When Decisions Matter.

A Major Win for Farmers in Right to Farm Case

On December 21, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Shrewsbury Township farm stating that modern farm practices are covered by the Right to Farm law’s definition of “normal agricultural operations.” The Court states, “[The purpose of the Right to Farm Law] cannot be achieved unless the definition of ‘normal agricultural operation’ is read expansively, taking into account new developments in the farming industry.” Specifically, the Court determined that land application of biosolids is a normal agricultural operation. The Court also held that the determination of a farming practice’s “normality” is a question of law, not a question for the jury. Otherwise, there would be no consistency from one locality to the next because each determination of “normality” would be based on local perception and not a statewide standard.

Farms are absolutely necessary to maintain an abundant and affordable food supply. Thus, in 1982, the PA legislature enacted the Pennsylvania Right to Farm Act to protect agricultural operations from nuisance suits that would potentially put the operation out of business. Nuisance suits are often brought by neighboring landowners due to odor from the application of manure as fertilizer or from maintaining livestock.

Right to Farm laws have been enacted in all 50 states. The PA Right to Farm law provides an affirmative defense that applies if a nuisance suit is brought against 1) an agricultural operation, which has been in lawful operation for one year or more prior to the date of the suit, 2) where the conditions complained of as a nuisance existed substantially unchanged since the operation was established, and 3) the conditions complained of are “normal agricultural operations.” The Right to Farm law also requires municipalities to exclude agricultural operations from its definition of “nuisance” when enacting an ordinance that defines or prohibits a public nuisance unless there is a direct adverse effect on public health and safety.

If you have questions about the Right to Farm Act as it relates to your farming operation or agribusiness, contact our Agricultural Industry Group.

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