Growing Michigan - Second Quarter 2014

by Varnum LLP
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EPA Proposes to Expand Its Own Jurisdiction 

For decades, the Environmental Protection Agency has been charged with administering the United States Clean Water Act. One question that has bedeviled farmers, business owners and individuals--as well as judges and lawyers--is the scope of the Clean Water Act. The Act itself says it applies to "waters of the United States." So is a small stream purely in one state a "water of the United States?" What if it connects to the Great Lakes? Or an interstate river? What about a ditch running through a farm that connects to a small swamp which feeds into a tributary and then into a larger river?

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Settlement Between U.S. Department of Labor and Blueberry Growers Vacated 

In 2012, the Department of Labor accused Oregon blueberry growers of employing "ghost workers" resulting in minimum wage violations. The DOL then issued what is known as a "hot goods order" to block shipment of their product to market until the violations were remedied.  This, of course, created an untenable situation for the blueberry producers as their products were highly perishable. With no real alternative, the blueberry growers signed consent agreements with the DOL, in which they agreed to substantial fines and waived their rights to contest the allegations.

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Commission of Agriculture Approves Revised GAAMPs Limiting Scope of Right to Farm Act 

For over a year, the Michigan Ag Commission has considered expanding the scope of the "site selection" GAAMPs in order to bring even small livestock facilities within its scope. The site selection GAAMPs have traditionally applied to very large livestock production facilities, such as those that have at least 5,000 laying hens, 35 mature dairy cattle or 50 feeder cattle, and required those farms to be sited in agricultural areas. Consequently, because there were no siting requirements for small farms, these farms could be in urban areas--often contrary to zoning, which resulted in some conflict.

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USDA Offering Funding for Energy Efficiency Improvements

USDA's Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) is providing funding for rural small business owners and farmers to make energy efficiency improvements or to install energy systems and is currently accepting applications for assistance. Mr. Vilsack (Agriculture Secretary) recently said, "Developing renewable energy presents an enormous economic opportunity for rural America. This funding will help farmers, ranchers and rural small business owners incorporate renewable energy and energy efficiency technology into their operations, create jobs and help America become more energy independent. When small rural businesses and farmers cut their energy costs with cleaner and more efficient energy, we are both helping their bottom lines and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas pollution that affects our climate."

For application instructions, information and deadlines, please see page 25564 of the May 5, 2014 Federal Register, at https://www.federalregister.gov/articles/2014/05/05.

FDA Draws Criticism with Proposed FSMA Animal Feed Rule and Breweries 

FDA's chief food safety inspector, Michael Taylor, recently stated that the agency has "no intention" of preventing breweries from giving spent beer grains to farmers for cattle feed. The FDA's proposed rule would have required breweries to dry, package and inspect all the spent grain from beer production before it could be given to cattle. Critics have said that the proposed regulation could affect the cost of beer and raise the cost of breweries donating their leftovers. Several breweries give grain scraps used to make beer to farmers for feed.

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U.S. Agricultural Export Markets Expanded Through 2014 Farm Bill Programs 

Funding made available from the 2014 Farm Act has allowed the USDA to establish programs to assist in the growth of commercial export markets. The USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) recently granted funding to more than 60 U.S. agricultural organizations to help facilitate this effort.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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