The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled today that pesticide drifting across property lines onto an organic farmer’s crop does not constitute a trespass under state law. The court dismissed the trespass claim as well as accompanying claims asserting nuisance and negligence under laws that govern organic farming. The organic farming laws regulate what a producer can apply to his own crop, but not what may drift onto the crop from elsewhere. However, the court ruled that additional nuisance and negligence claims not grounded in the organic farming laws could advance, and that portion of the suit was remanded to a lower court for further action. The case is Johnson v. Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company.
The case has become somewhat noteworthy within the organic farming community as an effort in which a small organic family farmer is battling against big, conventional agriculture. (Example.)
We’ve been following it more for its potential as an example of Coasian-style clarification of property rights, which done well can promote efficient resolution of such conflicts. The case might, eventually, bring clarity to the property rights held by neighboring farmers with respect to unwanted pesticide drift in Minnesota. Whether it does bring clarity will depend on what the lower court now does with the Minnesota Supreme Court’s ruling.
NOTES: We have discussed the case here before, Lynne with Coase, legal liability, and pesticide drift) and me with A Coasian look at pesticide and genetic drift). Additional background information available at those links. You can view the supreme court hearing in the case, from February 2012, at this link.
From the New York Times: 2nd Day of Power Failures Cripple Wide Swath of India
It had all the makings of a disaster movie: More than half a billion people without power. Trains motionless on the tracks. Miners trapped underground. Subway lines paralyzed. Traffic snarled in much of the national capital.
On Tuesday, India suffered the largest electrical blackout in history, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the world’s population. Three of the country’s interconnected northern power grids collapsed for several hours, as blackouts extended almost 2,000 miles, from India’s eastern border with Myanmar to its western border with Pakistan.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, India’s largest electrical blackout in history shows how much it has grown. Such a widespread outage means the Indian electrical system has grown large and has become thoroughly interconnected. Not so many years ago the system had too many locally unreliable parts to have brought about such a widespread failure. (And even now, as the article pointed out, “many people in major cities barely noticed the disruption because localized blackouts are so common that many businesses, hospitals, offices and middle-class homes have backup diesel fuel generators.”)
The article highlights some of problems that emerge with local political involvement in interconnected power system operations. Regional dispatch areas may have been able to avoid the blackout through coordinated use of rolling blackouts, but regional power system managers are appointed by local political authorities and are loathe to cut off their area’s customers for the benefit of power consumers elsewhere.
It is easy to say that they should have better procedures in place, but the United States power system has had its share of large-scale blackouts. Here, as elsewhere, experience provides the lesson and motivates improvements.