ILNews

Farm Bureau counsel eyes laws of the land

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
In-House Counsel

Mark Thornburg, general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau, never considered becoming an attorney until he was 30 years old. His father was a “small-time” farmer, he said, and Thornburg grew up with an eye on the issues that mattered most to farmers.

He graduated from Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural economics, and he earned a master’s in business administration from Ball State University. He ultimately decided to pursue his law degree after returning from a Washington, D.C., fellowship offered through the United States Department of Agriculture and National Association of Counties.

“I could see the importance of the legal component for agriculture, and it was not a total void – there were ag attorneys out there, but not nearly enough,” Thornburg said. He enrolled in Valparaiso University School of Law and earned his juris doctor in 1998.

Indiana Farm Bureau hired Thornburg as an environmental attorney in 1999. Nowadays, as the director of legal affairs, he oversees the bureau’s legal team and handles a wide variety of legal tasks. The bureau has about 280,000 members statewide. Around 80,000 of those members are farmers, and the rest are either people with an interest in agriculture or Farm Bureau Insurance policyholders. (Insurance, Thornburg points out, is just one of the many perks of bureau membership).
 

thornburg-mark15col Mark Thornburg is general counsel and director of legal affairs for the Indiana Farm Bureau. (IL Photo/ Perry Reichanadter)

Thornburg plays a significant role in developing Indiana Farm Bureau’s public policy agenda. The bureau’s structure as a 501(c)(5) – a status granted only to labor, agricultural, or horticultural organizations – allows it to be classified as a non-profit while granting it the ability to lobby. Thornburg and one other attorney on the legal team are both registered lobbyists.

Issues that are important to farmers are important to the Indiana Farm Bureau. “And that can be a variety of things from grain contracting to bankruptcy to natural resources to land use planning to the Farm Bill – transportation, health regulations – a wide variety of things,” Thornburg said.

Under Thornburg’s direction, the bureau gained significant ground in the legal community. In 2005, he helped launch the Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation, a non-profit subsidiary of the farm bureau.

Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock said, “Mark’s vision of the need for and the founding of the Indiana Bar Ag Law Foundation has been a key to helping farmers in precedent-setting cases in our state. He was also one of the original attorneys that saw the need for an Ag Law section of the Indiana State Bar Association.”

Thornburg said the non-profit Indiana Agricultural Law Foundation does not provide one-on-one legal advice to farmers. But it may provide funding in support of some cases it believes have broad applications in the agricultural community.

“We have an advisory committee that reviews cases that’s made up of agricultural attorneys and farmers, and then the committee makes a recommendation to the board for approval and denial,” Thornburg said.

The subject matter in some of the cases the foundation has supported has included the right of property owners to allow high-fenced hunting on their own land, Indiana’s Right to Farm Act, and whether violating an administrative statute constitutes a crime (the charges were dropped in that case).

He said that the foundation has limited financial resources and therefore must be selective in deciding which cases to support. Increasingly, it has been funding educational programs. Thornburg said he hopes attorneys around the state feel free to contact the Indiana Farm Bureau legal team about any cases that may be relevant to farming.

Outreach efforts

Because of Thornburg’s background – including 18 years working for the Purdue Cooperative Extension – he understands some of the ongoing, deep-seeded issues that affect farmers. And he understands the culture.

“I guess it’s like any industry,” he said. “There’s kind of a culture and vocabulary that’s very specific to their business.”

He said that people may not realize that even today, many farm agreements or leases are either oral or sealed with a handshake.

“Eastern Livestock went bankrupt earlier this year and they did a huge-volume business with most of it not in writing,” he said. “What I like to say is you don’t write agreements for the times that go well. Farmers need to be – and for the large part, many of them have become – very sophisticated business people.”

Thornburg said that one cause of anxiety in the farming community is that the people making decisions that directly affect farmers often don’t understand the farmers’ point of view. Eminent domain, he said, is one such cause of concern.

“Where public utilities go is generally the path of least resistance, which is through our members’ farmland,” Thornburg said. And when a builder is making money off of something built on a farmer’s land, it causes tension.

“A lot of regulators don’t understand the culture of what they’re trying to regulate,” Thornburg said. “There’s no smokestack to measure the output of a farm like you would the output of a factory.”

The Indiana Farm Bureau legal team tries to bridge that gap between farmer and regulator, helping farmers understand the rationale behind certain regulations and how those regulations could affect their livelihoods.

“We’ve tried to work with American Farm Bureau in other states to develop a system where states talk about these issues more,” he said.•

ADVERTISEMENT

  • I have same Issue as you had in 2012
    I have the same issue in Indiana as you had in your post of July 16, 2012 12:46 PM. Did you ever receive an answer? Glen
  • Indiana Fence Law
    I am a township trustee in Indiana. I am currently dealing with a fence dispute. A woman wants to install a fence around her 18 acres to raise cattle. The county surveyor and planning commission says there is no state law that require the owners who don't want to pay for half of the fence to do so. Trying to educate myself on this issue online, everything I read states otherwise. Who is correct? I need to make a correct decision. Regards, Linda

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Indiana State Bar Association

    Indianapolis Bar Association

    Evansville Bar Association

    Allen County Bar Association

    Indiana Lawyer on Facebook

    facebook
    ADVERTISEMENT
    Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
    1. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

    2. As an adoptive parent, I have to say this situation was as shameful as it gets. While the state government opens its wallet to the Simons and their friends, it denied payments to the most vulnerable in our state. Thanks Mitch!

    3. We as lawyers who have given up the range of First amendment freedom that other people possess, so that we can have a license to practice in the courts of the state and make gobs of money, that we agree to combat the hateful and bigoted discrimination enshrined in the law by democratic majorities, that Law Lord Posner has graciously explained for us....... We must now unhesitatingly condemn the sincerely held religious beliefs of religiously observant Catholics, Muslims, Christians, and Jewish persons alike who yet adhere to Scriptural exhortations concerning sodomites and catamites..... No tolerance will be extended to intolerance, and we must hate the haters most zealously! And in our public explanations of this constitutional garbledygook, when doing the balancing act, we must remember that the state always pushes its finger down on the individualism side of the scale at every turn and at every juncture no matter what the cost to society.....to elevate the values of a minority over the values of the majority is now the defining feature of American "Democracy..." we must remember our role in tricking Americans to think that this is desirable in spite of their own democratically expressed values being trashed. As a secular republic the United States might as well be officially atheist, religious people are now all bigots and will soon be treated with the same contempt that kluckers were in recent times..... The most important thing is that any source of moral authority besides the state be absolutely crushed.

    4. In my recent article in Indiana Lawyer, I noted that grass roots marketing -- reaching out and touching people -- is still one of the best forms of advertising today. It's often forgotten in the midst of all of today's "newer wave" marketing techniques. Shaking hands and kissing babies is what politicians have done for year and it still works. These are perfect examples of building goodwill. Kudos to these firms. Make "grass roots" an essential part of your marketing plan. Jon Quick QPRmarketing.com

    5. Hi, Who can I speak to regarding advertising today? Thanks, Gary

    ADVERTISEMENT