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Of Golf Courses and Sweet Corn -- Leasing Issues

[This post originally appeared on Michelle's Micro-Farm Law Blog.]

Let’s talk some classic farm law.

Today I want to talk about a Rottkap v. Wulforst Farms(1), a relatively recent Suffolk County, Supreme Court of the State of New York Case.  Plaintiff Rottkamp leased a 52 acre field from Defendant Wulfort Farms in the Town of Riverhead.  Rottkamp was a farmer, and his was a long-standing family business.  Rottkamp entered into an oral lease for the 52 acres for the period of one year for the purpose of planting a crop of sweet corn.

Wulforst advised Rottkamp that if Wulforst obtained the necessary permits for the subject land, during the term of the lease, that an access road would have to be cut through a portion of the field to permit access for the development and construction of a clubhouse for a golf course that Wulforst intended to build.  So Rottkamp planted his sweet corn, but he avoided planting in the area designated for the access road.

The crop was to be harvested in August through September.  During the second week of June, however, Wulforst advised Rottcamp that other parts of the field would immediately be excavated…for the driving range!  Wulforst’s construction manager testified that this was necessary to avoid falling behind on Wulforst’s construction project and having to excavate during the winter months at a significantly increased cost. 

Rottkamp testified that if the field were excavated before the Fall, that he would not meet his product supply obligations to various farm stands, fire departments, church and civic groups, summer fairs, festivals, bazaars, picnics and community events, which he had previously supplied with corn for many years.  This would result in financial hardship to Rottkamp and serious and irreparable damage to his reputation as a local farmer.

So how does a court make a decision in a case like this?  What does the law say?

A primary consideration in the instant matter is the common law doctrine of “emblements”, which is generally encountered in agrarian matters.  Emblements are defined as, “”the annual product or fruit of things sown or planted.”(2)   The Doctrine of Emblements is applicable whenever one who farms land owned by another has been given the right to do so for an indefinite term, and also gives the farmer the right to harvest any annual crop already being sown before the indefinite term is brought to an end by another notice or event.

Here, the Court found that Rottkamp planted all of the corn on the subject field prior to being informed by Wulforst of the imminent excavation of an area where Rottkamp had planted.  Under such circumstances, the Court concluded that Rottkamp was entitled, pursuant to the Doctrine of Emblements, to harvest the crop he planted, and the Court granted Rottkamp an injunction permitting Rottkamp to bring the entire subject corn crop to harvest.

I don’t know about you guys, but I personally think that the world needs more fields of sweet corn, and fewer golf courses.







Footnotes


(1) Jacob Rottkamp & Son Inc. v. Wulforst Farms, LLC, 2007 WL 2236557 (Sup. Ct. Suffolk Cty.)

(2) Heller v. Amwalk Nursury, 253 AD380, 382 (2nd dept. 1938).

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