Many agricultural producers borrow money to successfully run their operations. Typically, the lender requires the borrower to give a security interest in property such as land, equipment or commodities before supplying the funds. This type of transaction is considered a secured transaction, which is primarily governed by Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”). In general, a secured transaction is one that creates a security interest for the creditor. Thus, the producer who borrows money from the creditor will provide a security interest in their agricultural property to the creditor. Most of the articles in this series discuss the rules governing these types of transactions.
While security interests are common practice in the agricultural industry, they are not the only type of interest that arises in agricultural finance. Another important and common type of interest in agricultural finance is agricultural liens. Agricultural liens are a different concept than Article 9 security interests, mainly because these liens are created by a state statute. States enact agricultural lien statutes to ensure individuals and businesses who provide agricultural goods, services, labor, or lease land on credit are repaid. In general, when the specific requirements of the statute creating the agricultural lien are met, a party can claim an interest in certain property owned by a debtor to secure repayment for the goods and services provided to a debtor.
Generally, an agricultural lien operates under the rules contained in the statute that created the lien. However, as discussed in the seventh article of this series, there are certain situations where some agricultural liens are subject to the same UCC rules that apply to Article 9 security interests. Consequently, this has created two separate categories of agricultural liens: UCC agricultural liens and statutory agricultural liens.
In general, a lien grants a creditor an interest in a certain property of a debtor to secure repayment of a debt. Each state has enacted laws that give certain creditors a lien in a debtor’s property, which are known as statutory liens. The creditors benefitted by a statutory lien are known as lien claimants or lienholders. These statutory liens arise by operation of law when specific requirements of the statutes creating the lien are met. Therefore, when the requirements of the lien are satisfied, a lienholder is given an interest in specific property of the debtor to secure repayment for the debt.
There are several categories of liens which protect different types of lien claimants in a specific type of industry. However, an important category of statutory liens found in every state is agricultural liens. All fifty states have enacted agricultural liens because some areas of the industry conduct business in a way that creates a risk of nonpayment. By enacting agricultural liens, states ensure certain individuals who provide agricultural goods, services, labor, and land on credit are repaid debts owed to them. The Center has recently updated its 50-state-compilation of statutory agricultural liens. The updated version is available here.
Agricultural Lien History
Since the early 1900’s, agricultural liens have played an important role in the industry. Before Congress enacted the Farm Credit Act of 1933, which increased credit availability to farmers and ranchers, many producers faced difficulties obtaining enough credit from banks to properly run their farming operations. Because of this, producers purchased goods and services on credit from non-lending professionals, such as input suppliers and laborers. However, many suppliers and laborers were at risk of nonpayment because there were limited resources available for them to enforce a debt against a producer.
Because suppliers and laborers risked nonpayment, state legislators began enacting statutory liens in order to provide special protection to these providers. States enacted statutory liens in favor of these agricultural producers for two reasons. First, because suppliers and laborers were producers’ primary form of credit, states wanted to protect their right to payment. Second, states enacted statutory liens to encourage suppliers and laborers to continue providing goods and services because it was a core component of crop and livestock production. In other words, without providers extending goods and services to producers, food production in the U.S. would suffer. By enacting statutory liens in favor of agricultural providers, it protected them from nonpayment and encouraged them to continue extending goods and services on credit, which assisted commodity production.
Today, producers have far more opportunities to obtain credit from lending institutions compared to a century ago. However, agricultural liens still play an integral part in agricultural finance because producers continue to purchase goods and services from providers. Because of this, many of the agricultural liens enacted by states decades ago have not been repealed and states continue to enforce these liens for the benefit of agricultural providers. Also, states occasionally enact new agricultural liens to protect other providers of agricultural goods and services.
Generally, an agricultural lien enacted by a state operates under the rules contained in the statute that created the lien. However, this changed in 2001 when Article 9 of the UCC was revised to subject certain agricultural liens to the same rules which govern security interests, as discussed in the seventh article of this series. Consequently, this resulted in states having some agricultural liens governed by certain UCC rules, and other agricultural liens that are only governed by the lien statute.
The UCC is a collection of rules affecting commercial transactions. While the UCC itself is not legally binding—it was originally compiled as a recommendation or model by private organizations—every state has chosen to enact some version of the rules within it. Those laws, once enacted by states, are legally binding on the transactions within their boundaries.
Primarily, Article 9 of the UCC governs transactions that create a security interest for a creditor. Originally, agricultural liens were not subject to the rules contained under the UCC, but after the UCC was revised in 2001 to include certain agricultural liens, all fifty states adopted this revision, making it legally binding in every state. Subsequently, this created two separate variants of agricultural liens: UCC agricultural liens and statutory agricultural liens.
Statutory Agricultural Lien vs. UCC Agricultural Lien
The main difference between UCC agricultural liens and statutory agricultural liens is that the statutory liens are only subject to the requirements of the lien statute. Meanwhile, UCC agricultural liens are subject to certain Article 9 rules. Specifically, Article 9’s rules for perfection and priority apply to UCC agricultural liens. Overall, lien claimants must be aware of the rules and requirements for each category of lien in order to properly claim an enforceable lien.
For a person to properly claim an interest under either category of agricultural lien, they must satisfy two steps. The first step is known as attachment. Attachment gives a lienholder the right to enforce their lien interest against a debtor. To satisfy this step, under Article 9, a creditor must attach their lien interest to the debtor’s property subject to their lien. However, UCC agricultural liens are not subject to Article 9’s attachment rules. Instead, almost all agricultural liens—UCC and statutory—automatically attach to a debtor’s property because of a lienholder’s relationship to a debtor. For example, suppose a state enacts an agricultural lien which protects a certain agricultural provider for supplying certain goods or services. When a protected provider supplies the specific goods or services, that provider satisfies the lien requirements, which means their lien interest automatically attaches to a debtor’s property. Thus, a provider can enforce this lien against a debtor to ensure they receive repayment for the goods or services.
The second step is perfection. A lienholder is required to perfect their interest in a debtor’s property in order to enforce their interest against third parties that also have an interest in the same property. However, depending on whether a lienholder claims a UCC agricultural lien or a statutory agricultural lien, they may be required to satisfy different requirements in order to perfect.
UCC agricultural liens are subject to Article 9’s perfection rules and the requirements contained in the statute which created the lien, which means these liens must always be perfected in accordance with both sets of rules. After a lienholder satisfies the perfection requirements provided in the lien statute, they must perfect the same lien under UCC rules. Under Article 9, UCC agricultural liens are perfected by filing a financing statement in the correct filing office, usually a state’s Secretary of State’s office. A financing statement is a form, such as this UCC example, that a lienholder must complete in order to hold a perfected interest in a debtor’s property.
Statutory agricultural liens, however, are not bound to this Article 9 rule. Therefore, a lienholder attempting to perfect a statutory agricultural lien must rely on the requirements for perfection contained in the lien statute. Sometimes, a statutory agricultural lien perfects automatically upon attachment. Other times, a lien statute may require a lienholder to file some kind of notice, but at a local recording office, such as a county courthouse. Overall, lienholders must perfect their lien interest in a debtor’s property to ensure they have priority over third parties who may also have an interest in the same property.
When two or more creditors, including lienholders, claim an interest in the same piece of property, the order of priority must be determined. In general, priority is the order in which creditors receive money to satisfy a debtor’s loan debt. Both categories of agricultural liens can be subject to different priority rules because UCC agricultural liens are subject to the priority rules contained in Article 9.
Basically, statutory agricultural liens are subject to the priority rules provided in the lien statute. For example, a statutory agricultural lien may state “this lien shall be superior to all other prior interests.” Under the rules of this statute, a lienholder has priority over third parties who have an interest in the same property, even if that interest is perfected before the lienholder perfected. Therefore, a lienholder of a statutory agricultural lien is subject only to the priority rules stated in a lien statute.
The general rule to determine priority under Article 9 is known as the first-to-file rule. Under this rule, the first creditor or lienholder to perfect their interest—by filing a financing statement—has priority over others who file at a later date. However, the Article 9 first-to-file rule does not always apply to UCC agricultural liens. Sometimes, a state statute that creates a UCC agricultural lien contains different rules for priority than the first-to-file rule. When this occurs, the first-to-file rule does not apply. Rather, the priority rules contained in the lien statute determine the order of priority, just like statutory agricultural liens. Thus, an agricultural lien statute may give a lienholder first priority in a debtor’s property over a prior perfected security interest in the same property.
Agricultural Lien Rules
To determine whether a lien is a UCC or statutory agricultural lien, one must look at the UCC’s definition of “agricultural lien.” In general, only liens that meet the UCC’s definition of “agricultural lien” are considered UCC agricultural liens, and are subject to Article 9 perfection and priority rules. Under UCC § 9-102(a)(5), an “agricultural lien” is a non-possessory statutorily created lien in farm products (i.e., crops, livestock, or farming supplies) that secure a producer’s obligation to a person or business who (1) regularly furnishes goods or services to a producer, or (2) leases real property to a producer. Because these liens are non-possessory liens, the person claiming the lien is not required to retain possession of the property subject to the lien.
The UCC’s broad definition of “agricultural lien” places many liens within the scope of Article 9, but not every agricultural lien enacted within a state will be classified as a UCC agricultural lien. Liens that do not fit within the UCC’s definition are considered statutory agricultural liens, which are not subject to Article 9 rules. However, states generally do not codify which liens are UCC liens or statutory liens. Thus, determining what category a lien falls under is largely left up to a party claiming a lien.
Typically, statutory agricultural liens are governed solely by the statute that creates the lien. This means a person claiming a statutory agricultural lien must only satisfy the attachment and priority requirements contained in the statute to properly claim a lien. Importantly, a statutory agricultural lien controls the order of priority among multiple claimants who have interests in the same property.
There are two primary ways statutory agricultural liens do not fit within the UCC’s “agricultural lien” definition. First, states enact agricultural liens that do not grant a lienholder an interest in a producer-debtor’s farm products. For example, some agricultural lien statutes provide a lienholder an interest in a producer’s real property. Under the UCC, real property is not considered a “farm product.” Because the UCC only applies to agricultural liens that create an interest in farm products, which is personal property, a lien statute creating an interest in real property will classify as a statutory agricultural lien, and will not be subject to Article 9 rules. Overall, if an agricultural lien statute does not provide a lienholder an interest in farm products, the lien is a statutory agricultural lien and UCC rules do not apply.
States may also enact lien statutes that are not entirely related to agriculture, but these liens can become statutory agricultural liens when a lienholder provides goods or services to a producer, and obtains a lien interest in certain farm-property. Because these liens are not agriculture-specific, the statute typically does not provide a lienholder an interest in farm products. Rather, these liens may provide an interest in different kinds of personal property, or a debtor’s real property.
For example, a lien for an employee’s unpaid wages can become a statutory agricultural lien when the employer is a farm operation and the employee is a farm worker. If the employee establishes a valid lien claim, then the employee obtains an interest in the employer’s farm property. Therefore, while not specifically related to agricultural, this lien for unpaid wages becomes a statutory agricultural lien because the employee provides labor to their farming operation employer, and the lien provides the employee an interest in the employer’s real estate.
The second way statutory agricultural liens are distinct from UCC agricultural liens is that statutory agricultural liens can be possessory liens. UCC agricultural liens are non-possessory liens, meaning a lienholder does not have to keep possession of the property subject to a lien. However, states enact some agricultural liens that require a lienholder to retain physical possession of the property subject to a lien. Consequently, if a lienholder claiming a possessory lien gives up possession of the lien property, they lose their interest in that property and no longer hold a valid lien against a debtor. Thus, if an agricultural lien requires a lienholder to retain possession of the lien property, it is a possessory lien, and is classified as a statutory agricultural lien.
All fifty states have enacted agricultural liens, but these liens are state specific and vary widely from state-to-state. Agricultural liens enacted under state law are only enforceable in the enacting state because each state has its own laws. In other words, not every type of agricultural lien enacted in one state is available in another state. However, there are certain statutory agricultural liens that are common among many states.
One type of statutory agricultural lien that can be found in many states is a lien for controlling or eradicating plant diseases, pests and noxious weeds. In general, plant diseases, pests, and noxious weeds are a public nuisance which can be harmful to agricultural crops and livestock, so states want landowners to control and destroy harmful diseases and pests infesting their croplands. However, there are instances where a landowner does not remove the infested crops. Accordingly, to ensure these harmful nuisances are controlled and destroyed, states enact a lien in favor of the party who incurs expenses for removing crops infested with diseases, pests, and noxious weeds.
This type of lien directly relates to agriculture, but typically does not grant a lienholder an interest in a farm product. The majority of states enacting this type of lien provide a lienholder an interest in the real property where the infected crops were removed. Because real property is not a “farm product,” this type of lien is a statutory agricultural lien. Thus, the rules and requirements for attachment, perfection, and priority are governed by the lien statute, not Article 9 rules.
Another type of lien found in almost every state is a mechanics’ lien, also known as an artisans’ lien or blacksmiths’ lien. Most states that enact a mechanics’ lien provide a mechanic an interest in the vehicle or equipment they repair. While this type of lien is not agriculture-specific, there are situations where a mechanics’ lien is categorized as an agricultural lien. For example, if a producer’s tractor breaks down, they may choose to take it to a mechanic for repairs. Under a typical mechanics’ lien statute, the mechanic repairing the producer’s tractor obtains an interest in that tractor once the repair is complete. Therefore, in this example, a mechanics’ lien can be categorized as a statutory agricultural lien because tractors, combines, and other farm equipment are not “farm products,” and the mechanic obtains an interest in farm-related property.
One last type of statutory agricultural lien enacted in the majority of states is a lien on caring for livestock. Generally, person who feeds, shelters, and cares for livestock obtains a lien in the livestock, which is a “farm product.” However, most states have enacted this type of lien as a possessory lien. This means the lien claimant must retain physical possession of the livestock they care for to have an enforceable lien against the livestock owner. Because this type of lien relies on a lienholder’s possession of the lien property, it does not fall within the scope of Article 9, and it is categorized as a statutory agricultural lien.
Agricultural liens play an integral role in agricultural finance. However, agricultural lien laws are complex, primarily because there are two separate categories of agricultural liens: UCC agricultural liens and statutory agricultural liens. Although both types of liens are created by statute, UCC liens must satisfy different requirements from statutory liens. Therefore, lien claimants must be aware of the key differences between UCC liens and statutory liens, and what requirements must be satisfied for each category of lien in order to properly claim an enforceable lien.
To read the other articles of this series, click here.
To view the agricultural liens enacted by each state, click here.
For U.C.C. Forms and Filing Information, click here.
For more National Agricultural Law Center resources on finance and credit, click here.
For more National Agricultural Law Center resources on secured transactions, click here.