Agriculture Law

Agricultural Law and Agriculture Businesses

Many American agriculture laws came into existence in the mid-1980s with diverse ramifications for producers, distributors and manufacturers of agricultural products.

The Purpose of Agricultural Laws

U.S. agricultural laws serve a number of purposes. One is ensuring that food and fiber products are produced and distributed in a way that meets the needs of the American people. This type of regulation ensures that shortages and surpluses of agricultural products are kept in check and don’t affect the health of Americans or the economy.

The 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution forms the basis of many farming and agriculture laws. This amendment gives states the right to pass public safety laws. Over the years courts have ruled the production of food and fiber falls under this umbrella.

Protecting the rights of farmworkers is another tenent of agriculture laws. The federal Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, for instance, provides financial assistance to farmers for constructing and renovating workers’ housing on their farms. This law also provides legal protections for farmworkers themselves.

Agricultural Laws and the Environment

Many agriculture laws were created to protect the environment. In 1969, Congress enacted the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It requires that environmental significance be assessed on all federal projects such as dams and canals for agricultural irrigation.

Under NEPA, projects deemed to have an effect on the environment require an environmental impact statement (EIS). An EIS contains a description of the project and its purpose, possible alternatives to the project, and a projection of how each of these alternatives will affect the environment. The EIS is then presented to the public for comment, after which a final EIS is released before work can begin on the project.

Another important environmental agriculture law is the Clean Water Act (CWA). The purpose of the CWA is to protect the physical, chemical and biological integrity of U.S. waterways. It requires permits to discharge pollution into navigable waters. The CWA also regulates source pollution created by agricultural run-off from fertilizers and pesticides.

Yet another federal law relating to agriculture is the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), initially passed by Congress in 1947 (revised in 1972 and 1996). FIFRA regulates the use, production and sale of chemicals used for control of agricultural pests. FIFRA also requires and regulates the labeling of all pesticides sold in the United States.

Voluntary Agricultural Conservation Programs

Congress has also funded a variety of voluntary programs that support conservation and improved planning and management of agricultural lands. Some of the most significant ones are the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP), the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

- The WRP gives agricultural producers technical and financial help for protecting and restoring wetlands on their farms. It creates conservation easements of 10-year, 30-year or indefinite durations during which the enrolled land is protected and enhanced as a natural wetland. This program is operated through the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

- The CRP is managed through the Farm Service Agency. It is most concerned with reducing soil erosion caused by agricultural activities. Producers who voluntarily enter this program enroll their land for a 10- to 15-year period during which they receive financial compensation for taking land out of production for the purposes of reducing soil loss, improving water quality and enhancing habitats for wildlife.

- The CSP also provides technical and financial aid to farmers who enact measures to conserve water, soil, energy, wildlife and plant life on their lands. CSP funds are also available for tribal lands used for agricultural purposes. The CSP is operated by the NRCS.

- EQIP is another program administered by the NRCS. It gives cost-share financial grants to agricultural landowners for land management practices including installation of wells, irrigation and livestock watering facilities, facilities for manure management, and for a variety of other purposes.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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