Friday, August 4, 2017

The Statute of Frauds: Get it in Writing

Lance J. SchusterA man's word is his bond.  Or so the saying goes.  However, the law requires that some contracts be made in writing, and signed by the party to be charged, so as to avoid fraud, confusion, and disagreement over the terms of the contract.  An agreement covered by the Statute of Frauds that is not in writing is invalid.           

The Statute of Frauds requires a written contract in the following instances:           

1.  The purchase and sale of real property, or an interest therein.  An agreement to buy 40 acres from your neighbor is not enforceable unless it is in writing and signed by your neighbor.

2.  A lease of real property for longer than one year.  Do you have an agreement to lease farm ground for more than one year?  If it is not in writing then your lease is not valid.  (This does not affect a year-to-year lease that is renewed annually.)

3.  A promise to answer for the debt of another.  Any promise to pay or guaranty someone else's debt must be in writing.

4.  A promise made by a person or entity engaged in the business of lending money to lend money in the amount of $50,000 or more.  Self explanatory.

5.  An agreement made upon consideration of marriage.  "I will marry you if you give me your horse."  Better get that contract in writing.

6.  An agreement that by its terms is not to be performed within a year from the making therof.  Your neighbor promise to sell you his 1967 Mustang in four years when you get out of the Army?  Better get it in writing.           

The Statute of Frauds prevents frauds and perjuries.  The lesson to be learned is that when a man insists that his word is as good as his bond - get his bond in writing.
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Friday, July 7, 2017

The Value of Knowing What an Acre of Land is

Lance J. SchusterThe Public Land Survey System is a survey method developed for platting and selling land in the United States.  It is grid system that enables land to be identified based upon its location in relation to a starting point. 

The Boise meridian, located approximately 19 miles from Boise, between the Snake River and the Boise River, governs all land surveys in the State of Idaho.           

From the Boise Meridian the entire State of Idaho has been surveyed into Townships that are approximately 36 square miles in size, or six miles on each side.  In turn, each square mile, or section as they are known, is surveyed into quarter sections that are 1/4 mile on each size.           

Each section consists of 640 acres.  An acre of land is equivelant to 43,560 square feet, or 160 square rods.  A rod is an old English measure of distance equal to 16.5 feet.            

It is said that an acre has its origins in the typical area that could be plowed in one day with a yoke of oxen pulling a wodden plow.  Originally an acre was understood to be a parcel of land 66 feet by 660 feet.  Today, as a unit of measure, an acre has no prescribed shape; any area that is is 43,560 square feet is an acre.           

Unless located in a subdivision, a legal description for a parcel of real property will typically reference the section, township and range of a parcel of real property.  A legal description may be as simple as a description of a section or a portion of a section.  A surveyor may also describe property using a "metes and bounds" description.  Such a description will describe the boundaries of a parcel of real property using features of the geography, along with directions and distances.               

In the end, we use surveys and metes and bounds descriptions to describe the location of land.  Knowing the location of land is imperative under the law.
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Friday, June 2, 2017

The Federal Meat Inspection Act

Lance J. SchusterI have a small pasture in front of my home.  It is maybe an acre and a half in size.  I irrigate it with sprinklers, and I put two or three cows on it.  Late in the Fall I like to take one cow to the butcher, and the rest to the sale.
The Federal Meat Inspection Act ("FMIA") is federal law that ensures that meat and meat products are slaughtered and processed under sanitary conditions.  The law was enacted in part in 1907 as a response to Upton Sinclair's novel The Jungel, an exposé of the Chicago meat packing industry.  The FMIA requires the inspection of livestock before slaughter, and an inspection of every carcass following slaughter.  In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts ongoing monitoring and inspection  of slaughtering and inspection facilities.  Meat processing facilities and slaughter houses are required to comply with standards established by the USDA for the sanitary processing of meat.
The FMIA further has requirements for labeling and marking meats and prohibits labeling that is false or misleading.           
Nothwithstanding the requirements of the FMIA, there is an exception for the slaughtering by any person of animals of his or her own raising where the meat and meat products are to be used exclusively for use by him or by members of his household and and nonpaying guests and employees.  The same exception applies for a person or company that does custom slaughtering for the owners of cattle, sheep, wine or goats delivered by the owner for slaughter, provided the custom operator plainly marks all such meats "Not for Sale," and the establishment conducting the custom operation is maintained and operated in a sanitary manner.
Congress passed the FMIA to assure that meat and meat products sold in our grocery stores are safe and properly marked, labeld and packaged.  Notwithstanding, it is legal to raise and have custom butchered your own beef.
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Friday, May 5, 2017

Recharging the East Snake Plain Aquifer

Lance J. SchusterThe Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer extends from St. Anthony to Twin Falls and King Hill.  It is 170 miles long, and as wide as 60 miles.  The aquifer is made of mostly broken basalts.  Like a giant sponge, this broken basalt holds water.  As deep as 4,000 feet, water flows most easily in the upper few hundred feet.  If you could squeeze all of the water out of the Aquifer you would have as much as a billion acre feet of water, which is enough to cover the entire Plain with 140 feet of water.
Unfortunately, the water in the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer has been declining.  Much of the decline in the Aquifer has been attributed to farmers in Eastern Idaho that pump groundwater for irrigation purposes.
Several years ago surface water irrigation districts in the lower Snake River Plain made a delivery call on upper Snake River Plain groundwater users, most of which had later priority dates.  (Idaho law: First in time is first in right)  In an effort to avoid an order from the Idaho Department of Water Resources that would have shut off some groundwater users entirely, the groundwater users in Eastern Idaho collectively agreed to voluntarily reduce their consumption of groundwater.  Groundwater users also agreed to monitor ground water levels and to put flow meters on groundwater pumps.           
Groundwater users additionally agreed to work with the State of Idaho in an effort to recharge the Aquifer with as much as 250,000 acre feet of water annually.  Several recharge projects have begun.  Some canal companies are now receiving revenue for doing recharge during the off season.  The goal of the agreement between groundwater users and surface water users is to gradually increase groundwater levels throughout the Aquifer.
The settlement agreement between the surface water coalition and the groundwater coalition is a legally binding contract.  Working together on recharge projects  surface water users and groundwater users hope to protect and sustain one of Idaho's greatest treasures - its water!
Lance J. Schuster at 2:26 PM No Comments | Post a Comment
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