Law of the Land

Right-to-Farm Laws Can Protect Producers Against Lawsuits

Victoria G Myers
By  Victoria G. Myers , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
While right-to-farm laws offer some legal protections to those in agriculture, there are limits. (DTN/Progressive Farmer file photo by Joel Reichenberger)

Ever heard of "coming to the nuisance?" It basically means my farm was here first, and you built next to me. So, you don't have a right to complain that my cows smell or that my roosters crow.

What really happens when a developer starts building new homes in an established agricultural area and then complains that the neighboring farm or ranch is a nuisance?

Today's right-to-farm statutes offer some protection for producers, but those protections aren't without limits. Legally right and morally right sometimes ride different sides of the fence.


Consider "Spur Industries v. Del E. Webb Development Company," a famous Arizona case from 1972.

Spur Industries developed feedlots in a rural, agricultural area around 1956. In 1959, Del E. Webb Development began buying up land in the same area for a planned community known as "Sun City." By 1962, both Spur and Webb had expanded. At some point, sales of homes began to suffer due to smells and flies from the feedlot. Some of the housing lots were eventually considered unfit for development due to the feedlot. The developer filed a lawsuit, claiming Spur was a public nuisance.

The Arizona Supreme Court agreed and said that Spur would have to move, "not because of any wrongdoing on the part of Spur, but because of a proper and legitimate regard of the courts for the rights and interests of the public." The court noted that the developer was not blameless but said that as a matter of public interest for those who had purchased homes, it would order the feedlot to move or shut down. However, the court also decided the developer would have to indemnify the feedlot for the cost of shutting down and moving.


The American Farmland Trust reports that by 1963, every state in the nation had enacted a right-to-farm law.

These laws generally include protections from nuisance suits and/or unreasonable local regulation(s), and they vary by state.

Nuisance protections in these laws are often based in changes in locality and/or what the generally accepted agricultural and management practices are for the state. There can be differences in what entities are covered under the law and in how long it takes to be protected. Some states protect expansion, some allow recovery of attorney fees for frivolous suits.

The Alabama Family Farm Act, for example, protects farmers in operation for more than a year. But some of the types of entities covered under the law might raise an eyebrow. For example, it includes not just agriculture, but manufacturing, industrial plants, racetracks and museums.

By comparison, Illinois' Farm Nuisance Suit Act, while also using the more-than-one-year timeframe, limits protection more to the growing and production of crops and livestock-related operations. And California looks to more than three years before protections there apply.

It's important to stress that regardless of the state, right-to-farm laws don't mean anything goes. Farmers and ranchers are still subject to federal regulations. And it should go without saying that intentional bad behaviors, criminal acts and trespasses won't be protected. Seek out a local attorney with experience in agricultural law for specific questions you may have as to your rights.

To see the rules for your state, go the National Agricultural Law Center web page here:….


Law of the Land is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or legal services. Victoria Myers is an attorney licensed in the state of Alabama and a senior editor with DTN/Progressive Farmer Magazine.

Victoria Myers can be reached at

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Victoria Myers