The U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Minnesota Supreme Court decision that prohibits Minnesota organic farmers from recovering against pesticide applicators for financial harm stemming from loss of organic certification due to pesticide drift or overspray.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision leaves in place the ruling in Johnson v. Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Co.
Minnesota organic farmers say they are now operating in an uncertain regulatory environment in which U.S. Department of Agriculture requirements and Minnesota requirements are at odds with respect to decertification of fields that have experienced pesticide drift.
According to the latest census data, Minnesota ranks fourth in the nation in the number of certified organic farm acres and seventh in the number of certified organic farms.
“We are disappointed by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision not to review a misguided ruling that unfairly penalizes Minnesota organic farmers who are victims of pesticide drift,” said FLAG Staff Attorney Amanda N. Heyman, who authored the petition to the Supreme Court.
“Minnesota organic farmers and organic certifiers are now in a tough position; they are caught between conflicting state and federal laws. We are confident, however, that the organic community will come together to help craft a solution to this unfortunate situation.”
In 2005, 2007, and 2008, Minnesota organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson’s organic farm fields were decertified due to contamination from pesticide overspray by commercial pesticide applicator Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company, the defendant in the case.
When the Johnsons sued the pesticide applicator for damages caused by the overspray, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the company was not responsible for financial harm related to organic decertification.
The Court also held that the organic certifying agent interpreted the federal organic regulations incorrectly and was wrong to decertify the Johnsons’ organic farmland.
Farmers’ Legal Action Group, Inc. filed a petition for writ of certiorari in December 2012 asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the portion of the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling interpreting the federal organic regulations.
FLAG is a nonprofit law center in St. Paul, Minnesota, dedicated to providing legal services and support to family farmers and their communities in order to help keep family farmers on the land.