The Farm Act of 2013 provides North Carolina’s farmers and agribusiness operators with a number of statutory reforms that will make it easier to do business in the state; some are long-overdue changes that the farming community has been seeking for decades. Among some of the more significant provisions:
The new law gives North Carolina farmers certain liability protections when selling their products to retailers and wholesalers. This measure is designed for farmers who have been certified by the U.S. Department for Agriculture for Good Agricultural Practices and Good Handling Practices (environmental and operational conditions necessary for the production of safe, wholesome fruits and vegetables) and who have a spotless food safety record for three years running.
Also under the new law, fruit and vegetable growers are entitled to a presumption of innocence by the courts in any dispute regarding their business, something called a “rebuttable presumption” (the court must presume that a farmer is innocent of negligence, and is acting in good faith). In cases involving simple mistakes, the law now encourages resolution through education and training, rather than with financial penalties. Injured parties will still be given the opportunity to provide evidence of intentional or negligent harm in their complaints.
The Farm Act will allow farmers to use their buildings for other non-farm related activities — without incurring the liability that comes with not being in compliance with strict building codes. Typically, when barns and other farm buildings are first constructed, they’re exempt from restrictive building codes; the new law maintains this “farm building status,” so a farmer can now more affordably rent out a barn for weddings, receptions, or other types of activity.
People who operate animal exhibitions, petting zoos or other animal-based educational programs will now have an easier time getting the insurance coverage they need to conduct business. For years, farm animal businesses have been experiencing skyrocketing insurance rates that have had an adverse affect on their trade; as an example, the three-day Got To Be NC Festival wasn’t able to afford a petting zoo for the first time ever this year. And concerns over lawsuits have made it harder for agricultural education organizations, such as Future Farmers of America, to use animals in their work. The new law exempts operators from liability for the risks of farm-animal activities.
The law now allows retailers to advertise eggs for sale in the same manner as other products, (excluding any items on sale or subject to a promotion). Currently, eggs must be advertised with the quality and size and weight displayed at least half as high as the tallest letter in the word “eggs” (or the tallest figure in the price, whichever is larger). The prohibition on retailers displaying more than 400 square feet of nursery stock in their own parking lots is also repealed.
The Farm Act changes setback distances and burn times for debris, stumps, brush, and other materials used in ground clearing activities. These setbacks are decreased from 1,000 feet to 500 feet from structures. The time period for when initial burning could be commenced would be expanded from between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm to between 8:00 am and 4:00 pm.
The law exempts forestry operations from needing temporary driveway permits (issued by the Department of Transportation) if the operator has completed an educational course on timbering access and has also obtained a safety certification. The Department of Transportation does not currently have a written process for granting temporary driveway permits to forestry or silviculture operations.
“Our farmers are North Carolina’s best natural resource and we want to ensure that they, their farms and consumers are protected — while freeing up the industry to become more efficient and effective,” commented Governor Pat McCrory. The legislation was passed by the General Assembly nearly unanimously and was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory on July 17 at a ceremony attended by Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler outside the Old Capitol Building in Raleigh.