In recent months, many states have seen challenges to their “Right to Farm” law. Most notably, in North Carolina, the state found a Smithfield Foods subsidiary liable for nuisance and awarded $50 million in damages to neighboring landowners. Although it appeared as though the farm operated within the bounds of applicable laws and permits, the court ruled against it after a judge ruled that the North Carolina Right to Farm Act was inapplicable.
The case is one of 26 cases focused on hog farms in North Carolina. In this case, the plaintiffs presented evidence to show that their properties existed in the area prior to the hog farm, voiding the Right to Farm law as a defense. The language within North Carolina’s Right to Farm statute that allowed for the court to dismiss Right to Farm as a defense is: “no agricultural or forestry operation or any of its appurtenances shall be or become a nuisance, private or public, by any changed conditions in or about the locality outside of the operation.”
While all states, including Florida, have a Right to Farm statute, each one of them is worded differently and therefore can be applied or interpreted in a number of ways. Although this case does set a dangerous precedent against animal agriculture operations, another court in another state using a different right-to-farm law could decide different results. For example, Maryland’s right-to-farm law would not require that a change in conditions causes the nuisance due to non-agricultural uses extending into agricultural areas. Meanwhile in Delaware, their laws include language limiting the nuisance defense to cases when the farm is being sued for a nuisance based on a change in the condition in the agricultural area.
As Florida grows, urban footprints will continue to encroach on areas traditionally used for farming and ranching. Florida Farm Bureau remains committed to ensuring the strength and viability of our state’s Right to Farm law.