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, as explained in the first article of this series, 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.
While security interests are common practice in the agricultural industry, it is not the only 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 land to a debtor 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 to certain property owned by a debtor to secure repayment for the goods and services provided to a debtor.
Importantly, agricultural liens operate much differently than security interests. Typically, agricultural liens operate under the rules contained in the statute that created the lien. However, in certain situations, agricultural liens are subject to the same UCC rules that apply to Article 9 security interests.
Agricultural Lien Overview
In general, a lien grants a creditor an interest in a certain property of the 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. States enact statutory liens to ensure certain parties are paid for the goods, services, labor, or land they provide to others. 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, the person claiming the lien, known as the lienholder, is given an interest in specific property of the debtor to secure repayment for the debt.
Statutory liens are enacted to protect certain parties in a specific industry from nonpayment of a debt. Thus, each state has enacted various different types of statutory liens that serve unique purposes. Although each state enacts its own type of statutory liens, many states enact similar categories of liens. An important type of statutory lien 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. Agricultural liens ensure certain providers and producers of agricultural goods, services, labor, and land are repaid debts owed to them. For example, producers frequently purchase goods and services on credit from an individual or entity that is not a lending professional, such as an input supplier, commodity processor, or veterinarian. To ensure these non-lending professionals receive payment for the goods and services they provide to a producer, a state enacts a statutory lien that gives a provider an interest in specific property belonging to a producer. Similarly, producers regularly provide their own commodities and services to others on credit. Therefore, a state enacts an agricultural lien to protect a producer’s interest of being repaid.
Even though agricultural liens are available in each state, agricultural 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, a state’s laws do not apply to other states. Thus, not every type of agricultural lien enacted in one state is available in another state.
For example, Florida has enacted an agricultural lien in favor of a person who provides labor or services in ginning cotton for a cotton producer. Fla. Stat. Ann. § 713.595. However, there is no comparable agricultural lien enacted in New Mexico. Thus, a cotton ginner in Florida will have more protection over a cotton ginner in New Mexico because the Florida ginner may claim the lien that provides them with an interest in the cotton until the debt is repaid.
Because agricultural liens vary from state-to-state, knowing the applicable agricultural lien laws in the state where a producer operates is important. To see a compilation of the various agricultural liens enacted by each state, check out the National Agricultural Law Center’s “Statutory Agricultural Lien Rapid Finder Charts” here.
Agricultural liens exist in every state, but these liens are typically scattered throughout a state’s code. For example, agricultural liens enacted in Kansas can be found in the agriculture, grain and forage, irrigation, livestock, and property chapters of the state’s code. Moreover, the statutory requirements contained in a single state’s agricultural liens may vary greatly. In other words, a person claiming an agricultural lien in a state may have to meet requirements that another lien in the same state does not require.
All agricultural liens of a state are created by state statute, but there are actually two specific variants of these liens found in most states. One type is known as statutory agricultural liens, which will be discussed in the next article of this series. The other type is known as UCC agricultural liens. The primary difference between the two categories of liens is that UCC agricultural liens are subject to certain Article 9 rules, while statutory agricultural liens are not. A person claiming a statutory agricultural lien must only satisfy the requirements contained under the lien statute for the lien to be valid. However, a person claiming a UCC agricultural lien must satisfy the statutory requirements and certain Article 9 rules to be effective.
Agricultural Liens & UCC Article 9
Although agricultural liens are created by state statutes, certain agricultural liens are subject to Article 9 of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”). 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, which is discussed in the first article of this series. Originally, agricultural liens were not subject to the rules contained under the UCC. But in 2001, the UCC was revised to include certain agricultural liens within the scope of Article 9, which are known as UCC agricultural liens. All fifty states adopted this revision, making the revision legally binding in every state. Therefore, certain agricultural liens in each state are considered “UCC agricultural liens,” and are subject to specific rules contained in Article 9.
While the 2001 revision places several types of agricultural liens within Article 9’s reach, only the liens that fall within the UCC’s definition of “agricultural lien” are subject to certain Article 9 rules. Under UCC § 9-102(a)(5), an “agricultural lien” is defined as an interest in farm products:
- which secures payment or performance of an obligation for:
- goods or services furnished in connection with a debtor’s farming operation; or
- rent on real property leased by a debtor in connection with its farming operation;
- which is created by statute in favor of a person that:
- in the ordinary course of business furnished goods or services to a debtor in connection with a debtor’s farming operation; or
- leased real property to a debtor in connection with the debtor’s farming operation; and
- whose effectiveness does not depend on the person’s possession of the personal property.
In general, “farm products” under the UCC includes goods, other than standing timber, which are crops, livestock, or supplies used in a farming operation. Thus, given these definitions, “UCC agricultural liens” are non-possessory statutorily created liens in crops, livestock, or farming supplies that secure a farmer’s obligation to a person or business who (1) regularly furnishes goods or services to a farmer, or (2) leases real property to a farmer. 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 of a state’s liens within the scope of Article 9, but the 2001 revision did not transform agricultural liens into Article 9 security interests. In fact, UCC agricultural liens continue to be different types of interests from Article 9 security interests. The two separate types of interests operate in very different ways, primarily because not every Article 9 rule applies to UCC agricultural liens. Specifically, only Article 9’s rules for perfection and priority apply to UCC agricultural liens.
How UCC Agricultural Liens Operate
Agricultural liens and security interests operate in different ways, even though both types of interests secure payment of a debtor’s debt. Security interests, as explained in the first article of this series, are consensual liens, which means a debtor must consent to the financial arrangement with a creditor. In other words, security interests arise through a voluntary agreement between a debtor and creditor.
Unlike security interests, agricultural liens are non-consensual liens. Agricultural liens are created by a statute, and arise when a debtor incurs debts from a certain party specified by the statute creating the lien. Thus, unlike security interests, there is no need for an agreement between the parties, and a lienholder does not need permission from a debtor to claim an agricultural lien. Accordingly, when the requirements of the statute are met, a lienholder obtains an interest in a debtor’s property specified under the lien statute.
For example, suppose Allison supplies herbicides to Nate on credit for his soybean crops in Oklahoma. Because Nate does not have the money to cover the cost of the herbicide, he purchases the herbicide from Allison on credit. Oklahoma has enacted an agricultural lien that provides a person who sells herbicides to a producer a lien on a producer’s crops for the amount due. Okla. Stat. Ann. Tit. 42, § 47. Here, Allison satisfies the statutory requirement to claim the lien because she sold herbicides to Nate on credit. Therefore, she holds an interest in Nate’s soybean crops until he repays Allison the amount owed for the herbicides.
While the 2001 revision to the UCC made agricultural liens subject to some of the basic Article 9 rules, the revision did not change how agricultural liens attach to a debtor’s property. In general, under Article 9, creditors must attach their interest to a debtor’s property to have an enforceable interest. Attachment, as discussed in the second article of this series, gives a creditor the right to enforce their interest against a debtor. Article 9 requires creditors who hold a security interest to satisfy several requirements in order to attach their interest to a debtor’s property. However, when it comes to UCC agricultural liens, Article 9 attachment rules do not apply.
UCC agricultural liens do not require a lienholder to attach their interest to a debtor’s property. Rather, agricultural liens automatically attach to a debtor’s property because of a lienholder’s relationship to a debtor. For example, Iowa has enacted an agricultural lien which grants a harvester a lien for the value of harvesting services. Iowa Code Ann. § 571.1B. Under this statute, a person must provide harvesting services to another to establish the relationship required to claim this lien. Therefore, once a harvester provides harvesting services, the lien automatically attaches and they have an enforceable interest against a debtor for the crops harvested.
In general, UCC agricultural liens are subject to Article 9’s rules for perfection. This means UCC agricultural lienholders are required to perfect the interests they obtain under a lien statute the same way creditors perfect security interests under Article 9. Perfection, as explained in the third article of this series, is used to place other persons on notice of a creditor’s interest in a debtor’s property. Article 9 requires a lienholder 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. In other words, if a lienholder does not perfect their lien in accordance with the Article 9 rules, they risk losing the ability to enforce their interest against another party.
There are two requirements a lienholder must accomplish in order to perfect their UCC agricultural lien. First, the lien must be effective under state law. This means the person seeking to claim the lien must satisfy the statutory requirements specified in the lien. For example, an agricultural lien statute may require a lien claimant to send notice to a specific party, or file a notice in a county recording office. When a statute specifies certain requirements, a lien claimant must satisfy those requirements to perfect their lien interest.
Second, Article 9 requires a lienholder to file a financing statement in the correct filing 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. For a financing statement to be effective, as explained in the fourth article of this series, a lienholder must include the name and address of the debtor, whether the debtor is an individual or an organization, the lienholder’s name and address, and an indication of the property covered by the financing statement. The majority of states have selected its Secretary of State’s office to serve as the central location for filing financing statements.
Overall, when a lienholder satisfies any additional statutory requirements, completes a financing statement with correct information, and files it with the appropriate office, the lienholder holds a perfected interest in a debtor’s property. Accordingly, a lienholder will have the ability to enforce their interest against third parties with similar claims 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. Under the UCC, priority is the order in which creditors receive money to satisfy a debtor’s loan debt. Article 9, as discussed in the fifth article of this series, contains rules that determine which party has priority over others. Importantly, UCC agricultural liens are subject to these priority rules.
In most cases, perfection determines priority. 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. For example, if a creditor with a security interest perfects by filing before a lienholder perfects their lien, Article 9 grants priority to the creditor because they filed their interests first. Hence, the order of priority among multiple claimants is determined according to the time of filing.
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. 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.
For example, Arkansas has a statute that creates an agricultural lien for a person who gins and bales cottonseed for a farmer. The statute says “[t]his lien shall be superior to all other prior liens.” Ark. Code Ann. § 18-48-505(c). Therefore, if a person ginning and baling cottonseed perfects this agricultural lien, they will have priority over other perfected liens and security interests, even if these other interests were perfected before the lienholder filed a financing statement.
Agricultural liens play an integral part in agricultural finance. To further agricultural production, states enact these liens to encourage agricultural providers to supply goods, services, and land to producers. However, agricultural liens are sometimes complex, which creates a dispute between lienholders and secured creditors. Thus, knowing the applicable lien laws in a state can protect an agricultural provider or producer from losing an interest in a debtor’s property.
This is the seventh article in a series that the National Agricultural Law Center will publish over the next several weeks discussing the law surrounding secured transactions. The next article will discuss the type agricultural liens that do not fall within the scope of Article 9 of the UCC, and how these liens operate.
To read the first article in this series, click here.
To read the second article in this series, click here.
To read the third article in this series, click here.
To read the fourth article in this series, click here.
To read the fifth article in this series, click here.
To read the sixth article in 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.