Right to Farm Conflicts in Texas

Texas Farmer Battles Against Sprawling Cities Over Right to Farm

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
Connect with Chris:
James Lockridge, a farmer from Farmers Branch, Texas, has been battling with cities around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex over ordinances such as the height of pastures in city limits. He and other farmers testified about fines and citations from city governments on Monday in the Texas State Senate. Lockridge has drawn more attention to the issue of cities trying to restrict farming practices in the state. (Image from video and photo courtesy of James Lockridge)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A Texas farmer's efforts to stop bullying by cities in the state against farmers and ranchers has led to legislation in the state with the backing of major agricultural groups, pushing back against city ordinances.

State lawmakers in Texas are paying closer attention to the right to farm following James Lockridge's battles against cities that see farming as a nuisance to their growth and development plans.

Lockridge, who farms about 20,000 acres around the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, testified Monday before the Texas State Senate Committee on Water, Agriculture & Rural Affairs about city efforts to fine him and issue citations.

In an interview with DTN, Lockridge said cities have ignored property rights and the state's right to farm laws, and state officials have failed to enforce those laws on municipalities. These conflicts in 2021 prompted Lockridge to drive a tractor from Dallas to the State Capitol in Austin.

"There are 52,000 farmers in the state of Texas, and it's been a nuisance for all of us," Lockridge told DTN. "When I started my battle fighting back four years ago, I was kind of held back because developers did not want us to draw attention to the issue and not be able to get their land developed when they need to or wanted to." He added, "If what's going on in Texas continues, we won't have food. We won't have freedom. So, I'm telling everybody that I can, 'Stand up, Texas. Fight back and keep what's yours and stop this overreach.'"

Lockridge said he got a lot more support from other farmers after he began posting videos on TikTok about his situation. Then he started getting calls from other producers, not just in Texas but from several other states also fighting similar battles with city ordinances.

"My TikTok just blew up, and then my telephone started blowing up," he said.

Lockridge told state senators Monday he has gotten citations from Farmers Branch over hay bales on his property. He said he received citations of $250 each for 436 hay bales. While the city has backed off this year on grass height, Lockridge said the city now expects him to paint metal posts on his farm ground to meet city specifications. The city now has sent him more than $2,500 in fines for those metal posts "and told me they will fine me every day that these posts are not painted to their specs," Lockridge told state senators.

DTN emailed the mayor of Farmers Branch for comment but did not receive a response. In a local television report in January, local officials said they have made changes to city ordinances to accommodate Lockridge and farmers following his complaints and the media attention it generated in Texas.

In response to DTN's article, the city of Farmers Branch maintains the owner of the property, not Lockridge, "was issued a single citation for storing hay bales on a vacant lot for too long" because the infraction lasted several months. The public relations person for the city stated "The citation was dismissed when the Council changed the law shortly thereafter."

While the city has backed off this year on grass height, Lockridge said the city now expects him to paint metal posts on his farm ground to meet city specifications. The city now has sent him more than $2,500 in fines for those metal posts "and told me they will fine me every day that these posts are not painted to their specs," Lockridge told state senators.

Farmers Branch also stated that Lockridge was not cited for grass height, but the owner of the property "was issued a citation for having a deteriorated sign on the property. This is a violation of the sign ordinance and had nothing to do with metal posts. No one is being fined on a daily basis, and no one in the City's Code Enforcement Office told him he would be fined every day," the city spokesman stated.

State senators in Monday's hearing noted the pressure farmers and ranchers are facing in a state that loses 640 acres of agricultural land every day to development. The state has had a law on the books for more than 30 years to protect agricultural producers from city or county nuisance actions. "However, in recent years, farmers and ranchers face an increasing government overreach in nuisance violations," said state Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, chairman of the committee.

Another state senator in the hearing who said he represents both urban and agricultural areas indicated he had increasingly seen similar conflicts happen in the rapidly growing counties of Texas.

James Oliver, representing Texas & Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, said farmers and ranchers face new challenges as Texas has become one of the most rapidly growing states in the country. He cited recent analysis suggesting the state is losing closer to 1,000 acres of farmland every day.

"As our population grows and demographics change, we are facing unprecedented issues as urban, suburban and ex-urban areas encroach on private farms and ranches that in many cases have been there for generations," Oliver said in the hearing, adding that new neighbors in rural areas often "don't understand or accept the realities of living next to a working agricultural operation."

Perry was the lead sponsor of the bill, SB 1421, to further restrict nuisance actions against farmers. The committee passed the bill to the full state Senate on Monday in a 9-0 vote. A similar bill is also in the Texas House, HB 5161, which would also prohibit cities from adopting or enforcing ordinances, orders, rules or policies in fields, including exempting agricultural operations from any city regulation related to height or maintenance of vegetation.

Lockridge testified Monday that he has lost $500,000 in revenue over the past three years and faced tens of thousands of dollars in nuisance fines from communities.

In the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, Lockridge said he is fighting nearly every community. "Every city has become a bully to farmers and ranchers. They do not want us in their cities. They have pushed us out every way possible."

Lockridge said it's reached a point that landowners have been threatened that they will not receive permits if they don't stop leasing ground to him.

"Last year alone (the city of) Farmers Branch mowed every one of my hay crops to the ground, and the year before, mowed them all to the ground, sent me a bill, made me pay it," Lockridge testified.

The Farmers Branch spokesman said "One lot was mowed. A bill was sent to the owner of the property, not Mr. Lockridge. In addition, no payments have been made toward this bill."

Jarod Root, a rancher and honey producer representing the Texas Farm Bureau at the hearing, also testified that the bill would protect agricultural producers from frivolous nuisance claims. He pointed to another producer fighting back on citations in the city of Ennis, Texas, over "tall grass." The city has an ordinance restricting grass to 12 inches or less -- with no exemptions for agriculture. "So, they found him in violation on both his hay field and cattle pasture," Root said.

Root also talked about a situation where a farmer was harvesting his corn when police showed up and told him it was illegal due to the dust. He noted the police officer was called away but returned an hour later, and the corn had been harvested. "This shows how, oftentimes, ag activities are temporary and not a nuisance or a threat to public health," Root said.

In another instance, Root said he offered to allow local FFA students in his subdivision to raise their livestock on his land. The city required complicated permits and did not allow raising swine in the city limits, except for pot-bellied pigs.

Video of Texas state Senate hearing Monday on legislation: https://tlcsenate.granicus.com/…

Also see "Farm Family Wins Battle Over Right to Operate Store on Their Land" here: https://www.dtnpf.com/….

You can find James Lockridge on TikTok @farmerlifestyle

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton