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NC State Extension

About the Agricultural and Natural Resource Law Portal

Welcome to the Agricultural and Natural Resource Law portal for North Carolina Cooperative Extension.

Agricultural and Natural Resource Law is a catch-all term for all manner of legal issues concerning the resources supporting the business of farming and land ownership, management and development of its natural resource potential. Specific legal topics addressed in this portal include Agriculture law, Energy Law, Environmental and Natural Resource Regulation law, Zoning and Land Use and Water law. This portal addresses legal issues concerning Estate Planning and Farm Transfer, land acquisition, and the list goes on. The focus of this portal will be to synthesize these various areas as they relate to the ownership, management, transfer, and operation of businesses upon and interests in rural lands.

Relevant laws include state and federal laws related to production and marketing of farm products, laws concerning liability, laws related to land title and land use, environmental laws, food laws, labor laws, inheritance laws. This portal will be our effort to keep you updated on developments in the law, fact sheets on various legal matters and programs, as well as decision-support resources on addressing effective legal risk management.

Agricultural Law Issues.

Agriculture Law generally describes the federal, state and local laws, taxes and regulations concerning the production, sale, transportation and processing of agricultural food and fiber products of all kinds (crops, plants, livestock, etc.). Agriculture Law topics include:

  • production contracts
  • production incentives
  • risk management and insurance
  • contracts related to sale of and payment for farm products
  • food safety
  • agritourism
  • forestry
  • debtor/creditor law
  • farm labor
  • transportation

Energy Law covers laws concerning promotion, regulation and safety, and advancements in the exploration, acquisition, development, production, marketing and distribution of energy from renewable and conventional sources in North Carolina and beyond. Energy Law addresses two broad categories of discussion:

  • The legal principles concerning the exploration for, access to, and the production of energy.  This category includes the production of natural gas through hydraulic fracturing of fossil deposits and from biological waste, e.g., poultry litter, and production of electricity from renewable sources that include the sun, wind, and moving water.
  • The manner in which our legal system regulates the provision and distribution of the energy needed for agricultural and forestry operations. This includes the provision of adequate supplies of fuel for transportation, drying, and processing of farm and forest products, as well as the production of inputs such as fertilizer.

Environmental and Natural Resource Regulation generally concerns laws related to how and when farming and other land use activities impact ecosystem processes and the health of soil, air, water in a manner detrimental to wildlife and people.

This is a broad area of law that includes legislation, regulations on their application and enforcement, and judicial decisions interpreting their scope and permissible impact and limitations on human commerce.

Zoning and Land Use Law. Land ownership and its use are conditionally protected by the United States Constitution. Over the course of almost a millennium of English and American jurisprudence, the law has recognized that certain land uses cause unreasonable harm to neighboring landowners or the public at large.

The law has long recognized trespass, nuisance, both public and private, as well as other legal concepts, as both limiting and protecting the rights of landowners. More recently, both Federal and State statutes have protected the value that natural resources provide, measured as ecosystem services that include clean water and air quality wildlife and fish, and tourism.

The Land Use law resources cover the intersection where the legal rights of property ownership and use meet the rights of the public and other landowners- by government regulation or private action – to limit certain rights and uses. Topics include:

  • forms of land ownership
  • how ownership rights are acquired
  • how property is zoned by local government
  • how types and levels of use may be restricted by neighbor action and government regulation.
  • how society provides landowners incentives — through limitations of tort liability
  • Cash payments and tax deductions — to pursue certain land uses over others — which include examples such as:
    • conservation easements
    • stream mitigation

Estate Planning and Farm Transition. Black’s Law Dictionary defines Estate Planning as “that branch of the law which, in arranging a person’s property and estate, takes into account the laws of wills, taxes, insurance, property [ownership] and trusts so as to gain maximum benefit of all laws while carrying out the person’s own wishes for the disposition of his [or her] property upon his [or her] death.” More simply put, Estate Planning is the series of decisions you make about how and when and to whom you will rid yourself of your accumulated property, a/k/a your “stuff,” during life or at death.

Estate planning decisions are more often written down to reduce the risk of unintended transfers. However, sometimes one decides not to decide, whereupon state law defines and prescribes the recipients of and the process for distributing such interests (called “intestate succession”). The resources and discussions found in this portal are designed to help you put your estate planning decisions down on paper in their proper form to give them legal effect, and to help ensure such assets are protected against needless transfer costs and the claims of those to whom you do not want to transfer your property.

While the topics and recourses here will deal generally with wills, trusts, property ownership and titling, transfer taxes, probate and the like applying to all property transfers, we place particular emphasis on how such concepts relate to transferring those assets critical to farm and forest production (i.e. “farm transition”).

Of further focus will be “farm business succession,” the development of strategies and tactics to transfer working assets (e.g. supporting a business concern) so as to minimize any disruption in the income streams from (and costs of managing) such working assets. Topics related here will include business entities (e.g. limited liability company), titling of assets, contracts, leases, business valuation, use of life insurance, and communication.