The stage is set for the final act in the legal drama that has pit agriculture producers against environmentalists.

If the Waterkeeper Alliance is successful, it could set a harmful precedent for many of the country’s large- and small-scale family farms.

The Waterkeeper Alliance’s lawsuit dates back to 2009 when another environmental group, the Assateague Coastkeeper, flew a plane over Kristin and Alan Hudson's farm and reported what appeared to be a pile of chicken manure draining into a nearby ditch. The material was later confirmed by the Maryland Department of the Environment to be treated sewage sludge from Ocean City, Md., which was used by the farm as fertilizer. Despite the corrected information, the Waterkeeper Alliance proceeded with its lawsuit.

The Hudsons grow corn, soybeans and hay, and raise cows and chickens on a 200-acre farm in Maryland's Eastern Shore.

According to a report from The Baltimore Sun available here, the case now rests in the hands of Judge William N. Nickerson, who is presiding at the trial. Nickerson has expressed skepticism earlier this year about the Waterkeeper Alliance’s evidence and has noted that he could order the environmental group to pay legal expenses for both the Hudsons and Perdue Farms, for whom the Hudsons raised chickens, if no violation is found.

A ruling against Perdue would be a first, and many in agriculture worry that such a ruling could change the way chickens – and potentially other large-scale livestock species – are raised.

“If this case is successful here, it could set a precedent for producing food in the rest of the country — a dangerous precedent,” Bill Satterfield, director of the trade group Delmarva Poultry Industry, told the  Capital Gazette in an article available here.

After three years of ongoing legal battles, the lawsuit is expected to be decided within the next three weeks.

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