The summertime slowdown hasn’t affected the number of agricultural law questions we’ve received from across Ohio. Here’s a sampling of recent questions and answers:
Is a tree service business considered “agriculture” for purposes of Ohio rural zoning?
No, tree trimming and tree cutting activities are not listed in the definition of agriculture in Ohio’s rural zoning laws, although the definition does include the growing of timber and ornamental trees. The definition ties to the “agricultural exemption” and activities that are in the “agriculture” definition can be exempt from county and township zoning. Here is the definition, from Ohio Revised Code sections 303.01 and 519.01:
“agriculture” includes farming; ranching; algaculture meaning the farming of algae; aquaculture; apiculture; horticulture; viticulture; animal husbandry, including, but not limited to, the care and raising of livestock, equine, and fur-bearing animals; poultry husbandry and the production of poultry and poultry products; dairy production; the production of field crops, tobacco, fruits, vegetables, nursery stock, ornamental shrubs, ornamental trees, flowers, sod, or mushrooms; timber; pasturage; any combination of the foregoing; and the processing, drying, storage, and marketing of agricultural products when those activities are conducted in conjunction with, but are secondary to, such husbandry or production.
What are the benefits of being enrolled in the “agricultural district program” in Ohio, and is there a penalty for withdrawing from the program?
There are three benefits to enrolling farmland in the agricultural district program:
- The first is the nuisance protection it offers a landowner. A landowner can use the defense the law provides if a neighbor who moves in after the farm was established files a lawsuit claiming the farm is a “nuisance” due to noise, odors, dust, etc. Successfully raising the defense and showing that the farm meets the legal requirements for being agricultural district land would cause the lawsuit to be dismissed.
- The second benefit is that the law also exempts agricultural district land from assessments for water, sewer and electric line service extensions that would cross the land. As long as the land remains in agricultural district program, the landowner would not be subject to the assessments. But if the land is changed to another use or the landowner withdraws the land from the agricultural district program, assessments would be due. The assessment exemption does not apply to a homestead on the farmland, however.
- A third benefit of the agricultural district program law is that it requires an evaluation at the state level if agricultural district land is subject to an eminent domain action that would affect at least 10 acres or 10% of the land. In that case, the Director of the Ohio Department of Agriculture must be notified of the eminent domain project and must assess the situation to determine the effect of the eminent domain on agricultural production and program policies. Both the Director and the Governor may take actions if the eminent domain would create an unreasonably adverse effect.
As for the question about a withdrawal penalty, the law does allow the county to assess a penalty when a landowner withdraws land from the agricultural district program during the agricultural district enrollment period, which is a five-year period. If a landowner removes the land from the agricultural district, converts the land to a purpose other than agricultural production or an agricultural conservation program, or sells the land to another landowner who does not elect to continue in the agricultural district program, the landowner must pay a withdrawal penalty. The amount of the penalty depends on whether the land is also enrolled in the Current Agricultural Use Value program. See the different penalty calculations in Ohio Revised Code 929.02(D(1).
Read the agricultural district program law in Chapter 929 of the Ohio Revised Code and contact your county auditor to learn about how to enroll in the program.
My farmland is within the village limits and the village sent me a notice that I must cut a strip of tall grass on my land. Do I have to comply with this?
Yes. Ohio law allows a municipality such as a village to have vegetation, litter, and “noxious weeds” laws. These laws can set a maximum limit for the height of grass, require removal of litter on the property, and require ridding the land of “noxious weeds.” The purpose of the laws is to protect property values, protect public health by preventing pests and nuisances from accumulating, and keep noxious weeds from spreading to other properties. The village is within its legal authority to enforce its grass, litter, and noxious weeds laws on a farm property that is within the village limits. Failing to comply with an order by the village can result in a fine or financial responsibility for all expenses incurred by the village to remedy the problem.
Is it legal to pull water from a river or stream to irrigate land in Ohio?
Yes, as long as the withdrawal occurs on private land or with the consent of the public or private landowner. Registration with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources is required, however, if the amount withdrawn exceeds 10,000 gallons per day and the State has the ability to scale the 10,000 gallon amount back if the withdrawal is within an established groundwater stress area. Withdrawal registration information is available on the Division of Water Resources website.
Note that according to Ohio’s “reasonable use” doctrine, if a water withdrawal causes “unreasonable” harm to other water users, a legal action by harmed users could stop or curtail the use or allocate liability for the harm to the person who withdrew the water. To avoid such problems, a person withdrawing the water should ensure that the withdrawal will not cause “unreasonable” downstream effects.
An urban farmer wants to build a rooftop greenhouse to grow hemp and then wants to make and sell cannabis-infused prepared foods at a market on her property. Who regulates this industry and where would she go for guidance on legal and regulatory issues for these products?
Regulation and oversight of food products that contain cannabis is a combination of federal and state authority. Federal regulation is through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and state regulation is via the Ohio Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Division. She should refer to these resources:
- U.S. – https://www.fda.gov/news-events/public-health-focus/fda-regulation-cannabis-and-cannabis-derived-products-including-cannabidiol-cbd#legaltosell
- Ohio – https://agri.ohio.gov/divisions/food-safety/resources/Hemp-Products
As for the growing of hemp, the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) regulates indoor hemp production in Ohio. There is a minimum acreage requirement for indoor production—she must have at least 1,000 square feet and 1,000 plants. See these resources from ODA: