all sustainable farms should understand and be able to take action on, in order to strengthen resiliency and stability. We drafted workshop agendas, did research on issues, and created activity and discussion items, before finalizing the content. Farm Commons did outreach, recruitment, and registration. During the workshop, attendees were asked to read and comment on our draft tip sheets. 

During registration for the Wisconsin workshop, we talked with the Wisconsin Farm Service Agency office about hosting a workshop especially for their staff. They were concerned about taking up all the available capacity in our Wisconsin workshop with their staff. So, we arranged to do an online training specific to Farm Service Agency staff in Wisconsin. The content was adapted to their agents’ unique needs relative to farm law and sustainable farm businesses. 

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Chemical Drift Response Tip Sheet
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding chemical drift onto their property, while building the professional's own understanding of the legal impacts of chemical drift, especially on the certified organic farm.

Description:

For an organic farmer, it can be frustrating to hear the sound of a crop duster flying overhead or see ground sprayers out in force in the neighbor’s crops. Chemical drift happens. This tip sheet provides an overview of the law and outlines steps farmers can take if their farms fall victim to chemical drift. Chemical-Drift-Response-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.06

Chemical drift prevention tip sheet
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding preventing chemical drift onto their property, while building the professional's own understanding of the practical aspects of preventing chemical drift, especially on the certified organic farm and as relates to legal action if drift occurs.

Description:

Chemical drift can be especially problematic for farmers who value their crops as certified organic or chemical free. What can be done to prevent it? This tip sheet identifies proactive ways farmers can safeguard their farm.Chemical-Drift-Prevention-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.06

Payroll Taxes
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding payroll taxes, while building the professional's own understanding of a farm operation's obligations with respect to payroll taxes, particularly the obligations of direct to consumer farm businesses.

Description:

How do you know when to pay which taxes for your employees? It can seem like a maze. These flowcharts will help farmers identify whether and when payroll taxes kick in, and are especially useful for diversified and direct to consumer farmers in navigating complex regulations.Payroll-Taxes-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farm employment law including minimum wage, overtime, and payroll taxes? on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.26

Fence Law
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding fence law, while building the professional's own understanding of fence and boundary line issues.

Description:

Discrepancies between new property surveys and longstanding boundary lines are ever more frequent. What does this mean for the farmer who’s told that a new survey shows that the boundary cuts into their side of a longstanding property line? Farmers have options, discussed in this tip sheet.

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.06

Value Added Production and Agritourism Without a License
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding non-regulated agritourism and value added opportunities, while building the professional's own understanding of what a farm can do without any regulatory licensing obligations.

Description:

Many beginning and experienced farmers want to expand their activities by hosting events and offering food products at events or for sale. Food service is a regulated venture, however farmers may find narrow exemptions that apply to them. This tip sheet presents a farm’s options for agritourism and adding value without a license becoming necessary. 

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about the legal issues that extend from diversification into agritourism and value added products on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 3.82

Lease Termination
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding termination of a lease, while building the professional's own understanding of a farm's options if the landowner wants to terminate the lease.

Description:

Any farmer leasing farmland is likely concerned that the landlord will suddenly decide to terminate the lease early. What, if anything, can the farmer do to protect her or his operation? This tip sheet sheds light on Minnesota and Wisconsin laws, which mirror national trends for addressing lease termination.Lease-Termination-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.06

Succession Planning
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding farm succession, while building the professional's own understanding of the legal aspects of farm succession.

Description:

Where do you begin? From conservation easements, family trusts, and LLCs to capital gains, estate taxes, and gift taxes, it can be easy to get overwhelmed. Start here for some tips to turn overwhelm and idleness into inspired action.Succession-Planning-Tipsheet_final

Why Form an LLC?
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding forming an LLC, while building the professional's own understanding of the LLC farm business structure.

Description:

Creating and maintaining an LLC for your farm business requires some extra expense and effort. How do you know if it’s worth it? A wise approach is to consider whether the benefits outweigh the costs. This tip sheet helps farmers do just that with a series of questions.Why-Form-an-LLC-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about business structures, LLCs, corporations, and sole proprietorship/partnerships on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 3.91

The Lease: Who is responsible for what?
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding typical allocation of responsibilities in a farmland lease, while building the professional's own understanding of the farm leases especially on sustainable farm operations.

Description:

Farmers and landowners are pretty much free to divvy up responsibilities however they want under a lease agreement. Nevertheless, knowing what is customarily done can be helpful during the negotiation process. This tip sheet offers guideposts to common practices.Lease-Whos-Responsible-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.06

Farm Insurance
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding if they should purchase insurance, which policy, and to what limit of liability, while building the professional's own understanding of farm insurance especially on sustainable farm operations.

Description:

The last thing any farmer wants is to be stuck with no insurance after a catastrophic incident occurs; even worse is to be stuck with no coverage despite having insurance! This tip sheet discusses risk and return when seeking insurance for a farm businesses so you can decide on the best approach for you. Insurance-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about food safety, liability in general, and risk management through insurance on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 4.03

Dealing with Regulators
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding interpretation of regulations, while building the professional's own understanding of farm regulatory interpretation and enforcement especially on sustainable farm operations.

Description:

Whether it’s installing a wastewater treatment system, upgrading facilities, or adding a new venture, farmers don’t always agree with regulators. Laws and regulations often seem riddled with ambiguities and shifting interpretations. Here are some tips for strategically working with regulators to resolve issues.Dealing-with-Regulators-Tipsheet_final

Value Added and Agritourism, Taxes
Objective:

Enable agriculture professionals to direct farmers who approach them with questions regarding taxation of value added and agritourism ventures, while building the professional's own understanding of these aspects of farm taxes, especially on sustainable farm operations.

Description:

Farmers often see their value-added and agritourism ventures as related to and even an essential part of their overall farm operation. However, the law doesn’t always see it that way. When it comes to federal income taxes, the IRS treats “farming activities” and “non-farming activities” differently.Value-Added-Agritourism-and-Taxes-Tipsheet_final

Outcomes and impacts:

When asked to rate how much the attendee/user learned about the legal issues that extend from diversification into agritourism and value added products on a scale of 1-5 (with one being “I learned a lot”), the average response was a 3.82

Educational & Outreach Activities

12 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
1 Online trainings
2 Workshop field days

Participation Summary

33 Extension
5 NRCS
12 Researchers
42 Nonprofit
78 Agency
9 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
2 Farmers/ranchers

Learning Outcomes

564 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
508 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

1 Grant received that built upon this project
4 New working collaborations
Project outcomes:

Here is the breakdown for the number of agricultural service providers we reached. We reached 179 professionals in our workshops. An additional 334 agriculture professionals downloaded our tipsheets. We direct mailed a copy of the tipsheets to 51 additional professionals. Across our resources, 100% of survey respondents indicating learning important farm law points. 90% of respondents planned to incorporate the resources and knowledge gained into their work. Within 9 months, 80% of survey respondents had already incorporated the resources and knowledge gained into their work with farmers.

How much they learned as a result of the Workshops: Respondents were asked to rate on scale of 1 to 5 (one not so much, 5 a lot) the following. Employment law scored the highest, followed by land matters.

  • How much did you learn about farmland leasing, land purchasing, fence law, and chemical drift? 4.06
  • How much did you learn about business structures, LLCs, corporations, and sole proprietorship/partnerships? 3.91
  • How much did you learn about farm employment law including minimum wage, overtime, and payroll taxes? 4.26
  • How much did you learn about food safety, liability in general, and risk management through insurance? 4.03
  • How much did you learn about the legal issues that extend from diversification into agritourism and value added products? 3.82

Confidence/knowledge gained from Workshops: Respondents were asked to rate the following on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 not at all, 5 absolutely). Workshop attendees immediately felt more confident in relaying legal information to farmers and were more aware of resources available

  • Do you feel more comfortable relaying the selected fundamentals of farm law in the presentation to other people? 4.18
  • Are you more aware of the resources available on farm law matters? 4.45

 

451 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
282 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

Respondents were asked to share 1 or 2 of the most helpful, important, or illuminating things they learned from the WORKSHOPS. Here are some highlights

  • The labor pieces were all new to me, and really helpful. I really appreciated learning that ‘liability insurance’ may not actually cover the farmer for anything helpful. We tell people they need this coverage all the time, so I’m glad to know we should be more helpful. I’d be happy to be part of these conversations
  • that interns, volunteers, & CSA members can all be employees – which will helps me proceed with caution when working with these non-traditional farming operations. I now know the questions to ask these producers in addition to our standard ones!
  • generally getting new resources and connections was great!
  • The breadth of topics Farm Commons can cover
  • I work more with conventional farms, so the perspective from value added helped. Leases, etc are not new to me, but your perspective was. 

We asked respondents to elaborate on their use of the information and tipsheets. Here were there responses:

  • Using volunteers on farms is a common practice and one that comes with significant risk. Attending the Farm Law workshop and having the tipsheets on hand have been essential resources I have used to communicate on this issue with authority. Thank you for putting these together and for dedicating time and effort to farm legal issues.
  • Shared it with staff who are “boots on the ground” with our producers, who then shared it with farmers
  • When producers have discussed anything regarding information on the tip sheets, I’ve grabbed one out of my pile and shared it with them.
  • Referred customers who were inquiring about whether to operate as an individual or entity.
  • Made materials available to a Peer-to-Peer group of small farmers organized by Region Nine. Keep for personal reference
  • I plan on incorporating these tip sheets and content learned at the workshop in the classes I teach through the Farm and Industry Short Course (FISC) here on campus at UW.  I think it will be especially helpful for new/beginning farmers to be aware of these situations.
  • I use for a reference hotline calls and our normal course of business
  • Lots of good information from the standpoint of our payment eligibility requirements. Hope to be able to provide our office staff more background information/knowledge about the different business organizations that our producers may be utilizing.
  • I passed the list of tipsheets onto those farmers who have received financing from or farm land that is owned by Iroquois Valley Farms (20 or so farmers)
  • I shared them with farm center staff. 
  • Used the fence tips info on sharing with a farmer who was in a dispute over where to place the fence and which of the fence belonged to each party.

We asked respondents to describe ways in which they felt more confident. Here are some examples of what folks said:

  • It seems like there are obviously plenty of exceptions and unique circumstances on what applies, and when and where, but overall I feel like I have a better grasp on what was discussed at the workshop.
  • I feel more confident in knowing where to go to provide good resources.  The tipsheets are a really great tool as well as know the Farm Commons website is a wealth of information.

 

Success stories:

Here are some nice quotes we received from agriculture professionals :

  • Concise and full of useful information. Haven’t found this information in such an easy to digest format before. Thanks!
  • Well done, great resource!
  • Farm Commons provides info I can trust which I can’t find easily anywhere else! Thank you!
  • We really appreciate all amazing work Farm Commons does. I work with a land listing platform for farm seekers and farm opportunities. We have a resource section where highlight excellent resources and direct folks to where they are so indeed we really like your tip sheets and do send traffic to the Farm Commons site. If there’s more info you want us to highlight or ideas for further cross pollination please don’t hesitate to get in touch. 
  • THANK YOU for making this info available. I will surely use you for further resource and info.
  • I like the format of the tipsheet with potential questions to ask and a follow up resource. Overall it seems very useful!
  • Found Farm Commons to be an EXTREMELY useful site, and I’ve been farming for ten years full time!!
  • Farm Commons has become my go-to resource for information on insurance, risk management, business structure, and legal issues. I rely on it both as a farmer and as a farm service provider, and I often send my students–who are almost all beginning farmers–to your site. Thank you for the good work you do!
  • Great appreciation for your work and sharing of resources. They are always very helpful.
  • Farm Commons has been an amazing resource for me.
  • Thank you for the work you’re doing. It’s often very difficult for a farmer to figure out what laws and regulations we’re bound by.
Recommendations:

We met our capacity for registrants at least one week before our 2 in-person workshops were held. We had to turn off registration and turn people away. This was a bummer. I think there is additional capacity for another project of the same size and scope. 

I would like to charge for workshop attendance in the future. Even though we turned people away from registering, we had about a 25% no-show rate on the Minnesota workshop. (And only a handful of no-shows in Wisconsin, for some reason.) Charging even a nominal fee helps deter no-shows and creates better engagement with the material, in my experience. 

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.