Debrief of AALA Conference

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As I stated in this previous post, I spent last Thursday thru Saturday at the American Agriculture Law Association (“AALA”) Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia.  Next year’s conference will be held in Omaha, Nebraska.  I find conferences like this rejuvenating.  It’s great to meet other agriculture attorneys around the country to help strengthen a passion for agriculture law.  As I mentioned in this previous blog, “agriculture law” includes an incredible amount of diversity.  That variety was certainly demonstrated in this year’s conference.

A highlight of the conference for me was listening to U.S. Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) Secretary Vilsack.  He spoke briefly about some of the projects that the projects that USDA is working on including investing monies for broadband in rural areas.  He also noted some of USDA’s policies on civil rights, international trade, and support for both biotechnology and organic agriculture.  Additionally, Vilsack also briefly touched on some frustrations of his position including the long administrative rule-making process (i.e., under the Administrative Procedure Act, rules can take 12 to 36 months to promulgate).  I was impressed with Secretary Vilsack’s understanding and love for Rural America.

In this digital world, it is easy to have electronic relationships with people.  Social media has allowed me to connect with many farmers, ranchers, businessman (and women), and attorneys that I would not have met otherwise.  I finally had the opportunity to meet two other agriculture attorneys in person that I met soley through twitterCraig Raysor (@AgriLawyer on twitter), an associate at Gillon & Associates, PLLC in Collierville, Tennessee, and Jennifer Williams Zwagerman (@Willi568 on twitter), an associate at Faegre & Benson LLP in Des Moines, Iowa.  Craig also has a blog on Seed Law that I recommend following.

As an aside, this is exactly why I think twitter is important for the ag community:  facebook and linkedin are more about “who you know” while twitter is about “people you want to know.”  I have found an incredible community of ag enthusiasts on twitter and was excited to finally meet Craig and Jennifer in real life (“IRL”).  As noted in this blog, there is a great list of ag tweeps available here including other agriculture lawyers that I have not had the opportunity to meet yet.  I also recommend reading this social media guide prepared by the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.  Still not convinced?  Listen to the inspiring ag communicator Michele Payn-Knoper (@mpaynknoper on twitter and founder of #agchat) discuss why the ag community needs a voice in social media on this video blog.

To begin the plenary session, the American Bar Association‘s Ag Finance Subcommittee discussed “Land Use and Developments in Wind Energy Production.”  David Levy from Baird Holm LLP in Omaha, Nebraska delved into the implications of local land use and zoning regulations on wind use development and gave a cursory overview of wind leases.  Midwest Wind Energy was also there to discuss wind energy from a developers prospective and the importance that developers have a good rapport with farmers and ranchers.  As I noted in this legal publication, wind leases should not be entered into lightly by landowners and it is strongly recommended that farmers and ranchers seek legal counsel before entering into a wind lease.

Next, annual updates were given by Prof. Keith Meyer (“UCC Developments and Agriculture Interests”), Prof. Philip Harris (“Tax Law Developments Affecting Agriculture”), Jeffrey Peterson (“Update on Agriculture Bankruptcy”), Prof. Anthony Schultz (“Environmental Law and Agriculture”), Prof. Susan Schneider (“New Developments in Food Law”), David Grahn (“The New Farm Bill:  Implementation and Policy”), Prof. Jesse Richardson (“Land Use Law:  The Return of the Frontier”), and Prof. Neil Hamilton (“Sustainability, Organic and Local Production and Energy”).  Feel free to contact me if you would like for me to provide more information from these speakers and updates in these areas of law.

After the plenary session, there were several more in-depth sessions in various areas of agriculture law.  I attended the break-out sessions on “Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”) developments and Agriculture Interests,” “Farm Transition and Estate Planning,” and on the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) and biotechnology.  I was particularly inspired by the session on farm estate planning.  Over the last few years, this has become a strong passion of mine.  I believe that it is important for farm families to seek guidance from an attorney to help ensure that the farm or ranch gets passed smoothly to the next generation.  Farm families need to have more open communication about plans for the future.  For example, in my own farm family, my brother and I will each inherent half of my parents’ estate– but what if my brother decides to sell his half?  There are ways to help ensure that the farm stays intact for generations to come.

There were also some incredible special sessions that I was not able to attend (if I could pick any superpower in the world, I would want to have the ability to be two places at the same time).  These sessions include:  Developments on Antitrust Law in Agriculture-Related Industries, Wind, Wetlands & Climate Change, Tax Law Developments, Farmland Preservation, Sustainability, Organic and Local Production, Biosecurity, Regulation of Alternative/Local Agriculture, Concentration and Competition, Taxation of Natural Resources, Intellectual Property Issues, Practice before Administrative Agencies, Bio-energy, and Ethical Issues in Representing Nonprofits.

Overall, it was great conference and well worth the 7 hour drive to Williamsburg.  In my opinion, AALA is an invaluable resource for agriculture attorneys.  If you are a law student or attorney interested in agriculture law, I highly recommend becoming a member of AALA.  Not only does the organization provide a network of other agriculture attorneys around the country, but AALA membership also provides a monthly newsletter and listserv to keep members abreast of current trends and legal issues affecting the agriculture industry.  I met several law students from Drake University, School of Law, and the University of Arkansas, School of Law (the two leading agriculture law programs in the country).  If you are a poor law student (or future poor law student), AALA has funding available to assist law students with travel expenses and registration fees.

Feel free to contact myself or Robert Achenbach, President of AALA, at if you have any specific questions about AALA.  Conference materials can also be ordered for a reasonable fee.

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