Coronavirus & Contracts: What Did We Agree To?

Jennifer Zwagerman, Amber S. Miller, and Kate Dudding[*]

I. Introduction

All across the country, agricultural producers, processors, food manufacturers, retail stores, landlords, tenants, lenders, borrowers, and others are pulling out their written contracts and examining the terms.  What, if any, terms address how operations may change or must continue in this current global pandemic?  What should you be thinking about if a buyer or supplier contacts you about canceling your contract?

The focus of this writing is to highlight what are often thought of by parties as “boilerplate” language, including force majeure clauses and other terms that are often included in contracts, yet not always understood or defined in the legal sense. The goal is to provide some insight into what to look for and what certain clauses in a contract mean, particularly today, in light of stay-at-home orders, business closures, market uncertainty, and designation of agriculture and food production as essential services. If you have a specific concern related to a contract or pandemic-related contract issues, we recommend contacting a lawyer to discuss your specific situation.

II. Force majeure

A common question being asked these days is, does your contract have a force majeure clause, and if so, when or how can it be triggered to relieve a party of its obligation to perform under the contract and not be subject to a breach of contract lawsuit?

First, it’s important to note that while many contracts may contain a “force majeure” clause that serves to excuse a party from performing its obligations under the contract for certain reasons that are deemed to be out of the party’s control, there is no standard force majeure provision. To the contrary, each clause is subject to negotiation between the parties. Each contract can be very different.

Because each clause and each contract is different, the precise words that are included in a particular force majeure clause must be examined to determine whether the clause has been triggered in any given situation. Courts have consistently held and explained that whether a force majeure clause serves to excuse a party’s contractual performance is fact specific.[1]

There are typically three elements to asserting force majeure: 1) the force majeure event was beyond the reasonable control of the affected party, 2) affected party’s ability to perform was directly prevented by the intervening force majeure event, and 3) the affected party took all reasonable measures to avoid the force majeure event and tried to perform its obligations under contract.

While each force majeure clause is different, there are certain phrases or words that are commonly found in a force majeure clause.  Courts have analyzed these phrases or words in order to determine their meaning in the force majeure context. Contract terms and court interpretations vary, but we address a few examples here.

            Act of God

A common phrase found within many force majeure provisions is “Act of God”. Some force majeure clauses go on to specifically describe what is meant by an Act of God, while others are silent on what the term means.  Again, while each clause and state law governing the dispute may lead to different results, many courts have limited this phrase to mean only those situations that were caused by forces of nature, such as a hurricane, wildfire, or tornado.[2]

Epidemic, Pandemic, or National Emergency

Today, all parties are examining the force majeure clauses in their agreements to see if the clause includes any specific language regarding “epidemic, pandemic, or national event or emergency”. If the provision is included, even in today’s global pandemic, it is important to note that the entire force majeure clause must be read and analyzed to determine if the clause is, in fact, triggered simply because this language is included.

Impossible, Impracticable, Frustration of Purpose

The terms “impossible”, “impracticable”, or “frustration of purpose” are also commonly included in force majeure clauses, and, in some instances, a contract may be drafted in such a way that a section on “Impossibility”, “Impracticability”, or “Frustration of Purpose” is included in the contract, in addition to the force majeure provision. Court interpretations of these terms vary greatly. In the context of impossibility of performance, courts have generally been consistent that economic burdens are not enough to claim a force majeure defense. Some courts have expressly held that impracticality or economic loss or burden is not enough to use force majeure as a reason for not performing under the contract.[3]  However, there are also some courts who have indicated that if a drop in demand is due to some “major, unpredictable event” or “unforeseen contingency which alters the essential nature of the performance”, or “all means of performance are commercially senseless”, then it might be a force majeure event that excuses a party from performing its contractual duties.[4]

Government Action or Order

Many force majeure clauses also contain a provision that serves to excuse a party’s performance if a government action or order is the reason the party can’t meet its contractual obligation.[5] Today, many are questioning if governmental restrictions, shut downs, or stay at home orders that result in businesses closing serve to excuse parties from fulfilling their contractual obligations.

Catchall Provision   

In some force majeure clauses, a “catchall” provision is also included, such as “any other reason or any other event beyond such party’s control.” While tempting to point to this provision as one that would excuse a party’s performance for literally “any reason”, it is important to remember that courts have examined these types of provisions in contractual and force majeure disputes and the interpretations can vary widely. Many courts have held that the catchall provisions are limited to the types of events that were specifically listed and described in the force majeure clause immediately preceding the catch-all. [6]

III. Notice

If a “force majeure event” has occurred, most force majeure clauses will require the party seeking to use force majeure as an excuse to not perform under the contract to provide the other party with notice of its intent to do so. It is important to examine a force majeure clause to see if a notice provision is included, and to strictly comply with the notice terms.[7] If no specific time for notice is provided in a contract, courts tend to view a “reasonable’ time as sufficient.[8]  Failure to provide notice as the contract requires can turn what is otherwise a force majeure event into a finding that non-performance of the contract was a breach of agreement.[9]

IV. Causation

It is also very important to note that in order to relieve a party of its contractual obligation, a “force majeure event” (if it occurs and was included in the contract) must be the cause of the party’s inability to perform.[10] Put another way, assume a contract contains the term “pandemic” in the force majeure clause. The current Covid-19 situation does not automatically mean that the parties to that contract with the word pandemic in it can claim “force majeure” and be relieved of the contractual obligations to perform. Any claimed event of force majeure must be the cause of the party’s inability to perform.

V. Impact of Essential Services Designation in the Food and Ag Space

Today, as it relates to the coronavirus pandemic and the changing commercial and social landscape, a major exception to the shelter in place and stay at home orders that have been issued by governmental authorities across the country is the continued operation of “essential services”. On March 19, 2020 the Department of Homeland Security identified the specific industries that are considered “essential” (available at https://www.cisa.gov/publication/guidance-essential-critical-infrastructure-workforce). While the CISA list is only advisory in nature, it has been utilized by state and local authorities in defining which industries and workers are deemed “essential”, and therefore allowed to continue to stay open and operate.

When we analyze contracts and whether a force majeure clause serves to excuse a party’s non-performance, one question that arises for essential industries such as agriculture and food is what impact, if any, does the “essential” designation have on subsequent attempts to invoke a force majeure clause and purported impossibility of performance?

While many contracting parties may look to a “government action” provision in a force majeure clause to prove that performance is now impossible due to a shelter in place or stay at home order, does an essential services designation, and the implied government requirement that an essential business stay open and operate, come into play in a party’s effort to force performance of the agreement?

But, notwithstanding the essential services designation, many of those industries (e.g., livestock production, oil and gas production) are nevertheless currently faced with erratic commodity markets and access to capital problems, which again raises the question of whether a party’s performance has been rendered impossible or impracticable and is excused due to force majeure.

VI. Termination Clause

Beyond the issue of force majeure and whether a party can use it as a reason to excuse performance, it is important to remember that most contracts include language allowing one or both of the parties to terminate the contract for a variety of reasons, including breach, a decision to contract elsewhere after a period of time, or for no reason at all with proper notice. Termination provisions almost uniformly require a set period of notice, such as 30 or 60 or 90 days, to allow for parties to make alternative arrangements.

Most contracts that include termination clauses will not allow for immediate termination without notice pursuant to that particular provision. Instead, most parties will need to look for alternative provisions within the contract, such as force majeure or temporary inability, that allow for immediate termination. In other cases, a party may assume the risk and simply breach a contract by terminating or refusing to perform, hoping that a recognized defense of breach might excuse its non-performance.  This however, is a risky endeavor, as legal excuses for breach are essentially based upon a limited set of hard-to-prove circumstances that largely claim a contract was never valid in the first place.

VII. Assignment

Another option to be considered by parties to a contract whose performance may be uncertain due to a variety of factors is whether that contract can be assigned to another party that can and will perform.  Many contracts include language regarding an “assignment”. Assignment of a contract is a process in which one party transfers its roles, rights, and obligations under a contract to a third party. Essentially, someone else takes on the original party’s role in a contract.

If your contract does not say anything about assignment, the general rule is that a party has the power to transfer contractual rights and obligations unless the contract specifically says otherwise. In short, the rule here is look at your contract to determine your rights and those of the other party when it comes to assignment. It is possible that the other party may be able to transfer its rights under the contract to a third party without providing notice to you in advance, requiring you to work with that third party to satisfy your obligations. Most contracts do require a producer to receive notice of an assignment, but that does not always mean that you have to be able to consent, or that you need to be provided that notice in advance of the assignment. If a contract is assigned to a third party, all the obligations and responsibilities and terms remain the same.

VIII. Dispute Resolution

In addition to terms governing parties’ performance and establishing permissible reasons for non-performance, most contracts will also have terms that dictate how a dispute over some portion of that contract is to be resolved. In legal parlance, what do the “dispute resolution” terms say? Have the parties agreed to waive a trial by jury? Did the parties agree to arbitrate all claims? If yes, was a particular arbitration system or set of rules adopted, i.e, AAA or a trade association arbitration panel? Did the parties agree to mediate all claims in lieu of, or in advance of, any arbitration?

If your contract requires a specific process, it is important to ensure that you determine what is required and what rules guide your claim. One thing that is important to note is that a formal dispute over a contract is not a quick process. Arbitration, negotiations, mediation, or litigation, all require a process that can take months, if not years, to reach a resolution. If this formal dispute process is your only option, it remains important to continue to seek arrangements to minimize your losses and determine new options or partners. In most situations, formal dispute resolution is a last resort. In situations that are unprecedented, uncertain, and difficult for all, it may be in everyone’s best interest if parties can work together to agree upon modifications, temporary or otherwise, to a contract and avoid termination. This may be an optimistic goal, but it is generally in everyone’s best interests to avoid litigation, to maintain relationships, and to keep a strong and adequate agricultural supply chain.  While circumstances are going to be different for everyone, the ability to negotiate, collaborate, and compromise may end in a better result in the long, and short, term.

IX. Conclusion

The COVID-19 outbreak is changing and evolving rapidly. Parties to a contract should review their contracts carefully in order to fully understand their rights and obligations, and consult with an attorney to discuss specific questions, concerns, and applicable state laws.


[*] Jennifer Zwagerman, Director, Drake Agricultural Law Center, Drake University School of Law, Des Moines, Iowa; Amber S. Miller, Partner, Crenshaw Dupree & Milam, Lubbock, Texas; Kate Dudding, Law Student, Drake University School of Law, Des Moines, Iowa

The authors prepared this paper in April 2020, and it is intended for educational purposes only; nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship. The information provided should not be a substitute for legal advice addressing your fact specific issues by an attorney licensed in your state. 


[1] Zurich Am. Ins. Co. v. Hunt Petroleum (AEC), Inc., 157 S.W.3d 462, 466 (Tex. App. – Houston [14th Dist.] 2004, no pet.); Sun Operating Ltd. P’ship v. Holt, 984 S.W.2d 277, 282–83 (Tex. App. — Amarillo 1998, reh’g overruled).

[2] See, e.g., McWilliams v. Masterson, 112 S.W.3d 314, 320 (Tex. App. – Amarillo 2003, pet. denied); United States v. Winstar Corp., 518 U.S. 839, 905–907 (1996).

[3] Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc., 360 F. Supp. 3d 817, 841 (S.D. Ind. 2018); Jennie-O Foods, Inc. v. United States, 580 F. 2d 500, 410 (Ct. Cl. 1978); Nora Springs Cooperative Co. v. Brandau, 247 N.W.2d 744 (Iowa 1976).

[4] Rexing Quality Eggs v. Rembrandt Enterprises, Inc., 360 F. Supp. 3d 817, 841 (S.D. Ind. 2018); Jennie-O Foods, Inc. v. United States, 580 F. 2d 500, 410 (Ct. Cl. 1978); Int’l Elecs. Corp. v. United States, 227 Ct.Cl. 208, 646 F.2d 496, 510 (1981).

[5] American Soil Processing, Inc. v. Iowa Comprehensive Petroleum Underground Storage Tank Fund Board, 586 N.W.2d 325, 334-36 (Iowa 1998); OWBR, LLC v. Clear Channel Comms., Inc., 266 F. Supp. 2d 1214 (D. Hawaii 2003).

[6] TEC Olmos, LLC v. ConocoPhillips Co., 555 S.W.3d 176 (Tex. App. – Houston 1st Dist.]  2018, pet. denied).

[7] Kansas City Power & Light Co. v. Pittsburg & Midway Coal Mining Co., 1989 US Dist. LEXIS 15036 (1989); United States v. Sunoco, Inc., 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41435 (2007).

[8] Savine Corp. v. ONG Western, Inc., 725 F.Supp. 1157 (1989)

[9] SNB Farms, Inc. v. Swift & Co., 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2063 (N.D. Iowa Feb. 7, 2003).

[10] TEC Olmos, LLC v. ConocoPhillips Co., 555 S.W.3d 176 (Tex. App. – Houston 1st Dist.]  2018, pet. denied).

Spring Updates

The Agricultural Law Center spent the spring discussing recent legislative actions in Iowa and beyond, engaging in conversation about water quality and watershed citizenship, and transitioning into an exciting new leadership team!

Professor Neil Hamilton, soon Emeritus Professor Hamilton, will retire from being Director of the Agricultural Law Center at the end of June. Hamilton will continue to contribute to the Center in work related to soil and water. 

Prior to his retirement, Hamilton gave a keynote presentation at the 2019 Iowa Water conference on the theme “Watershed Citizenship.”On May 6th, he moderated a citizen panel on the challenges in addressing climate change with presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke in Des Moines. Later in May, he presented to the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club and the Des Moines chapter of the Isaak Walton League covering “Ten Important Developments for Iowa’s Water and Land.”

Later this summer, Hamilton will be on a panel discussing “Key developments in American Soil and Water Conservation Policy” at the annual national conference of the Isaak Walton League taking place in Des Moines. In November, Hamilton will lead a panel on “State Responses to Water Quality” at the American Agricultural Law Association (AALA) meeting in Washington, D.C.

Associate Director Jennifer Zwagerman will officially transition to Director Zwagerman on July 1. Zwagerman has been with the Center and collaborating with Hamilton since 2011. Find her profile in the June issue of the Business Record!

Zwagerman had a full spring, starting with appearances on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River to talk about ag gag litigation and recent court rulings, particularly those in Iowa. In March, she attended the Young Professionals in Agriculture Breakfast as a mentor and provided the Ag Law Update to Webster County Spring CLE. Zwagerman planned and executed the Festschrift Symposium honoring Hamilton for his lifetime scholarship and work. In April, she participated and instructed two courses at the 4th Food Law Student Leadership Summit at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C. Additionally, she assisted the Center in co-sponsoring a Gene Editing & Agriculture Symposium with the Drake Intellectual Property Law Center. In May, Zwagerman moderated a panel of political reporters at Science on the Stump at Drake University. She also returned to Iowa Public Radio to discuss Ag Gag 2.0 in the Iowa legislature and to talk about recent glyphosate litigation in California and beyond.   

The Center looks forward to Zwagerman’s new leadership and initiatives, and appreciates Hamilton’s work as Director of the Center for the past 30+ years! 

Watershed Citizenship

Professor Neil D. Hamilton presented “Watershed Citizenship” at the 19th Annual Water Conference at Iowa State University on March 12, 2019.

Citizenship is premised on being part of something – there is an implicit aspect of mutuality and reciprocity.

Watersheds are an excellent vehicle to apply the ideals of citizenship and this is especially true for HUC 12 watersheds because they share these eight traits:

  • the proximity—we live in them
  • the scale—they average 22,000 acres
  • our awareness and knowledge—they are our neighborhoods
  • the visibility—we can see them
  • the objective measurability—we can measure them
  • our identifiable impact—we can change how they perform
  • the personal relations—we know the people who live there, and 
  • the human dimension—they are influenced by our actions. 

Watershed Citizenship broadens the focus from the individual to a community. Watershed Citizenship helps us consider the moral hazard of seeing Water Quality as a “downstream” issue – someone else’s worry. In a watershed, we are upstream from some and downstream from others. This reflects the reciprocity of citizenship and how it is premised on the Golden Rule – the idea we should treat others how we want to be treated.  

As I look at the future of our water quality efforts I am left with many questions.  If we are good watershed citizens, why aren’t we doing more to protect and improve our water? Why are we happy with the meagre funding, with the relative few demonstration projects, and with only a fraction of our fellow citizens being engaged? 

We have staked our future on the NRS – an interesting scientific document but one deeply flawed from a policy perspective. Nothing about the NRS is bold or imaginative – in fact, we only developed it because the EPA forced us to. 

How different might an Iowa water quality strategy look if we developed an NRS 2.0 – one based on the context of our laws, on our legacy of conservation leadership – and on the ideals of Watershed Citizenship?

  • Why can’t we ask and expect each farmer and landowner to have a water quality plan?
  • Why can’t we have more HUC 12 watershed projects underway?  I reviewed the water quality projects and demonstrations for this talk – and can identify at most 34 county Soil and Water Conservation Districts involved in a HUC 12 project.  Why can’t we expect each SWCD to have at least one HUC 12 project underway?
  • Why don’t the agriculture and conservation groups urge the legislature to fund the Natural Resources Trust Fund so we have adequate funds to actually make progress?
  • Why can’t we empower the drainage districts and engage them to use their reach and authority to improve water quality?

I suggest the following lessons I learned from the restoration of Lake Darling—we need a sense of urgency, a vision, and priorities. We need ways to measure progress, community support, and adequate funding. We need cooperation from farmers and landowners working at the local watershed level. We need to engage the structures and institutions we have in place – the Soil and Water Conservation districts, drainage districts and watershed authorities. We need leadership—people willing to invest their time and reputations – and willing to confront the dogma we may need to overcome.

When we do so, we will have used the ideals of citizenship and the organizational potential of watersheds to unleash the power of Watershed Citizenship.

__________________________________________________________________________________

To read the full script of Neil Hamilton’s Watershed Citizenship presentation, go to http://aglawcenter.wp.drake.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/99/2019/03/Watershed-Citizenship.pdf

Fall Updates

The Agricultural Law Center team has spent the fall engaging in political debate and educating the public about sustainability and conservation.

A Summary 

On October 3rd, Director Neil Hamilton moderated a debate with several candidates for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture at Iowa State University.  The debate was sponsored by the Association of Graduate Students in Sustainable Agriculture at ISU.

On October 10th, Hamilton returned to the ISU campus to deliver a lecture on “Our Water Our Land: Iowa’s Legacy of Leadership – Where are We Today?” as part of the ISU Osher Lifelong Learning Institute lecture series.

On October 27th, Hamilton and Assistant Director and American Ag Law Association President Jennifer Zwagerman attended the AALA annual meeting in Portland on “Sustainability in Agriculture – Legal and Policy Considerations for Economic and Community Development.” Hamilton presented a paper on “Eight Steps to Understanding the Evolution of Sustainable Agriculture in the U.S.” The meeting was organized by Drake Ag Law alumna and AALA President-elect Amber Brady Miller. Mike Traxinger, also a Drake Ag Law alumnus, was announced as the next president.

On November 1st, the Center posted the 26th episode of Hamilton’s educational series Our Water Our Land.  This episode featured the legacy of Congressman John Lacey from Oskaloosa. Season One of the OWOL series will run through the end of November.

Looking Forward

The next episode of Our Water Our Land will feature Hamilton’s report on election results.

 

Lessons from SOIL 2018

You can’t predict exactly what will happen when you bring together 150 dedicated Iowans and ask a dozen farmers, scientists, conservationists, and community leaders to share their visions for Iowa’s water and land – but you can be sure it will be interesting.  That was very true at SOIL 2018.

To begin – speakers and attendees agreed on several key points.

First, Iowa is seriously underfunding any real efforts at protecting water quality and soil.  There was strong support for raising the sales tax to provide permanent funding for the natural resource protection efforts Iowa needs.

Second, we have the farming practices needed to help improve soil health and protect water quality – the two most valuable are widespread adoption of cover crops and using wetlands and riparian buffer strips to filter water and build soil.

Third, there is a growing recognition we need to focus on soil health, especially improving water infiltration capacity so the soil can withstand the frequent large rains we are experiencing.

Fourth, changing our attitude to the soil means ridding ourselves of the notion there is a tolerable level of soil loss.

Fifth, we need opportunities for people to get outdoors, to be on our rivers in we want them to understand how land and water are part of our eco-system and to recognize how a healthy environment is one of our most effective tools for economic development.

Here are some specific ideas shared by speakers:

Dr. Jerry Hatfield of the USDA explained our need to promote biologic activity in the soil.  Soil degradation is limiting the ability of soil to absorb water, which is why we have terrible surface runoff from large rains.

Liz Garst, a farmer and banker from Coon Rapids, said we need to develop realistic views on soil regeneration and get rid of the idea of tolerable soil loss.  She reminded us we are trying to do what no civilization been able to – solve soil erosion. Doing so will require us to overcome what her grandfather called “the despotism of custom.”

Seth Watkins, a cattleman from Southwest Iowa, focused on rural economies and community life; for example, expanding opportunities for tourism from hunting.  Seth said, “We have never filled our hotels for corn season.”  Grazing the way Seth does allows him to employ a variety of conservation and soil health building practices.

Jennifer Terry, the Iowa farm girl heading the Iowa Environmental Council, said our lakes are sick and we need to restore them to health.  She invited us to learn what neighboring states are doing.  Her most powerful suggestion was out need for more diversity of voices and involving women leaders in our efforts.

Larry Weber from the University of Iowa reminded us how critical it is to take a watershed approach. He highlighted the growing number of Presidential disaster declarations from flooding in Iowa and the frequency of 10 inch rains.  He left us with sobering data how trend lines show Iowa’s nutrient export has increased in recent years.

Matt Russell from Interfaith Power and Light brought a hopeful message for how farmers can lead our nation’s response to climate change.  Doing so may unlock significant economic opportunities and pay for the healthy soil and water quality central to addressing climate change.

Jim Pease, a wildlife biologist, explained Iowa does have a vision plan for wildlife.  It is based largely on having more permanently protected public land with larger blocks and contiguous corridors of riparian buffers to continue the wildlife restoration work underway.

Hannah Inman of the Greater Outdoor Fund detailed the Central Iowa water trails plan and how business community supports outdoor amenities to aid in job creation, recruitment and retention.

The great news coming from SOIL 2018 is that Iowans have a vision for our resource future and are looking for ways to bring their hopes alive.  We will keep exploring their stories.

ALC Quarterly Update

The Agricultural Law Center team has been busy in the second quarter of 2018.  We’ve launched multi-episode video project Our Water Our Land, hired Anna Jordan to act as Policy and Outreach Coordinator, travelled to Cuba, prepared to host the 2018 SOIL Conference, and much more!

May

Director Neil Hamilton launched the weekly educational video series Our Water Our Land, which is now up to 19 episodes. The series is featured on Youtube, Facebook, and Twitter.

June

Hamilton and Assistant Director Jennifer Zwagerman spent five days in Cuba participating in the International Congress on Agrarian Law.  The conference was attended by over 90 lawyers from at least 15 nations. Hamilton was honored by the Cubans for his work in agricultural law and received an award from the Cuban Agrarian Law Society. Hamilton presented on the topic of “Feeding Our Future: Reflections on Forty Years of Agricultural Law in a Changing Agriculture,” which was then translated and published by journals in Cuba and Argentina.

July

Hamilton and Policy and Outreach Coordinator Anna Jordan continued drafting on new installments for the “Landowners Legal Guide” video series being funded with a grant from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

August

Hamilton spent several days at the University of Arkansas Law School in Fayetteville teaching the introductory class on food and agricultural law to the new LLM students.

Looking Forward

On September 19, the Center will sponsor SOIL 2018: Turning Our Vision for Iowa’s Water and Land in to Action, at the Olmsted Center.  The conference is the third in the series of SOIL – Sustaining Our Iowa Land conferences organized by the Center. To register, click here.

In October, Hamilton will visit Harvard Law School to take part in the First Annual Conference on Food Law and Policy, organized by the Academy of Food Law and Policy, for which he is a founding board member.  Later in October he and Assistant Director Jennifer Zwagerman, AALA President, will attend the American Agricultural Law Association conference in Portland, Oregon. Hamilton will participate on a panel on the topic of Sustainability in Agriculture: Legal & Policy Considerations for Economic and Community Development.

An Introduction from the Center’s Newest Staff Member–Anna Jordan

Greetings! I hope this post finds you enjoying a beautiful summer day. I am writing to introduce myself as the newest member of the Drake Agricultural Law Center staff. My name is Anna Jordan and I am excited to be working as the Center’s Policy & Outreach Coordinator! While my position with the Center is new, I am well acquainted with Drake Law School and the Agricultural Law Center—I recently graduated from Drake Law in December 2017, with certificates in Food & Agricultural Law, Public Service, and Environmental & Sustainability Law.

Raised on a farm near Centerville, Iowa, I have long had a love and appreciation for the land and the people it sustains. I took this passion to Iowa State University where I studied Agricultural Business and Economics. My personal and educational background in agriculture spurred an aspiration to gain a deeper understanding of the intricate agricultural and food systems of our world. I began to consider graduate and professional programs that would help achieve this ambition. I became impressed with the malleability of a legal education, and chose to attend Drake Law School based on the outstanding reputation of Agricultural Law Center and curriculum.

The education and experiences I gained while in law school exceeded my expectations. I learned legal fundamentals and had the opportunity to take classes such as agricultural law, environmental law, food law, and land tenure law. Working as an editorial staff member on the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, I was challenged to develop my research and writing skills while writing a student note, which I am honored to have published in the Journal. Drake also provided an array of experiences outside of the classroom. I completed internships with the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Iowa Legislature, and the Drake Agricultural Law Center. By hosting the Student Food Law Leadership Summit and supporting student attendance at the annual American Agricultural Law Association conferences, the Agricultural Law Center connected me with hundreds of food law students and agricultural law professionals from across the country.

The legal education, internships, and networking experiences from Drake give me confidence as I begin my professional career. I successfully passed the Iowa Bar Exam and was sworn in as an attorney in May. I and am eager to continue my journey with Drake and work with Professor Hamilton on producing and distributing important agricultural law resources!

All the best,

Anna

ALC to Issue Guide for Farmers and Landowners on Navigating Public Programs to Improve Water Quality

The Drake University Agricultural Law Center will release a new report “How to Improve Water Quality on Iowa Farms: A Step-by-Step Guide for Navigating Conservation Programs for Farmers and Landowners” next week. The 65-page report will be available for download from the Center’s web site at http://aglawcenter.wp.drake.edu/research/.

“Our goal is to make it easier for Iowa farmers and landowners to understand the public cost-sharing programs available to protect our soil and water,” said Professor Neil Hamilton, director of the Center. The Guide was developed under a 2017 grant from the Leopold Center at Iowa State University, which is now coordinated by the Iowa Nutrient Center.

Matt Russell, who helped create the Guide in his role as the Resilient Agriculture Coordinator with Drake, noted, “Iowa has a wide range of programs to assist those interested in putting conservation on the land, but being able to understand who administers the programs and the process for applying can be confusing.”

The Guide examines the programs in two ways: first, the discussion describes various conservation and water quality practices available—such as cover crops or installing grass waterway—and lists which federal or state agencies have financial assistance programs that can help support each practice. Secondly, the report takes a detailed look at federal and state conservation and water quality programs to explain how they actually work for interested farmers and landowners.

Popular federal efforts such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) are explained in detail. Similarly, various state cost sharing programs such as the Water Quality Initiative, Financial Incentive Program for Soil Erosion Control, and the Iowa conservation practices revolving fund are explained, including how they are administered. The Guide uniquely features a set of common questions for each program, including who is eligible, how one applies, what documents are required, how selections are made, how practices are implemented, how payments happen, and how programs are enforced.

“If we expect farmers and landowners to use public programs to protect soil and water, we feel it is important to take the mystery out of how to actually apply to use them,” Hamilton said.

The Guide explains how many programs are delivered through the county Soil and Water Conservation Districts. It gives suggestions for working with the districts, especially the value of developing a personal relationship with the conservation professionals so an effective plan can be developed for a farm.

The final section of the Guide covers Private Conservation Initiatives. These are typically programs where a private business involved with food or agriculture works with farmers to implement a soil or water conservation project. The Guide is one of the first efforts to evaluate and discuss the potential these programs may have for providing additional support for soil and water conservation.  A case study of how one Iowa farm is using both public and private programs to improve soil health and water quality is used to demonstrate this potential.

For more information and to find other resources for farmers and landowners, visit http://aglawcenter.wp.drake.edu/research/

Farewell from Matt Russell

For the past six weeks, Pat and I have been trying to burn some pasture at our Coyote Run Farm. Finally, on Easter Sunday, we were able to get the job done.  The Easter holiday seemed like a terrible day to try to do this big job, but with good weather and family and friends coming together, burning off the dead prairie of last year and celebrating the new life that will poke out of the blackened earth turned out to be perfectly timed.

Just like burning the pasture brought an end and a new beginning, tomorrow marks the end of 12 years of working at the Drake University Agricultural Law Center and a new beginning as the Executive Director of Iowa Interfaith Power & Light. Iowa Interfaith Power & Light is a statewide organization mobilizing the religious community to become leaders in the movement for climate action. My new position combines my life’s work in faith, sustainability, public policy and agriculture with my passion for the value non-profits bring to individuals, communities and the greater good. My work and colleagues at Drake have prepared me well to lead efforts to find hopeful, empowering, unexpected solutions to the great challenges of climate change.

As I reflect on these years of serving farmers and landowners, I’m honored to have helped key agriculture stakeholders make profitable and sustainable decisions regarding our nation’s land and agricultural production alongside our director Neil Hamilton.

The list of interesting projects I got to work on is long and diverse.  Some of my favorites include exploring rural community ownership of grocery stores, coordinating Central Iowa’s Buy Fresh Buy Local campaign, developing a tool to help farmers craft fair manure management agreements, identifying opportunities for the state of Iowa to purchase more food from Iowa farmers, promoting food policy councils, educating landowners and farmers about crafting leases to put more conservation on farms and increasing agricultural opportunities for under-severed farmers.

I am proud that I was able to help Neil host more than a dozen statewide and national conferences.  We filmed and produced scores of videos. I was able to travel to Cuba—twice.  Whenever an opportunity came to go speak about agriculture, rural communities, or conservation, Neil’s response was always yes, and he always found the resources to make it possible for me to go.

After speaking at different events and writing many articles, including an article on agriculture and climate change for the Drake Journal of Agricultural Law, I am prepared for my last day tomorrow and my new career at Iowa Interfaith Power & Light.

I am fired up for the work ahead, because I believe we can solve climate change. Iowans can lead the world in finding the solutions, and Iowa farmers can innovate on our farms to sequester carbon and reduce emissions.

Looking back, I have so many fond memories of the exciting work and inspiring people at Drake.  Looking forward, I can see Drake Agricultural Law Center has prepared me well for this new leadership position.

ALC Quarterly Update

The Agricultural Law Center team has been busy in the first quarter of 2018.  We’ve traveled north of the Arctic Circle, spoken at numerous conferences, appeared in stories in multiple media outlets, screened a new documentary film and even hosted a former U.S. ambassador.

January

Associate Director Jennifer Zwagerman is quoted in an Event Driven article, BG/ADM: Soybean Crushing and Grain Handling Markets Raise Antitrust Questions on January 24.  She also spoke to Farm World about food safety and regulatory oversite.

In January, Resilient Agriculture Coordinator Matt Russell gave an interview to Harvest Public Media about the need for farmers to partner with others to ensure conservation, disaster assistance, and nutrition assistance are supported in the 2018 farm bill.

February

Director Neil Hamilton was a guest on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River on February 20.  The hour-long program explored the history of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and implications of implementing America’s Harvest Box.  He argued the proposed change to SNAP looks like a solution in search of a problem.

The Center collaborated with the Drake University College of Arts and Sciences on their 2018 Engaged Citizen Experience Conference, Nourishing the World, on Feb. 22-23.  Neil facilitated a panel discussion following the screening of the new film “Farmers for America.”

At the Engaged Citizen Conference, Matt invited Jennifer Terry, executive director of the Iowa Environmental Council, to help lead the breakout session “Iowa Agriculture Reality Check—Environmental Sustainability.”  Drake University alumna and former Ambassador Darci Vetter gave the keynote address.  She is a strategic consultant on International Trade and Agriculture, diplomat in residence at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln and the former chief agricultural negotiator for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

March

Neil traveled near the North Pole to pay homage to thousands of years of agricultural development and a million seeds stored at the Global Seed Vault in Svalbard, Norway, on March 2.

“Being inside the Vault makes real the stories I have read,” Neil said. “It also brings a new appreciation and understanding of the work of many people – the plant collectors, the seed breeders, the farmers, and the gene bank officials who have collected, improved and saved these seeds.  One does not need to be a person of faith to feel a visit to the Vault is moving in a spiritual way.”

Matt spoke at the 9th Annual Feed Greater Des Moines conference about local food policy and advocacy on March 3.  He also spoke about working-land conservation programs, CSP and EQIP at the National Farmers Union convention in Kansas City on March 5.

Looking Forward

Our project, Guide on How to Improve Water Quality on Iowa Farms, will be published in the next month.

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