In a move that signals support for Minnesota’s organic farmers, a Court of Appeals ruled on July 25th that pesticides drifting onto a neighbor’s organic fields are trespassing. The suit was brought by Oluf and Debra Johnson. They charged Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company with ruining the organic designation of part of their fields by spraying on windy days. The affected fields had to be taken out of organic production for three years.
The Johnsons made the shift to organic in the mid-1990s because of higher prices for organic crops and seeds. According to the St. Cloud Times, “They posted signs noting that the farm was organic, created a buffer between their property and neighboring farms and asked the co-op to take precautions to avoid overspraying.”
This was not the first time the Johnsons had attempted to stop the pesticide drift. The co-op was cited by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture four times between 1998 and 2008 for damaging the Johnsons’ organic crops, causing them to sell their harvest at a lower price and take fields out of production. When the Johnsons sued, their district court dismissed the claims, stating particulate matter could not trespass.
Judge Ross of the Minnesota Court of Appeals saw the matter differently. Though agreeing Minnesota had no such laws, he cited rulings in other states. The case will now go back to the district court, where the Johnsons can claim losses caused by contamination of their fields.
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