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.