By Jason Allen

FARMERS BRANCH, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) – A farmer contends the city of Farmers Branch is effectively pushing him out over a disagreement on whether what he harvests is a crop, or just a nuisance.

The undeveloped lots full of high grass that James Lockridge mows, dries and rolls into 1,500-pound round bales, provides hay for cattle and horses, he says.

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However, the same lots violate the city’s ordinance code on vegetation, stating grass and weeds can’t be any higher than eight inches.

Following warnings to the property owners, the city has started hiring contractors to mow the lots, and send them the bill.

Lockridge said he has sent his own invoices back to city hall, for the destruction of his crops. So far the city isn’t budging and Lockridge says he isn’t backing down.

“I’m getting pushed out right now,” Lockridge said Monday. “After fighting for two months they went ahead and mowed two more crops this weekend. When’s enough going to be enough?”

Lockridge’s company, Grassland Mowing and Commercial Farming, leases land from owners, harvesting the grass for hay and in turn satisfying requirements that allow owners to keep agricultural use tax exemptions in place.

Often operating on scattered properties in urban areas, tucked between high density apartment buildings, corporate headquarters and hotels, he has faced scrutiny in other cities.

Sometimes he has worked out agreements with code compliance he says, to keep working. Farmers Branch had allowed him to work he said, until last year.

What Lockridge says is a crop though, the city has determined is just wild grass and weeds.

“What we’ve found is the properties in question are never being cropped,” said Leo Bonanno, the city’s code compliance manager. “They’re being left alone, and called crops so they can maintain their agricultural exemption.”

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While the grass and weed ordinance has no exception for agriculture, Bonanno said the city would not have an issue with something like corn, wheat or even sunflowers.

The height of the grass, up to five-feet at times during the summer according to Lockridge, also presents problems in heavily developed areas Bonanno said. It can hide trash, nuisance animals and draws complaints from neighbors.

“We love our farmers here. What we can’t have is someone claiming to be a farmer, or claiming an agricultural exemption to get around the rules,” Bonanno said.

In appearances this month in front of the city council, Lockridge cited a chapter of Texas agriculture code that prohibits a nuisance action from being brought against a lawful agriculture operation. It defines an agricultural operation, in part, as producing crops for animal feed.

The city pointed to a line in the same law stating it does not restrict the state from protecting public health and safety.

Not all of the properties Lockridge manages in the city have been cited and mowed.

He was mowing one Monday, August 9 on Luna Road, trying to cut it he said, before another city contractor came in and he was unable to salvage it.

He was still asking for the city to meet to work something out, but city leaders just voted on numerous changes to the property code this month.

The high grass rule was among the items adjusted.

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Only water buffers and ornamental grasses were given a break from the eight-inch rule.