R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, Sec’y of Labor, Dep’t of Labor, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. BLAND FARMS PRODUCTION & PACKING, LLC, DELBERT BLAND, an individual, Defendants-Appellants., No. 17-15322, 2019 WL 1504344 (11th Cir. Apr. 5, 2019)
Bland Farms Production & Packing, LLC runs a packing shed that processes and packages Vidalia onions grown both by Bland Farms as well as other farmers in the area. Shortly after he began growing onions in the 1980s, Delbert Bland was questioned by the Department of Labor about whether he was paying his packing shed employees properly. In response, Bland wrote to the Department, requesting guidance on when he should be paying overtime wages to his packing shed employees. The Department replied that a farmer is not responsible under the agricultural exemption from overtime if the packing shed employees were processing onions grown by the farmer or onions that the farmer had purchased in the field as long as he had purchased the entire field of onions.
Bland Farms processed onions in its packing sheds during the 2012-2016 seasons that were grown on land owned and leased by other growers. These contract growers contracted before planting to sell the onions to Bland Farms that they grew. Specifically, the contract growers prepared the seedbeds, planted, transplanted, fertilized, sprayed herbicides and pesticides, irrigated, and harvested. Bland Farms’ expert agronomist provided free advice and counsel to the contract growers throughout the season, visiting their farms and advising on the timing of planting and harvesting, the choice of seed varieties, and the application of chemicals. The contract growers paid all of the expenses: the seed, fertilizer, herbicide, pesticide, and labor costs. Bland Farms provided some labor occasionally and often helped haul the onions out of the field; Bland Farms would advance cash to the growers when necessary and occasionally harvested the onions. Bland Farms charged the growers for any provided assistance and recouped any cash advances. Typically, Bland Farms only paid for those onions that were marketable, under the “pack-out rate.” Occasionally, Bland Farms paid a set rate for the onions, regardless of quality, the “across-the-scales” method. The risk of loss was on the growers through the growing period; they carried their own crop insurance; Bland Farms took no responsibility for the onions until purchased.
The Department of Labor filed this action challenging the overtime-exempt status of Bland Farms’ packing shed employees during the Vidalia onion packing season in May 2014. After a bench trial, the district court released an order finding Bland Farms’ packing shed employees did not qualify as exempt employees because Bland Farms was not so intimately involved in its contract growers’ operations as to make its employees secondary agriculture employees. The court awarded overtime wages for the 2012-2016 seasons. The court also awarded liquidated damages from and after the time the Department filed suit, because it held that although Bland Farms reasonably relied on the Department of Labor’s advice from the 1980s about when overtime was due, it could not rely on that advice after the Department filed suit.
Affirmed as to whether overtime was owed, vacated and remanded as to reasonably relied.
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Notice: Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), USDA;

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Notice; request for comment: Forest Service, USDA; In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995, the Forest Service is seeking comments from all interested individuals and organizations on the extension with revisions to the information collection: Recreation Fee and Wilderness Program Administration. Info HERE

Notice of Solicitation for Applications: Rural Business-Cooperative Service, USDA;
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Notice of solicitation of applications: Rural Business—Cooperative Service, USDA;
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H.R. 2099: To expand the workforce of veterinarians specialized in the care and conservation of wild animals and their ecosystems, and to develop educational programs focused on wildlife and zoological veterinary medicine. Info HERE