If you cannot stand the smell of fertilizer wafting over from your neighbor’s farm, or the din of noisy machinery being operated at all hours of the night, you may have to live with it. Thanks to right-to-farm laws, industrial, and agricultural farmers are protected as RTF laws prevent states from regulating conditions on farms. This includes the cruel confinement of animals and environmental health hazards.
Why the Right to Farm Legislation was passed
RTF laws differ in scope depending on the state they are used in, but all of them aim to protect farmers from litigation and property disputes. Some of the common laws include the following:
- Preventing communities from suing farmers even if they expand their practices exponentially or adopt practices that negatively affect water quality or residents’ quality of life.
- Prohibiting local government entities from establishing strict regulations on agricultural practices besides the minimum ones that state laws allow. Local demand does not count in this regard.
- Preventing communities from suing farmers or a farm if they engage in accepted agriculture management practices with documented environmental or health impact. While these practices don’t break laws, suing farmers who use them can be frustrating.
- Ordering plaintiffs to cover legal expenses of the agricultural farmer or entity they are suing, i.e., the defendant, if the former loses the case. The statute discouraged communities from challenging these businesses under the aegis ‘You don’t farm, you don’t eat.’
Why RTF Laws Are a Double-Edged Sword
Assuming that the farm was established way before yours was, you may have to get used to those conditions. Since the 1970s, all states have enacted these statutes in one form or another to protect their interests at the cost of others. While they differ from place to place, they allow farmers to preserve farmland to prevent the encroachment of suburban projects.
Before RTF laws were introduced, farmers were forced to shut down their farms and operations or spend thousands of dollars on lawsuits to defend themselves. While the statutes protect their right to farm, today’s farmers are using these farming laws to get away with abusive practices.
In some cases, the laws go too far. Take RTF laws in Idaho, for instance. The state is considering a robust version of its right-to-farm laws that critics believe will have a detrimental impact on the environment in favor of big agribusinesses. In other words, the modified or new statutes can give those farming businesses the right to pollute if it means they can expand operations or use a new (potentially harmful) pesticide on crops.
Some farmers also claim that these laws prevent them from seeking legal aid if a farm expands or starts harmful/offensive practices like the ones mentioned. If those practices make homes unlivable, the residents suffer, moving the responsibility away from the farmers. Since RTF laws protect the interests of industrial and agricultural farmers over those of smaller farming establishments, the latter are not protected either.
RTF laws may have ensured that we get fresh food and produce in our homes regularly, but we are paying for that privilege by harming the environment.
A new development may flip that script. Many cities have now enacted livestock bans successfully. Plus, farmers are not encroaching on urban areas using RTF laws to expand their reach, but the decision may come back to harm them. Big agribusinesses may have gotten a bit too big for their britches at this point, and it may not be long before they face legal hurdles that give power back to their victims.
About Jillian Hishaw
Jillian Hishaw is an experienced agricultural attorney who has represented hundreds of small rural farms in India, Sierra Leone, the Caribbean, and the US. The MacArthur Foundation recipient is also the founder and CEO of F.A.R.M.S and her online legal practice, Hishaw Law L.L.C. Hishaw was inspired to get into agricultural law after seeing her family stripped of their lands in an illegal land grab. Her first book, Don’t Bet the Farm on Medicaid, gives readers insight into long-term care facilities and their ability to place liens on a resident’s property to force the sale of outstanding debt.