Liability, Succession, and Finding Farm’s Full Potential

February 12, 2016    |  

Three legal specialists from the University of Maryland Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) presented on a variety of topics at the 15th Annual Mid-Atlantic Women in Agriculture Conference Feb. 11 at the Dover Downs Hotel and Casino. 

Ashley Ellixson, Extension Legal Specialist with the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, started off the morning educating operators on how to reduce exposure to landowner liability claims and agritourism issues. Ellixson explained that landowners have differing legal responsibilities to protect visitors to their farms, depending on the status of the visitors, be they trespassers, social guests or customers. "Hiring and firing practices are extremely important for producers and are often overlooked,” Ellixson said. “Having employee trainings on safety and requiring that they all read and are given an employee handbook is a great place to start." Ellixson also provided liability limitation strategies for U-pick and agritourism operators, and offered a sample liability waiver drafted by ALEI and available on the ALEI website

Misunderstandings, poor advice, and neglect often lead to costly and difficult estate transitions, explained Extension Legal Specialist Paul Goeringer. Goeringer told conference attendees that a farm transition plan is an integral part of their farm businesses. “Starting the farm succession process is not easy,” he said, adding that his goal was to “get the participants thinking about developing and strengthening their farm succession.” Goeringer provided strategies for getting started in developing a transition or estate plan to better prepare the next generation of farmers.

ALEI’s Sarah Everhart, JD, adjunct professor at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, talked about understanding a property’s full potential. The first step, she said, is to understand the legal ownership structure.  Everhart described the impact that easements, covenants and most importantly zoning can have on the ability to fully utilize farm lands. “You have no vested legal right to your zoning designation,” she told attendees. “What does this mean? You own your property not your zoning designation. Zoning can change over time. You have to monitor your local jurisdiction’s zoning meetings and actions, participate in the comprehensive rezoning process and be an advocate for your property.”

For more information on these issues, take a look at these ALEI publications, “Understanding Agriculture Liability- Premise’s Liability” and “Estate Planning for Maryland Farm Families.”  These and other publications are available at ALEI’s website

About the Agriculture Law Education Initiative

The Agriculture Law Education Initiative (ALEI) is a collaboration of three distinguished University of Maryland institutions: the Francis King Carey School of Law in Baltimore, the College of Agriculture & Natural Resources in College Park, and the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Princess Anne. ALEI is supported by MPowering the State and by the Maryland General Assembly.  University of Maryland: MPowering the State is a strategic partnership between the University of Maryland, College Park and the University of Maryland, Baltimore to significantly expand research collaborations, business development, and student opportunities at both institutions.