A Coasian look at pesticide and genetic drift

Michael Giberson

A few weeks back Lynne drew attention to an interesting property dispute between neighboring farmers in Minnesota, currently the subject of legal action (see news summary here, related court decision here). In brief, the issue is pesticide drift from conventionally farmed crops onto a neighboring organic farm, and whether the organic farm can sue the conventional farm for pesticide-drift trespassing. Appeals court says yes.

David Conner wrote about a very similar hypothetical case a few years back in “Pesticides and Genetic Drift: Alternative Property Rights Scenarios,” when considering a Coasian approach to resolving such issues:

Imagine the following hypothetical dispute between Cameron Conventional and Olivia Organic, two farmers with adjacent fields. Cam­eron is a cutting-edge, high-tech farmer, an early adopter of new technologies, making him a low­ cost producer of grains and legumes. “Back to the land” Olivia grows organic specialty orops for sale at a local farmers’ marker.

Someone tests an ear of Olivia’s sweet corn and determines that it is contaminated by pesticides and pollen from GE corn. Her upset consumers begin to boycott her. The belief that she is an organic producer is stripped away. She must now sell her produce conventionally at a much lower price. What are her options?

Conner then explores the case in “Coasian” fashion, considering various scenarios depending upon who would be the least-cost avoider of the conflict and who held what rights.

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2 thoughts on “A Coasian look at pesticide and genetic drift

  1. While the “Coasian” view can but may not provide a satisfactory outcome, “moving to the nuisance” should also be considered. That is, which farmer was there first, did the organic farmer move next to the conventional farmer or visa versa did the conventional move next to an organic farm? Knowingly moving next to a “nuisance” certainly should weaken your legal standing Coasian or otherwise.

  2. In Conner’s hypothetical he doesn’t say whether Cameron Conventional or Olivia Organic was in place first. In the Johnson v. Paynesville case, both farmed conventionally as neighbors before the Johnsons switched their fields to organic production in the 1990s. In some sense, then, you could say the Johnson’s incurred the hazard. Presumably pesticide overspray was already present, but not previously a problem.

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