Michigan Right to Farm Act
The Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA) is recognized nationally as a model for resolving disputes that can arise when neighbors or local governments allege that practices on the farm constitute an actionable nuisance.
The Act protects farmers who voluntarily follow the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) from nuisance lawsuits over matters such as odor or dust so long as the farmers comply with a variety of practices ranging from manure management to water use.
From Michigan Farm Bureau's perspective, the Right to Farm Act and GAAMPs have enabled agriculture to progress utilizing existing and new technologies that strike a delicate balance between the state's social, environmental and economic needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Although the RTFA expressly preempts local ordinances that purport to extend or revise the provisions of the Act, it does not pre-empt all requirements. Building permits, for example, are an issue addressed separately by the state Construction Code. However, many types of local zoning ordinances are pre-empted by the RTFA. The RTFA was written to provide for preemption because of the tendency for local townships to adopt a "not in my backyard" stance on farming activities that leads to overly restrictive bans on many activities that are necessary for farming and are of great importance to society. The subject of such local regulations often include:
- Food standards
- Septage requirements
- Seed regulations
- Hazardous materials transportation
- Charity regulations
The RTFA will preempt local zoning ordinances when such ordinances conflict with GAAMPs as designated by the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development. Without this pre-emption, many local ordinances would be passed that severely restrict farming operations.
No, the RTFA does not preempt other state-wide laws such as the animal abuse prohibition statute. Therefore, farmers must be mindful of their obligation to adequately care for their livestock and the criminal penalties associated with animal abuse, otherwise they will be subject to civil and criminal liability. Adequate care is defined as "the provision of sufficient food, water, shelter, sanitary conditions, exercise, and veterinary medical attention in order to maintain an animal in a state of good health."
Currently, in the courts, RTFA issues are arising mostly with respect to farm stands, small organic operations and horse farms—not CAFOs. In order to benefit from RTFA protection, large livestock farms are currently required to obtain permits from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and site approval from the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. The GAAMPs for RTFA protection include setbacks; for example, a new livestock production facility must be at least 1,500 feet from areas zoned for residential use.
No. Courts have confirmed that the Michigan RTFA is Constitutional. All 50 states have Right to Farm statutes, and only one state, Iowa, has had its RTFA ruled as unconstitutional. However, the Iowa Bormann decision was the result of a law that was structured quite differently than Michigan's RTFA.
GAAMPs are mandatory for new farms that wish to benefit from RTFA nuisance protection, but they are not intended to be environmental laws. GAAMPs are industry-wide practices that are evaluated and updated regularly as agricultural technology and practices improve. RTFA does NOT affect the application or enforcement of environmental laws. Even with RTFA, all farms must comply with all environmental laws and animal abuse laws.
Learn more about the Right to Farm Act and GAAMPs on the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development website.