When Decisions Matter.

Update on the Right to Farm Law: The Synagro/Hilltop Farms Case

Clarifying the Interpretation of “Normal Agricultural Operation” Under the Law

  • On December 21, 2015, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 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, 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.
  • Additionally, the court defined “agricultural operation” as either the farm itself or a farming practice. This means that the term could apply to the entire farm operation, or just a part of it, such as the application of manure as fertilizer.

How Right to Farm Affects Municipalities

  • The PA Right to Farm law 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.
  • Additionally, under the Agriculture, Communities and Rural Environment Act (ACRE), the attorney general can be petitioned by agricultural operations to prosecute municipalities for adopting an ordinance that unlawfully prohibits or limits a normal agricultural operation or restricts the ownership structure of a normal agricultural operation.
  • It also 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.”

If you have any questions about how Right to Farm affects your municipality, please contact our Municipal Group.

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