Written by: Amie Alexander, JD/MPS Candidate, William H. Bowen School of Law

Petitioners filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on December 14 in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. Petitioners for Competitive Markets (OCM) and individual members Jim Dinklage, Jonathan Buttram, and Connie Buttram seek judicial review of the withdrawal of two USDA orders known as the “Farmer Fair Practices Rules.” You can find the complaint here.

According to petitioners, the USDA published the Farmer Fair Practices Rules in order to provide “protections for independent farmers by ensuring that large agribusinesses are held accountable for a wide variety of unfair business practices” and “determined that these rules were essential for independent farmers to continue operating in a market dominated by a small number of powerful buyers.”

The Farmer Fair Practices Rules provided for farmers to establish that a packer or swine contractor was in violation of regulations without proving that the packer or swine contractor’s actions caused harm to the market, as opposed to individualized harm to the farmer.  The Rules clarified the types of conduct the USDA considers to be unfair, and identified criteria for use in determining whether a packer or swine contractor had engaged in unfair activity.

USDA has now withdrawn the Farmer Fair Practices Rules, which petitioners allege violates the Administrative Procedure Act. Specifically, petitioners allege the USDA’s stated grounds in support of its decision fall short of the Administrative Procedure Act’s requirement that decisions be based on “reasoned consideration.” Petitioners also claim inadequate opportunity to engage in notice and comment. Finally, petitioners allege that the Farmer Fair Practices Rules were statutorily mandated by the 2008 Farm Bill. Petitioners ask the court to vacate the withdrawal of the orders and reinstate the Farmer Fair Practices Rules.