Friday, April 7, 2017

Invasive Species

The 2017  Idaho Legislature has passed a bill authorizing additional funding to the Idaho Department of Agriculture to prevent invasive species from entering the state.  Invasive species are harmful, non-native, plants and animals that damage Idaho's ecosystems and environments.

Idaho's Invasive Species Act of 2008 prohibts any person from importing, transporting, or introducing invasive species into the state without a permit.  The Department of Agriculture may conduct inspections on public or private property, and may establish check stations at points of entry in the state to inspect for invasive species.  Idaho regularly checks boats entering the state for quagga mussels and zebra mussels, which have the potential to cause devasting harm to hydropower and agricultural facilities.

To help pay for check stations Idaho law requires all motorized water craft, and any non-motorized vessel (canoe, kayak, raft, drift boat, etc.) to purchase and display an invasive species sticker.

Invasives species can be very distructive, and could destroy the natural beauty of the state if not controlled.  Species such as mussels, gypsy moths, yellow star thistle, cereal leaf beetles, nematodes,and white pine blister rust have the ability to threaten our crops, and interfere with recreation on our public lands and waters. 

To help, you should learn how to identify and report suspected invasive species (go to  Reports of potential invasive species can be made to Idaho's Invasive Species Hotline at 1-877-336-8676. 

Do your part to help prevent invasive species from taking hold in Idaho.

Lance J. Schuster at 2:28 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, March 3, 2017

Be Sure to Know Your Rights to Water Your Stock

The water right rule in Idaho, both before and since the adoption of the Idaho Constitution, is that the first in time is the first in right. 

The constitutional method of appropriation generally requires an actual diversion of water in order to obtain a water right.  However, no diversion from a natural watercourse or diversion device is needed to establish a valid appropriative water right for stock watering.           

For example, a stock watering right may have been established in watercourses on federal lands simply by applying the water to the beneficial use of watering cattle.  Even if a cattleman did not understand, or intend to create a water right, a water right might be established simply by watering livestock in the springs, creeks and rivers on the range that cattle use for forage. 

While many cattleman in Idaho may presume to have stock watering rights, it is important to establish and protect those rights with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. 

The federal government has attempted to claim stockwater rights on federal lands even though it does not own or graze cattle on those lands.  Idaho Courts have denied those attempts. 

In addition, the Idaho legislature is currently considering a bill which would prohibit the federal government from obtaining stock watering rights in the springs, streams and rivers on federal land unless the federal land owner owns livestock and puts the water to beneficial use. 

If an agency of the federal government does obtain a stock watering right, that water right could not be utilized for any purpose other than the watering of livestock. 

Know the law of the land.

Lance J. Schuster at 2:08 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, February 3, 2017

Overtime Pay and Minimum Wage

On December 8, 2016, two dairy workers in southern Washington state sued their employer for overtime pay. The class action lawsuit is challenging a long-time part of federal labor laws that exempts agricultural employees from overtime pay requirements.

This suit is the latest in a line of cases across the country. Agricultural workers are using the courts to break down laws that treat them differently from employees in other industries. Farmworkers have sued for the right to unionize, the right to workers’ compensation, and the right to a minimum wage.

Groups advocating for change claim that the law needs to change to account for industrialized large-scale farm operations of the modern era.

Idaho follows federal law with regard to overtime pay. Most employees have a right to “time-and-a-half” for hours worked in excess of forty per week. All employees employed in agriculture are exempt from this requirement. The exemption applies to any employee engaged in growing and harvesting crops, raising livestock, dairying, etc.

However, the exemption does not apply to employees who merely work on agricultural products, if such work is performed off the farm and by employees not employed by the farmer (e.g. produce or meat processing operations).

Idaho’s laws regarding minimum wage similarly mirror federal law. Employers in Idaho do not need to pay minimum wage to their immediate family members or employees principally engaged in the range production of livestock. Also exempt are harvest laborers traditionally paid on a piece-rate basis, as long as they do not live on site at the farm and only worked in agriculture for thirteen weeks or less the previous year. Harvest laborers under age sixteen are also exempt if they are employed on the same farm as a parent or guardian and are paid at the same rate as the adults.

The agricultural industry in the U.S. has changed dramatically in the last eighty years.  The law will continue to change with it.

Lance J. Schuster at 2:02 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, January 6, 2017

Budgets and Operating Loans

Famers and ranchers are businessmen.  Just like any other business, farmers and ranchers need a budget.  A budget forces a farmer to set in writing expectations for expenses and income.  A good budget will show the relationship between expenses and anticipated income, and assist in making decisions.  For example, if your budget shows that you can't make your loan payment, then maybe you should put a hold on that new tractor.

A budget will also make you more money.  It will assist you in setting goals, and determining whether those goals are realistic or not.  A budget should forecast income based on current commodity prices, and forecast commodity prices.

A good budget should also be realistic. Farming and ranching are incredibly unpredictable.  A single hail storm can change a farmers fortunes.  A realistic budget will help you adapt to challenges on the farm.

An important tool in making a budget work is an operating loan.  Typically farmers and ranchers incur most of their expenses on the front end.  Farmers pay for seed, fertilizer, and fuel just to put a crop in the ground.  All of this takes money.  However, a farmer isn't paid until he sells his crop.  An operating loan can bridge the gap between expenses early in the season, and income at the end of the season.  Many banks offer famers and ranchers operating loans, and charge interest on the money borrowed.

A wise farmer or rancher will create a budget, and only draw on their operating loan as is necessary to pay for budgeted expenses. 

Lance J. Schuster at 12:56 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, November 4, 2016

The Election and Immigration

This November farmers and ranchers will have the opportunity to vote for the next President of the United States. Donald Trump has vowed to build a "big beautiful wall" at the border and to deport millions of illegal immigrants. Hillary Clinton has promised to introduce comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Many farmers and ranchers argue that Trump's plan to deport millions of illegal immigrants jeopardizes their livelihood. According to the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives agriculture in the United States faces a "critical shortage" of workers every year. U.S. citizens are largely unwilling to accept rigorous and phyically demanding jobs on the farm. In addition, H-2A guestworker programs are cumbersome and slow. The NCFC supports legislative reform that "includes both a program to provide access to legal workforce into the future and an adjustment for current experienced, unauthorized agricultural workers."

The American Farm Bureau Federation also recognizes the farm labor shortage and advocates for the new work visa program and allowing current illegal agricultural workers "the ability to stay in the U.S. and continue to work in the agricultural sector."

In November, 2014 President Obama attempted to address the immigration problems with a series of executive actions. Lawsuits were filed by a number of states challenging implementation of the executive actions. A U.S. District Judge blocked implementation of the executive actions on procedural grounds. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the injunction. On June 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a 4-4 decision which left in place the injunction and denied implementation of the President's executive actions.

The issues of immigration will be largely decided in our next election with the selection of our next President of the United States and Congress. Your vote counts, and will help determine the future of agriculture.

Lance J. Schuster at 9:50 AM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, September 9, 2016

Weight a Minute

You’ve just harvested your potatoes and are hauling them to a processing facility when you see a weigh station up ahead. Then it dawns on you that you have no idea how much weight you're pulling.  This scenario happened to a client who found out the hard way that the State of Idaho takes its weight restrictions seriously.

Historically, the maximum weight limits on all Idaho highways has been 80,000 lbs. without an excess weight permit and 105,500 lbs. with an excess weight permit.  As of July 1, 2016 Idaho allows trucks weighing up to 129,000 on some roads.

These weight restrictions are based on the number of axles and tire size. Steer axles must not exceed the manufacturer’s load rating, single axle limits are 20,000 lbs. and the tandem axle limit is 37,800 lbs. when the GVW does not exceed 79,000. There are some industry specific exemptions including logging, aggregate materials and certain agriculture products, so be sure to check with the Idaho Department of Transportation ("IDT") to find out if you qualify. IDT has adopted a weight formula that provides a table of limits based on the number of axles and spacing of tires.

The maximum width of a vehicle in Idaho is 8 ½ feet and the maximum height is 14 feet. The typical maximum length is 75 feet, but can be increased to 97 feet for certain saddlemount combinations. Overlegal permits can be obtained if your load exceeds these limitations. IDT’s website has more information on the law.

What happens if you don’t follow the law? Idaho Code § 49-1013 has a list of penalties based on the weight your vehicle is over the limit. These range from a flat penalty of $5 for being 1,000 lbs. or less over the limit to $0.30 per pound when more than 20,000 lbs. over the limit. In addition, exceeding the weight limits by more than 4,000 lbs. is a misdemeanor.

If you’re unsure of your truck's weight go get weighed at a certified scale before heading onto the open road.  Know your weight, and know the law. 
Lance J. Schuster at 10:04 AM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, October 2, 2015

6 Sure Ways to Make a Family Farm a Failure

Most farms in Idaho are family-owned and operated. Here are some good ways to make a farm fail:

  1. Believing that the farm can financially support any and all family members who want to work on the farm. Farming is a business and expenses cannot exceed cash flows. You must consider whether the business can really support a family member.

  2. Presuming that a conversation is a contract. Statements by Dad that, "If you work hard, this will all be yours someday," or "It's yours when I die," are not enforceable. Get things written down with the help of an attorney.

  3. Ignoring the in-laws or off-farm families. People may be members of the immediate family, but they have to contribute to the business to be compensated by the business. Communicate clear expectations - in writing - to all family members.

  4. Having no business-like meetings. A business is required by law to have at least one annual meeting. At that meeting, the family should have an agenda and review financial statements, discuss goals, make evaluations and review management decisions. Successful businesses meet often. Decisions should be made by voting based upon ownership of the company. People active in the business should be majority owners so that they can legally make decisions.

  5. Forgetting common courtesy. We sometimes treat strangers better then we do family members. It is important to treat family members who work on the farm as respected and valued members of the workforce.

  6. Having no estate plan, transfer plan or buy/sell agreement. Parents do not owe their children a business, but do owe them good morals, an opportunity for an education and legal plans for the estate. Failure to properly transfer management or ownership of a farm is a sure, painful and often expensive path to farm failure.

Success or failure of the family farm ultimately depends on good legal planning and treating your farm like the business it is.

Lance J. Schuster at 12:53 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, July 1, 2016

Be Sure to Know Your GMOs

There has been a lot of news lately on genetically modified organisms (GMOs), but what exactly are GMOs?
The USDA defines genetic modification as the "production of heritable improvements in plants or animals for specific uses." In short, genetic engineering transfers specific traits, or genes, from one organism into another.
How extensive are GMOs in farming? Soybeans provide a good example. In 1997, herbicide-tolerant soybeans were planted on 17 percent of acreage. That figure has jumped to 94 percent in 2015.
The potato industry is following suit. J.R. Simplot hopes to have a variety resistant to the Irish potato famine pathogen ready for commercial production by 2017.
Many wonder, with such explosive growth what is the government doing to ensure these crops are safe?
Genetically modified crops fall under the offices of the USDA, EPA and FDA. These agencies have shared responsibility to make sure crops are safe. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service tests to make sure GMO crops do not pose a "plant pest risk" to the environment through field trials and certification programs. The EPA's Biopesticides and Pollution Prevention Division checks to make sure that pesticide resistant plants are tested and fall within tolerance limits. The FDA then tests the food or feed to make sure it is safe for human and animal consumption.
The state of Idaho also places restrictions on GMO crops entering the state. The Idaho Department of Agriculture maintains a database of USDA-approved GMO crops that have entered the state. The law requires that people wishing to bring GMO crops into the state to first obtain a permit.
Botton line, Idaho farmers are using GMOs to compete in today's market. Check the law and obtain a permit before bringing new GMOs into the state.
Lance J. Schuster at 12:26 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, June 10, 2016

What To Do With a Neighbor's Tree

The neighbor's tree branches come across the property line. The suckers from their poplars are coming through the lawn. Their leaves seem to fall in your yard, but not theirs. What is a landowner to do?
Idaho adopted the common law of England when it became a state. The common law is that part of English law derived from judicial precedent, rather than statutes.
Under the common law, a property owner could cut off at the property line the limbs of a tree that are on a neighboring property. If the roots of a tree penetrate neighboring land the neighbor may dig them out. However, a property owner has no duty to prevent the limbs or roots of a tree from crossing over onto an adjoining property.
When trees are located on the boundary between adjoining property owners, they are treated as being jointly owned by the property owners. If the adjoining property owners cannot agree on the trees, a property owner may still bring a nuisance action if the trees constitute a threat or pose a potential harm.
For example, a tree on a common boundary whose roots exert sufficient pressure on a home's basement walls to push the walls inward may be entitled to remove the tree at their own expense since it is a nuisance. Lemon v. Curington, 78 Idaho 522 (1957).
As for the leaves - you get to rake them whether they are yours or the neighbors!
Lance J. Schuster at 11:11 AM No Comments | Post a Comment
Friday, May 6, 2016

Coming up: The Transport Rule

Almost all food that we buy in the grocery store is transported either by truck or rail.  The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) will soon require that vehicles and transporation equipment be suitable and cleanable to assure the safe transport of food. 

This new transport rule applies to shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers who transport food in the United States by truck or rail.  It also applies to shippers in other countries who ship food to the United States.  The transport rule establishes requirements for vehicles and transportation equipment, transportation operations, records, training and waivers.

Measures that must be taken to assure the safe transport of food include adequate temperature controls, preventing contamination of ready-to-eat food from touching raw food, protection of food from contamination by non-food items in the same load or previous loads, and protection of food from cross-contact with food allergens.

Shippers, receivers, loaders and carriers will require training in sanitary transportaiton practices, and documentation of the training. 

Transportation activities performed by a farm are excluded by the transport rule.  In other words, transporting grain from the farm in a truck, or live animals to a sale, will not reuiqre compliance with the transport rule.   However, farms are still subject to other rules that prohibit the holding of human food under insanitary conditions.

Companies that ship food, or carriers of food, should be aware that the entire food chain is changing with an emphasis on avoiding hazards that may lead to unsafe food.

Lance J. Schuster at 11:08 AM No Comments | Post a Comment