What is Agricultural Law?
Agricultural Law was first recognized in the U.S. as a separate discipline in the 1940s, with law schools including Harvard, Yale, Texas, and Iowa all reporting early (but short-lived) studies in this area. The real beginning of the discipline is more accurately traced to the late 1970s and 1980s when there was significant activity in law schools and among practicing attorneys who specialized their services. The LL.M. Program in Agricultural Law at the University of Arkansas and the American Agricultural Law Association were both founded during this time period. Since that time, agricultural law has been recognized as a specialized discipline.
For citations as well as additional history and discussion, see Susan A. Schneider, A Reconsideration of Agricultural Law: A Call for the Law of Food, Farming, and Sustainability, W'm & Mary Envtl. L. Rev. (2010).
Agricultural Law has been defined as the study of the network of laws and policies that apply to the production, marketing, and sale of agricultural products - the food we eat, the natural fibers we wear or the bio-products we create, including the bio-fuels that run our vehicles. Some agricultural law attorneys represent farmers, but others represent the many other interests involved in the sector: agri-business, financial institutions lending to the sector, farm workers, cooperatives, and others. Many advocacy groups that seek policy solutions to challenges posed by agricultural production practices also need agricultural law expertise - environmental groups, animal welfare groups, public health interests, etc.
For thoughts on how to approach teaching an agricultural law course, See, Susan Schneider, What is Agricultural Law?, an article prepared for an AALS Presentation by the Agricultural Law Section of the American Association of Law Schools (2009).
How does Agricultural Law Compare to Food Law & Policy?
Food Law & Policy is the study of the legal framework of our food system, from production through consumption. It includes many agricultural law issues that relate to food production but also incorporates more traditional elements of food law such as nutrition labeling and food safety in processing. It also looks at important policy issues that impact our food system such as food justice, food waste, climate change, food assistance, farmed animal welfare, environmental factors to name just a few. The two fields can best be viewed as concentric circles, with a large overlap in the middle.
For more discussion of the interplay between agricultural law, food law, and the new field of food law & policy, see Baylen Linnekin and Emily Broad Leib, Food Law & Policy: The Fertile Field's Origins and First Decade, Wisc. L. Rev. 557 (2014).
In order to clearly cover both disciplines, the LL.M. Program in Agricultural Law became the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law in 2009. And, the AALS Agricultural Law section followed suit, changing its name to Agricultural & Food Law.
New General Resources
For some interesting mapping regarding agricultural production, check out these story maps:
Farming for the Future (How science, data, and location intelligence support sustainable U.S. agriculture)
Documents & Links
The resources for this chapter are divided according to source: USDA published reports, Congressional Research Service reports, and other published reports. Note, however, that the topics in this more general chapter of the book overlap with a number of other chapters. Please refer to those pages for specific resources. For example, all farm bill and farm program resources are found on the Economic Support to Agriculture page.
Relevant USDA Reports Related to this Chapter
NOTE: The results from the 2017 National Census of Agriculture are available, and USDA NASS has prepared highlights that provide the updated information in an easy-to-use manner. These highlights are available on the USDA NASS Census of Ag website. These statistics can be used to update the references to the 2012 statistics in the text.
Consolidation in the Dairy Industry, USDA, ERS, Econ. Res. Rept. 274 (July 2020)
Developing Automation and Mechanization for Specialty Crops: A Review of U.S. Department of Agriculture Programs, USDA, ERS (Feb. 5, 2020)
Beginning Farm Operators and Spouses More Likely To Work Off the Farm Than Established Counterparts, USDA, ERS (Feb. 3, 2020)
In Recent Years, Most Expiring Land in the Conservation Reserve Program Returned to Crop Production, USDA, ERS (Feb. 3, 2020)
Lettuce Help: USDA Data on Shipments of Romaine Lettuce Can Inform Foodborne Illness Outbreak Investigations and Public Health Advisories, USDA, ERS (Feb. 3, 2020)
Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture Continues, USDA, ERS (Feb. 2, 2020)
Economic Drivers of Food Loss at the Farm and Pre-Retail Sectors: A Look at the Produce Supply Chain in the United States, USDA, ERS (Jan. 23, 2020)
Rural America At a Glance, 2019 Edition, USDA, ERS (Nov. 2019). This annual report highlights recent social and economic conditions in rural America, focusing on trends in population, employment, poverty, and income. The USDA also has a webinar that discusses the findings, now posted to USDA's YouTube page. Webinar: Rural America at a Glance, 2019 Edition.
Rural America At a Glance, 2018 Edition, USDA, ERS (Nov. 2018).
Lower Conventional Corn Prices and Strong Demand for Organic Livestock Feed Spurred Increased U.S. Organic Corn Production in 2016, USDA, Amber Waves (June 4, 2018).
More Microloans Issued in Regions With Higher Concentrations of Small Farms and Beginning Farmers, Women, and Minorities, USDA, Amber Waves (Apr. 2, 2018).
Examining Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture, USDA, Amber Waves (Mar. 14, 2018).
Three Decades of Consolidation in U.S. Agriculture, USDA, ERS, Econ. Inform. Bull. 189 (Mar. 2018).
Older Operators Often Run Small Family Farms, Particularly Retirement and Low-Sales Farms, USDA, Amber Waves (Mar. 5, 2018).
USDA Agricultural Projections to 2027, USDA, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agric. Outlook Bd,
Long-term Projections Rep. OCE-2018-1 (Feb. 2018).
Progress and Challenges in Global Food Security, USDA, Amber Waves (Feb. 5, 2018).
U.S. Cropland is Consolidating in Larger Farms, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Dec. 2017) (including compelling graphs and statistics).
America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition, USDA, ERS, Econ. Inform. Bull. 185 (Dec. 2017).
Mergers and Competition in Seed and Agricultural Chemical Markets, USDA, ERS, Amber Waves (Apr. 2017).
USDA ERS, Farmland Ownership and Tenure (Apr. 10, 2017) (New graphics and analysis on farmland tenure and use).
2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) Survey, USDA, ERS (Mar. 2, 2017) (Details about agricultural land for 25 States, 6 regions, and the contiguous United States).
USDA Agricultural Projections to 2026, Interagency Agricultural Projections Committee, Office of the Chief Economist, World Agricultural Outlook Board, USDA, Long-term Projections Rep. OCE-2017-1 (Feb. 2017).
Secretary Tom Vilsack, The People’s Department: Growing a Stronger and Healthier Future for America, Cabinet Exit Memo (Jan. 5, 2017).
Christopher Burns and Ryan Kuhns, The Changing Organization and Well-Being of Midsize U.S. Farms, 1992-2014, USDA, ERS, Econ. Res. Rep. ERR-219 (Oct. 2016).
Rosanna Mentzer Morrison, Selected Charts 2016, Ag and Food Statistics: Charting the Essentials, USDA, ERS, Admin. Pub. AP-073 (Oct. 2016).
Farrin, Katie, Mario J. Miranda, and Erik O’Donoghue, How Do Time and Money Affect Agricultural Insurance Uptake? A New Approach to Farm Risk Management Analysis, USDA, ERS, ERR-212, (Aug. 2016).
Relevant Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports:
These reports are now available directly on the CRS website.
Hemp as an Agricultural Commodity, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. RL32725 (July 9 , 2018).
Agriculture and Related Agencies: FY2019 Appropriations, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. 45230 (June 18, 2018).
Agricultural Disaster Assistance, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. RS21212 (July 27, 2017).
Agricultural Conservation: A Guide to Programs, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R40763 (July 13, 2017).
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and U.S. Agriculture, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R44875 (June 22, 2017).
NASS and U.S. Crop Production Forecasts: Methods and Issues, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R44814 (Apr. 13, 2017).
Science and Technology Issues in the 115th Congress, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R44786 (Mar. 14, 2017).
Defining "Industrial Hemp": A Fact Sheet, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R44742 (Mar. 6, 2017).
U.S. Farm Income Outlook for 2017, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R40152 (Feb. 14, 2017).
Agricultural Research: Background and Issues, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. R40819
(Oct. 6, 2016).
U.S. Farm Income Outlook for 2016, Cong. Res. Serv. Rep. No. R40152 (Sept. 7, 2016).
Allen Olson, Climate Change and The Next Farm Bill, Institute of Agric. L. & Climate Change (Dec. 11, 2015).
Allen Olson, Ag Law & Climate Change Powerpoint Presentation, Institute of Agric. L. & Climate Change (2015).
The 9-Billion People Question, The Economist (Feb. 24, 2011).
Letter from Bill Gates, 2012 Annual Bill and Melinda Gates Letter, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website (Jan. 2012).
Daniele Giovannucci, Sara Scherr, Danielle Nierenberg, Charlotte Hebebrand, Julie Shapiro, Jeffrey Milder, and Keith Wheeler, Food and Agriculture: The Future of Sustainability, Sustainable Development in the 21st century (SD21) Project, Division for Sustainable Development, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, United Nations (2012).
Neil D. Hamilton, Harvesting the Law: Personal Reflections on Thirty Years of Change in Agricultural Legislation, 46 CREIGHTON L. REV. 563 (2013).
Olivier De Schutter, Final Report: The Transformative Potential Of The Right To Food, Report of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, submitted to the Human Rights Council (Jan. 2014).
Nicole Civita, Resilience: The Food Policy Imperative for a Volatile Future, 45 ENVTL L. REP. 10,663 (2015).
General Legal Resources
U.S. Code (statutes)
Agricultural Law Resources
Professor Neil Hamilton, the Dwight D. Opperman Chair of Law and Director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University Law School in Des Moines, Iowa has been a worldwide leader in agricultural law teaching and scholarship for decades. In addition to his classes at Drake, Professor Hamilton teaches an introduction to agricultural policy class in the LL.M. Program in Agricultural & Food Law at the University of Arkansas School of Law.
2010 - present
2010 - present