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Breakdown of Legal Needs Assessment: A Look at the Structured Interviews

Updated: Jul 9, 2020

Person holding chick in hand (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

This week Ashley and I both are at the American Agricultural Law Association’s annual meeting in beautiful Albuquerque, New Mexico. It’s a good opportunity for us to see old friends in the ag law community, meet new people in the ag law field, and learn about a variety of legal topics impacting U.S. agriculture. If you are interested in seeing the agenda for the conference, please click here.

If you see a session on the agenda and would like a copy of the materials, please email Ashley or me and we will get you a copy of the materials. Or you can follow the discussion among the other participants (not just me) by following #AALA14 on Twitter.

Also this week, I will be breaking down results from our legal needs assessment report. The report is lengthy, so some of you may prefer the Cliff Notes© version. As background, this needs assessment was conducted in 2013 and consisted of structured interviews of leaders in the agriculture, environmental, and natural resources fields in Maryland and a survey of University of Maryland Extension agricultural faculty (county ag educators and state ag specialists). When creating the Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI), the General Assembly gave us a broad directive to assist the state’s agricultural producers with trusts and estates issues, compliance with environmental laws, and other issues necessary to preserve Maryland family farms. This needs assessment helped us narrow down any other issues necessary to preserve these farms.

ALEI conducted 23 structured interviews of agricultural, environmental, and natural resource leaders in private industry, public interest groups, and in state government. Each interview consisted of the same eight questions (see the questions at Results of the interviews illustrate that the top legal concerns of Maryland agricultural producers are environmental regulations, nuisance actions/right-to-farm, land use (such as zoning limitations), estate planning, and land leasing (chart 1).

Chart 1: Percentage of Interviewees Responding A Legal Issue Was A Challenge Facing Maryland Agriculture.

Legal concerns surrounding issues such as seed saving, natural disasters, production contracts, livestock, energy, debt, divorce, and discrimination were not mentioned by many interviewees as legal challenges facing Maryland’s agricultural producers. In the case of divorce, interviewees only mentioned it when discussing legal challenges in rural communities, such as not having access to attorneys to represent rural residents in issues such as bankruptcy and divorce.

People on a hayride (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

One interesting result (well, interesting to me) is that only 4 percent of interviewees mentioned livestock issues or production contract issues. This is interesting to me because in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, Maryland is home to 2,519 poultry operations, 573 dairies, and a large number of cattle, sheep, hog, and goat operations. Interviewees were not asked for an explanation why these issues were not challenges to Maryland livestock producers. These could be adequately addressed through private companies and attorneys and as such, people do not perceive them as challenges. However, given the widespread use of production contracts and livestock entities, further research on why these issues are not thought important, or what types of education or legal practices have been used to prevent issues within this sector, would be of interest.

Forty–three percent of interviewees mentioned food safety as an issue facing agricultural producers (chart 1). A follow-up question asking if the food safety concerns related to vegetable production or to on-farm slaughter and meat processing laws would allow ALEI to focus on the specific issues of concern.

Interviewees were asked what had helped Maryland farm producers meet legal challenges. Half of the interviewees (11 out of 22) responded that UME’s educational programming and materials helped. Other groups such as Maryland Farm Bureau, Agricultural Conflict Resolution Service, and Soil Conservation Districts were also mentioned.

People looking at plants in pots (Photo by Edwin Remsberg).

Our structured interview results show that the top five legal issues impacting Maryland agriculture are potentially environmental issues, land use issues, nuisance/right-to-farm issues, MDA programs, and marketing and diversification issues. Does this match what you see as the top legal issues impacting Maryland agriculture? For those out of state readers: do these top legal issues match those of your state? If you have thoughts on what Ashley and I should address here out of those top issues, please let us know on through the Contact feature.

Maryland readers should be aware that ALEI plans to conduct a survey of Maryland agricultural producers in January and February of 2015. If you are selected to participate in this survey, please take a moment and complete it to better help ALEI understand the top legal issues and how to develop educational materials to help with those issues.

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