news and observer

Two sides to a story: The farmer’s side

Chad-Herring-4-1024x669I’m a farmer. And I raise hogs. I read Ned Barnett’s editorial about the ‘nuisance’ trials in Raleigh, and I’d like to offer a farmer’s perspective.Mr. Barnett was critical of two groups of people: Hog farmers, along with Smithfield Foods, and lawmakers. He wrote how our farms degrade eastern North Carolina and how we “treat swaths of eastern North Carolina as cesspools.” And he wrote that a rally held to support Joey Carter – whose farm is being closed down after the outcome of the second nuisance trail – was the work of “Republican lawmakers” who voters ‘should toss out’ of office.Mr. Barnett didn’t have a kind word to say about either farmers or lawmakers– he views nuisance lawsuits that put farmers out of business as a virtue and views lawmakers who disagree as wrong.But are farmers the villains he describes? Let’s step back and examine a couple facts.Four of Joey Carter’s neighbors, who live closer to his farm than the two plaintiffs in the second trial, testified Carter’s farm is not a nuisance to them. So did the jury awarding the two plaintiffs $25 million make sense? Or did justice run amuck in a Raleigh courtroom?Stop to remember how these lawsuits started: A group of lawyers from out-of-state came to North Carolina and went door-to-door signing up clients so they could sue farmers like Joey Carter. The proposition they made to their potential clients was simple: You join our lawsuits, we’ll pay the bills, and if we win you’ll get part of the money. Ned Barnett never mentioned that fact in his editorial. And worse, the same fact was ignored during the trial. (The judge decided jurors should not be told how these lawsuits began.)The original out-of-state lawyers are now gone, replaced by another group of lawyers from Texas, and you have to give those Texas lawyers credit: They’re lethal in a courtroom. And their lawsuits have also been lethal to farmers. Both of the farms they sued over are being shut down.Which is the reason lawmakers decided it was time to strengthen legislation to protect farmers from predatory lawyers, whose lawsuits threaten to cripple a pillar of eastern North Carolina’s economy.As I said, I raise hogs. However, even when I disagree with Mr. Barnett, I respect his right to have his say. But, at the same time, people need to hear both sides. I’m also grateful to Lt. Governor Dan Forest, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler, and to Republican – and Democratic – lawmakers for taking a stand for farmers like me. Chad HerringExecutive Director of NC Farm Families