Using AG Data to Prove Crop Damage in Court
With today’s technology, tracking a farm operation has become much less of a hassle for many farmers and ranchers. But what could all this data be used for? The data could be used for several things such as: tracking yield production from year-to-year, tracking the nutrients in the soil, and maybe even helping win a court case. That is right, in an article published by Successful Farming, ag data was used to prove crop damage in a court case. “This data can be used to help a court understand complex multi-year, multi-field farming operations.”
The author of the article is an attorney who frequently speaks about legal issues affecting agriculture. “Our case involved a lake dam that had been mismanaged by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR). About a dozen years ago, the DNR established trigger levels for when to open and close the dam, but these trigger levels raised the summer lake level significantly. This was a big problem, as farm field drainage tile in the area was designed for the previously established, lower (and correct) lake level. Raising the lake level made this field tile ineffective. Fields would flood when they could not drain after significant rainfall events, leaving standing water for days.” These flooded fields resulted in varying yields for the crops. Prior to today’s technology, the crop damage would be nearly impossible to prove in court. “For example, a 100 acre cornfield might have 20 acres underwater for 10 growing days, resulting in little yield, but if the rest of the field yielded 240 bushels per acre, the average for the entire field would have been 192 bu./acre. ((80 acres X 240 bu./acre) / 100 acres = 192 bu./acre). 192 bu/acre. does not necessarily appear as a significant loss for a field.”
Using the ag data collected, the farmer and his legal team were able to tell a different story entirely. By using the harvesting data, they were able to convey in court where the field had been flooded and how that flooding had affected the yields. Todd Janzen and his team also provided the court with drone photos of the field to further prove what the data was showing. The photo showed the same field on the same year about halfway through the summer, showing the flooded areas as light green. Todd said, “the combine yield data confirmed the impact that was obvious form the sky.” This was a very complex case because crop damage and yield loss were hard to prove because, the yields varied in different parts of the field, due to the flooding. “One part of the field would yield well, while another part would yield little or nothing. Without ag data, telling this story would have been difficult if not impossible.”
In addition, Todd was able to use comparison data from nearby fields that did not drain into the lake to show what the yield would have been if the lake level were at the lower/correct level as previous years. As a result of the undeniable data presented, the court ultimately agreed that the higher lake level negatively impacted the farmer’s operation. “The data from the affected fields shows a reduced or no yield in many places when compared to the non—affected fields. The soil types in affected and non—affected fields were planted and fertilized the same (i.e., Ackerman soils received the same seed and chemical treatments). The different soil types did not explain the different yields between affected and non-affected fields. Instead, the yield difference is caused the dam mismanagement. Keeping the dam closed caused the water level at the lake to rise, which pushed water into the tile or prevented the tile from draining into the lake.” Todd said, “We may not think of ag data as having evidentiary value in court, but I cannot imagine a case about crop damages without it.” The court awarded the farmers with $485,644 in crop loss and field tile damages.
This article revolved around one specific case in Indiana, but I believe the message is clear for all farmers and ranchers, not only can ag data help you track your day-to-day operations, but it could also help you win a court case. This data allows you to compare year-to-year yields and detect when something is negatively impacting your operation. In this case, the flooding of the field damaged the crops, resulting in lower yields, but only in the parts of the field that were flooded due to the higher lake levels. The ag data was able to paint a picture showing where the damage occurred and the affect it had on the crop’s yield, ultimately winning the case for the farmers.
I knew that tracking ag data could help improve an operation, but I had never considered the fact that this data could be used as evidence in a court case. I think it is important for producers to track their ag data and be able to recognize when something is not adding up. Tracking ag data could end up making or breaking a case in court. Producers can now add another perk to this new technology, and who knows, it may just end up paying off for you in the future. Let us know how you feel about the usefulness of ag data and how it may impact an agricultural court case!
 Todd Janzen, “Using AG Data to Prove Crop Damage in Court” Successful Farming, June 30th, 2021