Bruning Decision Clarifies Ag Exemption Under One-Call System

Bruning Decision Clarifies Ag Exemption Under One-Call System

Farmers and third-party soil samplers do not need to make Digger's Hotline call.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning's statement in late March regarding agricultural soil sampling and the state's One-Call Digger's Hotline was good news for producers and third-party soil samplers.

Bruning, in a one-paragraph, informal opinion, said: "To be clear—farmers, their employees and any third-parties they contract with to do routine soil sampling for agricultural purposes do not need to call the Diggers Hotline prior to taking a soil sample. This is an agricultural state and soil sampling is business as usual. I won't second guess the commonsense of Nebraska farmers."

The statement appears, for now anyway, to resolve an issue that began in November when a Northern Natural Gas crew stopped at a Platte County field and asked co-op employee taking soil samples if they had called Digger's Hotline. They responded, "no," which precipitated a request by several Nebraska utilities to make soil sampling a practice under the One-Call Act, which requires a call to the Digger's Hotline.

Alice Licht, vice president and lobbyist for the Nebraska Agri-Business Association, says the group's member agronomists and ag retailers are pleased with the AG's opinion. "We have sent the opinion to our members, but we still urge them to be cautious when taking soil samples by watching for utility signs at edges of fields. But we have been cautious all these years anyway."

State Sen. Galen Hadley of Kearney, in response to the disagreement between ag interests and utilities, introduced LB 484 to make soil sampling an exemption to the one-call system law in Nebraska. There had been confusion about agriculture's exemption in that law.

Bruning, in a January opinion, said it wasn't entirely clear whether soil sampling is included as an ag exemption under the one-call system. He indicated in that opinion that "farmers and/or landowner most familiar with their land" would fall under the "other agricultural purposes" portion of the exemption, but there was no clear legislative direction for "other individuals or entities who engage in soil sampling."

Bruning's March 25 revised opinion appears to clarify that the law exempts all soil samplers.

Hadley indicated there now is no need for LB 484, although he said at this writing that the bill remained in the Transportation and Telecommunication Committee.

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