Navigating Federal Laws on Farm Labor

This morning agency representatives and professionals hosted a session at the Vermont State House devoted to understanding labor laws for agricultural employers. Agricultural employers cannot expect to be experts on these topics but they must be aware of the important issues and understand when it is essential to contact specialists to assess specific situations.

Today’s topics included key provisions of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and an introduction to potential exemptions for agricultural businesses. It was explained that the Wage and Hour determinations are based on a week of work. So if you have an agricultural employee working 38 hours in the field picking strawberries and that same worker spends just 3 hours in the farm retail store running a register…that entire week could be considered non-agricultural and subject to FLSA (wages and overtime were the most common discussion topics). Notice I said “could be” as it could vary based on if the store sells strawberry jam or if other products from other farms are resold in the store. There are a variety of agricultural exemptions that should be understood thoroughly to ensure a business remains in compliance with the law.

And for the details… here are several of the resources that were referenced.  US Department of Labor Fact Sheets: #71 Interships, #13 Relationship Determinations, #26 H-2-A, #12 AG Employees, #14 Coverage, #50 Trasportation, #49 Migrant and Seasonals, #40/43 Youth.

To access these sheets, click this link to the DOL Wage and Hour Fact Sheets online.

The US Department of Labor has a district office in New Hampshire that can be contacted at information listed here:

Milking Pigs: An Emerging Market

This was posted as an April Fools joke on April 1, 2014.

We are not aware of any activity that resembles the post written below but we had quite a bit of fun exploring the possibilities. Enjoy.

Here in Vermont we have a small number pig milk start-ups that are combining new research and some good-old creativity to find a niche.Farm business adviser Sam Smith at the Intervale Center says, “I see pig milk and the related products as the next big opportunity for our producers here in Vermont.  We have a couple of farmers who have been experimenting and their success has led me to think this is going to be a very lucrative market.  If you look at it purely from the perspective of the number of teats per animal, you have three times the amount of teats than a cow, which means three times the profitability!”

What are the reasons for pigs milk? First is the potential to ramp up production quickly.  Pig breeding cycles are relatively short making it easy for a farmer to build a herd of milking pigs quickly.  Smith says “This is another game changer when compared to cow or goat dairies.  You can have a pig dairy online in under six months with a lower capital investment, a great option for beginning farmers. And when you need replacement pigs you have plenty to choose from.” 

 Pigs, like humans, are a mono gastric species that digests  food with one stomach. With a diet closer to humans than cows, pigs milk is also more similar to human breast milk. This amounts to a more digestible and less allergy prone-product.  Artisan cheese makers have also been experimenting with the milk as a potential way to further diversify their offerings.  Alison Lancet, who operates the farmstead cheese operation magnolia dairy said “We have produced some wonderful blooming rind cheeses with pig’s milk, and plan to have them for sale within the next three months.” Pigs milk is high in fat and is considered ideal for new products like restorative health products. These are part food and part medicine to assist in treating nutritional problems and skin conditions.

Locavore groups nationally have noted that many regulations placed on direct on-farm milk sales are specific to cow or goats milk. Pigs milk is seen as a way to promote community access to farm based products without conflicting with current regulations.

Industry leaders have quietly been evaluating other products too. Many people don’t know that the once iconic 100% pig-skin football has been replaced with mix of natural and synthetic materials to improve it’s grip. Recent pig breeding programs focused on improvements to meat yields had the trade-off of leaner animals which impacted the texture of pig skin. Since 2002 a partnership between American football companies and several in Australian have been evaluating pig skin trials from heritage pig breeds. These are the same breeds being evaluated for dairy production! What a great fit for high school sports programs re-evaluating ways to integrate sustainability into student learning!

New Dairy Grant$ :Business Plan Review Available for Applicants

A new round of grants for dairy farmers that are members of the St. Albans Cooperative was announced on March 14th. Funds donated by Commonwealth Dairy to the VT Housing and Conservation Board will support the grants program. Grant proposals up to $40,000 each will be accepted. Farm applicants will be required to submit a business plan with their application for the grant and UVM Extension Farm Viability will be available to provide pre-review of  business plans before they are  submitted with  applications.

Any farms that would like to get their business plan reviewed before application must contact Liz Gleason at the Vermont Farm and Forest Viability Program, 802-828-3370 or email at Go to this link for all the information you need about the grants program.

The grant application deadline is April 28th. Farms must remember that  pre-review  requires the submission of  plans in advance of April 28th to allow ample time for review and revisions. Follow the link above for more details.

REd Barn



Health Care Changes for Farms

Vermont Health Connect has been providing information sessions about important changes to health care enrollment for farmers.  Most recently they have developed this guide:VT Health Connect Ag Producer Resource Packet 3.3.14.

This is a critical time for businesses and individuals. There is a March 15th sign up deadline for individuals seeking coverage to begin April 1st. Many group association plans that farmers have traditionally enrolled through will expire on March 31st.

Click the link above to open the most recent VT Health Connect guide and find details, frequently asked questions and important contacts.


IRS Publication 225: Farmer’s Tax Guide

It is the time of year for many questions that lead back to tax preparation.

Here is a link to the current IRS Farmer’s Tax Guide

We are also seeing more scrutiny being placed on the distinction between “agricultural” employees compared to “retail” or “non-ag” employees. Owners of businesses that diversify,  take on retail operations or manage  non-traditional farm activities will want to get familiar with the legal thresholds on employee classification. Read more in the IRS Publication 51: Agricultural Employers Tax Guide. Look at sections relating to Form 943 starting on page 18.

IRS pub 51 ag employers



2014 Planned Grazing Charts Available: Plan for profitable grazing!

I see green ($) when I see well managed pastures. Improved pasture management can lead to increased weight grain per day for meat production and improved income over feed costs in dairy operations.

Troy Bishopp at Central New York RC&D has just posted new 2014-15 Planned Grazing Charts. Go this link to download a chart for yourself:

Charts are available for 10,20 and up to 40 paddock systems

22 graze plan close up

Problems with Employee Housing

Here is a question that we received this week, “….I am a farm owner and I have employees that live in housing on the farm. What are my rights or responsibilities if I decide to terminate the employee or terminate the housing agreement? Since the housing is linked to employment is this different than a standard renter/landlord situation?”

There are a variety of things to consider when setting up a housing agreement with a farm employee. There are also a number of laws that needs to be considered. In 2010 the VT Legislature passed Act 89 “An Act Relating to the Termination of Occupancy of Farm Employee Housing”. Click Here to read Act 89: ACT089_VT Statute

UVM Extension Farming Across Cultures Program has also posted this resource sheet that describes the specific steps a farm owner/landlord can take if employment or housing arrangements are to be terminated. Click this link to their:

Farm owners can also contact the VT Department of Housing and Community Development to find resources for  landlords. Click here for their website:

Afforable Care Act: Essential Info for Farm Employers

Despite the lack of clarity and challenges of the new national Affordable Care Act, farm employers must prepare to set up the appropriate health care options for their employees (or make the accurate determination that no plans will be offered).

Farm Credit East just posted a detailed webinar: (click below to link to webinar)

The Affordable Care Act:What Farmers Need to Know

Farm owners and farm business advisers should review this material and plan to keep up with current news to determine if and how they need to provide coverage for employees. * It is important to research the specific policies in each state. For example, the State of Vermont law only provides an exemption for 4 or less employees. That is very different than the federal exemption of 50 or less employees. Farms in VT whose employee base meets the criteria of 5 or more full time employees may  be required to provide health care or to pay a penalty if care is not provided.

Vermont farm owners can research their particular situation at VT Health Connect: Small Business Resources