Asked and Answered with Liza C. Moore

By Steve Thorpe

Legal News

The State Bar of Michigan has announced plans to launch an Agricultural Law Section during the upcoming bar year.

Agriculture continues to be a huge part of Michigan's economy, employing hundreds of thousands of residents and contributing more than $90 billion in revenues. The new section will serve as a conduit for communications and a forum for the exchange of ideas among members serving the agricultural community.

Acting Chairperson Liza C. Moore of Foster, Swift, Collins, and Smith, P.C. in Lansing practices agricultural law, and also practices in the areas of insurance defense, commercial litigation, environmental law, and appellate matters. She answered questions about the new section.

Q: When and how did the SBM decide that an Agricultural Law Section was needed? How many attorneys do you think the section will serve?

A: This spring, a group of agricultural law attorneys in Michigan decided we should form an Agricultural Law Section. We felt that an industry as vibrant and diverse as agriculture should have a State Bar section to help attorneys practicing in this area meet and share knowledge and ideas, with the goal of better serving this important community. Fifty active members of the state bar need to pledge in writing to join a proposed section for the section to be created. In one week's time, I received pledges from more than 60 attorneys.

On July 27, 2012, the State Bar of Michigan Board of Commissioners unanimously approved our proposal to form a new State Bar Agricultural Law Section.

The section will appear on the upcoming dues invoice, so Michigan attorneys will be able to join the section this fall. Since the State Bar announced the creation of the new section, more people interested in joining the section have contacted me.?

I encourage all attorneys involved in agriculture to join the section this fall, and I invite them to plan to attend the first organizational meeting.

Q: The new section has announced plans for educational projects and seminars. Can you tell us a bit about those?

A: At this point, the new section is still at its most preliminary stage. Once the first organizational meeting is held in January 2013, the elected officers and council will begin planning the meetings and publications for the section. The new section was created with the intent to truly benefit participating attorneys and help them in their practice of agricultural law.

Q: How do lawyers help people involved in agriculture?

A: Agriculture is a large, diverse industry in Michigan. According to 2010 data, agriculture contributes around $91.4 billion to the Michigan economy. Production of field crops like corn, dry beans, soybeans, sugar beets, hay and wheat, fruits like tart cherries and blueberries, vegetables, and the dairy, floriculture, and nursery industries are all part of Michigan agriculture.

People involved in agriculture include farmers and ranchers, agronomists, scientists, seed salesmen, veterinarians, agriculture economists, farm implement dealers, consultants, food processors, and grain buyers and merchandisers, to name just a few.

People in different sectors of agriculture face different legal challenges. With this in mind, I will mention some of the many ways that attorneys may assist the agricultural community.

Attorneys can help in the formation of business entities, and help pass family businesses on to the next generation. Good succession planning needs attorney involvement. Tax matters often require attorney assistance. Attorneys can help draft and review contracts, which people in agriculture enter, for example, to lease land, purchase equipment and inputs, or sell their products. Attorney involvement in contracting can help with risk management. Attorneys specializing in immigration law help farms and agribusinesses with I-9 compliance and other immigration issues.

Farms and agribusinesses can be confronted with employment issues that need attorney assistance. Attorneys can help with Michigan's Right-to-Farm Act issues, and zoning and land use issues. Attorneys can help with environmental compliance and permitting. Farmers and agribusinesses who need to sue someone or have been sued are helped by lawyers. Attorneys can help their agricultural clients maximize opportunities in good times and plan to minimize risk in bad times. ??These legal issues require expertise and an understanding of the agricultural industry.

Q: Is Michigan a good state to farm?

A: Yes. The numbers speak for themselves, as agriculture has continued to grow and thrive in Michigan in recent years. Michigan's climate, soil, and water support a diverse agricultural sector. Michigan farmers are committed to stewardship of these natural resources, as indicated by programs like the Michigan Agriculture Environmental Assurance Program (signed into law in 2011).

Michigan leads the nation in the production of many different commodities. Agri-tourism continues to grow. Michigan's Right-to-Farm Act helps Michigan farmers.

This year, farmers in Michigan and nationwide have faced hardships. Severe weather devastated fruit crops in Michigan this spring and the nationwide drought continues to affect crop and livestock farmers this summer. It will take time for farmers to recover from these hardships.

The Agricultural Disaster Loan Origination Program Act of 2012 was signed into law in Michigan this summer to cover some costs for banks that offer agricultural loans to farmers and processors affected by the severe spring. The United States Department of Agriculture has designated numerous counties in Michigan as primary disaster areas due to the severe spring and summer drought. Farmers are still waiting for the United States House of Representatives to take action on the Farm Bill. Risk management and business planning becomes even more important in these times.

Michigan agriculture has overcome challenges in the past, and will overcome this year's challenges as well.

Published: Thu, Sep 6, 2012