Building Educator Confidence In Farm Law

December 6, 2022
Rachel Armstrong of Farm Commons has received SARE support to provide legal workshops, resources, and a community for farmers, ranchers, and their service providers. Photo by Mark Pensiten.

Rachel Armstrong never stops asking questions about farm law. While working various jobs at farms, restaurants, and nonprofits, she always had questions about forming businesses and hiring people and rarely found reliable answers. Armstrong took action; she enrolled in law school. Today, her nonprofit organization, Farm Commons, is working to build a solid legal backbone for farmers.

Building Educator Confidence

Armstrong and Farm Commons knew that most agriculture professionals don’t feel confident when guiding farmers to legal resiliency.

“Seventy-one percent of agriculture professionals say legal questions come up at least once per week during their work,” said Armstrong. “Agriculture educators and support persons want to help farmers navigate farm business structures, liability, farmland leases/ land issues, and other legal aspects of their farm businesses.”

To address the concern, Farm Commons received a $74,947 NCR-SARE Professional Development Grant (PDP) in 2018 to work with ag professionals and educators to increase their understanding of fundamental farm law.

“The stakes are high: 66 percent of farmers don’t have adequate insurance for their farm operation, just 7 percent have a written operating agreement or bylaws,” said Armstrong. “Employment law confusion is endemic. We can fix this! With good training, agriculture support persons like Extension agents, agency staff, nonprofit professionals, and technical advisors can provide clear, accurate farm law information that reduces legal risk.”

Farm Commons hosted six in-person, daylong workshops during the grant project that oriented non-farming agriculture professionals to the ten things they could do to help farmers reduce legal risk. They also converted the in-person workshop into a 4-part series of online training events. Of the 232 participants, 58 percent experienced a modest increase in confidence, with an additional 38 percent seeing a significant increase in confidence. With the overall effectiveness of the workshops, Armstrong hopes more educators will participate in future trainings.

“The harsh reality is that it can be quite challenging to attract participants to the workshop itself,” said Armstrong. “We struggle because few people want to come to our workshop, but everyone loves it after they leave! We are looking at finding ‘leverage’ to motivate attendance at these workshops better.”

Farm Law Resources for Educators

Farm Commons created a series of tip sheets for agriculture educators:

  • Communicating with Regulators
  • Fence Law Basics
  • Insurance Basics
  • Farmland Lease Termination Basics
  • Sharing responsibilities in a farmland lease
  • LLC Basics
  • Chemical Drift Prevention Basics
  • Chemical Drift Response Basics
  • Succession Planning Basics

These tip sheets can be found online in Farm Commons public resource library online. Search for the name of the tip sheet to find it. Armstrong believes resources like these can help educators proactively resolve legal vulnerabilities.

“Understanding the basics of farm law is about empowered decision-making,” said Armstrong. “People need access to information they can use daily to build a business that reflects their values, including farm law. When sustainable farmers see their values reflected in how they treat risk management and their decisions about how to comply with the law—that’s truly fulfilling.”

Dig Deeper

Farm Commons’ online “Guiding Resilience” workshop is a legal workshop designed just for agricultural educators. The next online session starts on February. 1, 2023. Learn more here.

Want more information? See the related SARE grant:

Topics: Business Planning, Education and Training, Extension, Farm Business Management, Quality of Life, Workshop
Related Locations: North Central