In any given crop year, success depends on a triangular relationship between farmers/landowners, agricultural lenders and agricultural lawyers, said Harrison Pittman, director of the National Agricultural Law Center at the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
When the agricultural economy is down, as it has been for about three years now, friction can develop between the three vertices of the triangle, Pittman said.
That relationship was complicated by the 2014 Farm Bill, Pittman said, in which direct payments were eliminated. Under past farm bills, those direct payments were often used as collateral for farm loans. Their elimination in 2014 was of little concern so long as the agricultural economy was up and crop prices were good, he said.
“But now we’re in the third year of a downward trend in crop prices,” Pittman said, “and lenders have to reexamine and restruction how loans are made.”
Agricultural lenders want to avoid foreclosures, Pittman said. “They want their clients to keep farming,” he said.
How to cope with those critical agricultural lending relationships in a down economy will be one of the topics of the Fourth Annual Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference June 8-9 in Memphis.
Greg Cole, president and CEO of AgHeritage Farm Credit Services, will address changes his company has had to make in a down economy and issues ag lenders face because of it. In the same session, agricultural attorney Jeff Peterson of St. Cloud, Minnesota, will address related legal issues.
“We’re trying to present practical information that conference attendees will find useful for themselves and their clients,” Pittman said.
Another hot topic of the conference will be land use and environmental issues, Pittman said. Laws dealing with such issues as endangered species and land conservation affect how farmers and landowners can use their land.
Any economic activity that is determined to to affect endangered species or natural resources may require the landowner to take mitigating action, Pittman said. A wildlife habitat may have to be preserved or a wetlands moved.
These laws often provide compensation for landowners who take such mitigating steps, Pittman said. But the outcome may not always benefit the landowner. “Sometimes it’s a plus, sometimes it’s a minus,” he said.
Endangered species and natural resource regulations were more prominently enforced during President Obama’s administration, Pittman said. He added that it remains to be seen how such issues will be addressed under President Trump’s administration.
A panel will provide an update on agricultural and environmental laws affecting farmers and landowners in the Mid-South region. Among the speakers will be Rusty Rumley, senior staff attorney for the National Agricultural Law Center, University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture.
Ranch and estate planning will also be a topic of discussion at the conference.
The conference opens at 6:30 p.m. June 8 with a reception at The Rendezvous Restaurant, 52 S. Second Street in Memphis. Onsite registration begins at 7:30 a.m. June 9 at at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law, and the conference begins with welcome and announcements at 8 a.m.
More information, including a full agenda and online registration, is available online.