Earlier this week, Schwabe, Geffen Mesher and Harvest Capital Company co-hosted the In the Field Agriculture Seminar at the Willamette Heritage Center in Salem.

The seminar addressed key legal, financial, and regulatory issues that Oregon farms face on a daily basis.

For those not able to attend, here are a few key takeaways:

Employee handbooks

Creating an employee handbook may sound like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Farmers who spoke at the seminar said even creating a document of a few pages helped them be able to speak to their employees about the rules and expectations while keeping emotions out of the equation.


While a handbook is not required to be written in a language other than English, it is recommended to have it translated and to provide a training session in another language if your employees do not speak English to ensure that they understand it.  This can provide farms with additional defenses against employee litigation.

Some elements that should be included are a brief introduction explaining the purpose and describing the history of the farm and the workplace culture.  Employers also should ask their employees to sign a form acknowledging they received the handbook and should review the materials at least every two years to ensure they are up to date. See the breakout box to the right for policies to include.


How to develop a winning farm business strategy

Clark Seavert from Oregon State University spoke about success in farming.  Each person defines success differently, but there is at least one factor in common among all successful farms, and that is the ability to reduce risk.

Strategic risk management includes 10 primary steps:

  1. Determine financial health
  2. Determine risk preference
  3. Establish risk goals
  4. Determine risk sources
  5. Identify management alternatives
  6. Estimate likelihoods
  7. Rank management alternatives
  8. Implement plans
  9. Monitor and adjust
  10. Re-plan

That sounds like a lot of work, but there are tools in place to help.

RightRisk Analytics is an online tool that uses real farm data to give farms information that can help them make better and, therefore, lower risk decisions.


Even without an official tool, risk can be managed by documenting and measuring inputs and outcomes on a block-by-block basis to help make decisions such as whether to replace a crop or start growing a new one.

Handbook policies

For small employers with fewer than 20 employees, the handbook should include the following recommended policies:

  • Equal employment opportunity
  • Anti-harassment/anti-discrimination
  • Discipline
  • Standards of conduct
  • Electronic communications
  • Attendance and punctuality
  • Meal periods and rest breaks
  • Employee classification
  • Drug and alcohol
  • Employee benefit plans
  • Jury duty
  • Military leave
  • Overtime
  • Sick and vacation leave
  • Workers’ compensation
  • Dress code 

Larger employers with at least 20 employees must include a crime victims’ leave policy.  Employers with at least 25 employees should include an Oregon Family Medical Leave Act policy.  Employers of 50 or more employees should include a Federal Family Medical Leave Act policy.


Making the most of your water rights, and getting new ones

A water right is an authorization from the state to use water—either surface water or ground water.  With only a few exceptions, a water right is required before it can be diverted or appropriated and put to “beneficial use.”


Common farm water rights are irrigation (ground or surface water, primary and supplemental), small ponds, storage and secondary uses and exempt uses. It is possible to acquire more water rights by applying for new ones, buying or transferring existing water rights, or participating in the conserved water program.  There are also some advisable ways to preserve what you already have: complying with permit/certificate conditions; applying for extensions as needed; using water every five years; and undergoing a water rights audit. Schwabe attorneys have written a “Water Law Basics” paper with more details, which is available here.


Drones in agriculture

Drones with information gathering technology are being used in agriculture to gain efficiencies in farming. Applications include soil and field analysis, planting, crop spraying, crop monitoring and irrigation. Drones can help identify crop stress, identify uneven fertilizer application and discover diseases in plants.


However, the use of drones for commercial purposes is so new that there are not many statutes and rules in place about how to operate them. The Capital Press authored a more detailed article about what operators can and can’t do, as discussed during the drones in agriculture presentation. It is available here.


For more information on these topics, please contact the speakers listed below:


Complying With New Labor and Employment Laws/Employee Handbook Workshop


  • Melissa Carlgren, CPA, Geffen Mesher, mcarlgren@gmco.com, (503) 445-3339
  • ‎Jean Back, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, jback@schwabe.com, (503) 796-2960
  • ‎Brenda Frketich, Kirsch Family Farms, Inc., brenda@kirschfamilyfarms.com, (503) 633-4772

Keeping Your Finances in Order


  • ‎Royce Ann Simmons, Harvest Capital Company, rasimmons@harvcap.com, (503) 263-6616
  • ‎Clark Seavert, Oregon State University, clark.seavert@oregonstate.edu, (541) 737-1422

Making the Most of Your Water Rights, and Getting New Ones


  • ‎Elizabeth Howard, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, ehoward@schwabe.com, (503) 796-2093

Drone Use in Agriculture: How New Technologies Can Improve Your Operations and Profits


  • ‎Craig Russillo, Schwabe, Williamson & Wyatt, crussillo@schwabe.com, (503) 796-2092 ‎


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