Friday, January 25, 2008

2008 AALS Program - Agricultural Law Section

The program was a success. We drew in a great crowd at 3:30 PM on Saturday afternoon in New York City. Below is a recap. Following the link to the remainder of the post will reveal screen shots of each presenter's slides that are linked to the presenter's powerpoint materials.

Mr. Schutz introduced the speakers, linking together their subjects with the theme of the event. Those comments can be accessed here. The main thesis was that increasing pressure on production agriculture to provide more food and fiber, as well as energy, will have profound effects on the legal regimes we use. Those effects could be grouped into two sorts of categories as we think about the energy future of agriculture: a fundamental paradigm shift in the policy focus of agricultural law or more incremental changes in the legal tools we use. These two categories merge when we consider the opportunities created by energy agriculture. That is, if policy goals shift, it may create room to implement some of the changes that ag law academics have been seeking for decades. Mr. Schutz offered environmental regulation as an example of the opportunity that energy agriculture may provide to improve how we deal with agriculture's environmental harms. Of course, some may prefer to think of this as a need exacerbated by a more intense energy focus, but the changing political dynamics of ag as energy provider (and increased producer profitability in the short term) could also influence the adoption of new approaches.

With that introduction, the speakers proceeded to discuss the changes and challenges facing agriculture and the law that governs it.

Read the rest of this post . . . .

Mr. Hamilton's talk was based on a paper he prepared for the event entitled "The Future of Bio-Fuels and the Limitations of Corn-Based Ethanol".

His presentation discussed the problems of corn-based ethanol production in the United States and the importance of ethanol to agriculture and the United States. From there, he drew some interesting links between domestic efforts and the exploitation of agricultural lands in other countries and the attendant environmental consequences. He concluded with some thoughts concerning the future of biofuels in the United States and the problems that we may encounter. One item of particular concern is increasing land prices. As many of you well know and remember, collapses in agricultural land values and commodity prices have let to multiple farm crises in the past, with each one garnering a political response. Is our current policy, in some sense, heading down a path well trodden?

Mr. Ruhl's presentation was based on a paper that is set to be published in the NYU Environmental Law Review, entitled "Agriculture and Ecosystem Services--Fulfilling the Vision of Farms as Multifunctional Production Units." As many of you know, Mr. Ruhl has been a key critic of agriculture's special treatment when it comes to environmental regulation. He has more recently been a strong proponent of integrating ecosystem services and ecosystem-level thinking in the legal tools we use to regulate man's impact on the environment.

In the paper, and in his presentation, he brings the two together, exploring how ecosystem services can be utilized within existing (and yet to come) efforts of controlling the use of agricultural lands. His case study for this thesis is geared at state and local efforts of protecting agricultural lands from encroaching urban development--an effort that will become more and more important was we attempt to raise more food, fiber and energy on less land.

More specifically, he looks at implementing ecosystem services within a farmland transferable development rights (TDR) program in Florida. His presentation highlighted the uncertainty and rough beginnings of local efforts at implementing this state-created TDR program and how it can be more finely tuned by looking to ecosystem services as a method of valuing the TDR created by land use practices on agricultural land and transferred to urban areas where increased development potential is in demand.

Some in the audience questioned the very idea of leveraging the scarcity created by land use regulation in urban areas. And one could question whether utilizing this method to gain environmental benefits from agricultural land is something that can be justified, in economic terms, as rewarding farmers for the positive externalities that improvements in their land uses provide to others. That is, one may argue that we shouldn't compensate farmers for doing something they should be regulated into doing--internalizing the negative externalities of their present land uses. The positive and negative character of production agriculture's external effects (possibly an eye-of-the-beholder problem) aside, TDRs and their implementation represent an increasingly important method of, at once, preserving agricultural lands and encouraging better practices on productive lands. Energy agriculture provides even more reason to concern ourselves with these problems.

Finally, Mr. Kelley provided some thoughts on freshwater scarcity on a global scale. Although he was entirely too generous with his time (graciously allowing questions on Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Ruhl's presentations to occupy much of his allocation), the importance of this topic cannot be understated as the pressure on agricultural production intensifies.

Mr. Kelley began by highlighting the relative scarcity of freshwater supplies on the planet and discussed how much of the supply is currently used by agriculture. From there, he looked at increasing demands for food, fiber and energy being placed on the ag sector in the form of, among other things, better economic conditions for large segments of the world's population and increases in world populations. Those advances, in turn, allow dietary changes and are consequently accompanied by increased demands for food items like meat, a product that takes more water to produce than the staples of these populations' former diets. Thus, Mr. Kelley's slides provide a wealth of information on increasing irrigation in countries like India and water problems facing China. Although our meeting time concluded before Mr. Kelley could present all of his information, his thoughts were intriguing and set the stage for possibly more coverage on this topic in future section events.

Thank you to our speakers, and please forward any thoughts you have for next year's AALS section program. I have been elected to continue as Chair for the upcoming year and I am searching for speakers and topics.


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