Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Farmegg's Fate

As discussed earlier on Agricultural Law, the Iowa Supreme Court, in Farmegg Products, Inc. v. Humboldt County, 190 N.W.2d 454 (Iowa 1971), held that raising approximately 80,000 chicks for 22 weeks in two large confinement buildings was not a “use for agricultural purposes.” The Iowa Supreme Court interpreted the term “agricultural” in an Iowa zoning statute as having the same meaning as the term “agricultural” in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

IowaPrior to Farmegg, the U.S. Supreme Court had announced the following test for determining whether labor activities were “agricultural” and hence exempt from FLSA regulations: “Whether a particular type of activity is agricultural depends, in large measure, upon the way in which that activity is organized…The question is whether the activity in the particular case is carried on as part of the agricultural function or is separately organized as an independent productive activity.” Farmers Reservoir & Irrigation Co. v. McComb, 337 U.S. 755 (1949). In Farmegg, the Court held that the Farmers Reservoir definition of “agricultural” should be used to determine whether land uses were agricultural and hence exempt from county zoning ordinances. For 24 years, Farmegg remained the law in Iowa.

In 1996, the Iowa Supreme Court finally overruled Farmegg in Kuehl v. Cass County, 555 N.W.2d 686 (Iowa 1996). The Court noted that it had erred in Farmegg when it adopted the Farmers Reservoir definition of “agricultural”. “In reconsidering this issue,” said the Iowa Supreme Court in Kuehl, “we are satisfied that defining ‘agricultural’ as an occupation is an entirely different matter than attempting to define agricultural uses of buildings and other structures for purposes of zoning laws.”

While Farmegg is no longer good law, it remains an entertaining read. More importantly, Farmegg provides an example of a court's early attempt to grapple with the issue of whether changes in the structure of the agricultural industry should influence how courts interpret the term "agriculture."