The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled yesterday, in a split decision, that pesticide spray drift onto a neighboring property is not legal trespass, though plaintiffs can still sue for negligence.
The case involved organic farmers Oluf and Debra Johnson, who claimed pesticide drift applied by Paynesville Farmers Union Cooperative Oil Company resulted in the Johnsons having to sell organic produce at lower prices, destroy some crops and having to go through three-years of organic recertification.
The suit was brought to trial in 2009, following 10 years of dispute with the co-op. A district court threw out the case, saying Minnesota does not recognize trespass by particulate matter. But the Minnesota Appeals Court disagreed, saying Minnesota trespass law does recognize intrusions onto property such water, shotgun pellets and other objects.
The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that pesticide drift is “intangible” and thus not trespassing. The Court did say the Johnsons could sue for negligence. But they must also prove harm to win damages.
The Court also ruled that the amount of drift onto the Johnsons’ crops were not enough to violate federal organic certification rules, and that the Minnesota Department of Agriculture erred in requiring the Johnsons to go through the three-year recertification process.
The full ruling can be read here. For the dissenting opinion, click here.