The Right to Farm Act provides protections against unduly restrictive local ordinances that would otherwise not permit certain farming practices. Put simply, Right to Farm allows certain activities, operations, and site improvements that are otherwise not permitted in the zone, provided that they are not a direct threat to public health and safety. Specific farming practices have been defined as protected under Right to Farm, although confirming eligibility may still require a careful consideration of the farm-specific operations and facilities.
To be eligible for Right to Farm protections, the farm must be a commercial farm located in a municipal zone in which agriculture is a permitted use (with limited exceptions). The “farm management unit” includes all parcels operated as a single enterprise to produce agricultural or horticultural products, even if the parcels are not adjoining. Farm management units of five acres or more must produce $2,500 or more annually and be eligible for farmland assessment. Farm management units of less than five acres must produce $50,000 or more annually and be eligible for farmland assessment. Apiaries/beekeeping must have income of $10,000.00 to have Right to Farm protections for the apiary/beekeeping operation.
Protected agricultural management practices are set forth in the Right to Farm Act and regulations implemented by the State Agricultural Development Committee (SADC). County Agriculture Development Boards (or if a county is without such a board, the SADC) upon application by a farmer, will hold hearings to determine whether an agricultural operation is a “commercial farm” for Right to Farm purposes, and if so, to determine whether the farming activities or improvements are included in one of the permitted agricultural management practices. Such hearings may be necessary because a farmer is either unclear of applicability, or because a complaint has been lodged against the farming operations. Applicants must address specific submission requirements and must comply with notice provisions and hearing procedures. Members of the public and the municipality are permitted to provide testimony for or against the application. The municipality may have the opportunity to provide input on certain site plan elements.
Right to Farm is not a blanket permission to engage in all farm-related activities. Additional rules and regulations will likely be triggered for the purpose of protecting public health and safety, such as septic requirements, fire code, building code, wetlands rules, and similar. Additional rules and procedures apply to agricultural development in the Highlands.
When purchasing agricultural land or businesses, or considering engaging in new forms of agribusiness or agritourism, it is wise to have the specific property and proposed activities reviewed by an attorney familiar with real estate, land use, farming, and administrative procedures. Right to Farm rules and decisions are still an evolving area of the law requiring careful review prior to making investments. Attorney Nicole L. Voigt is experienced in these matters and takes pride in representing farmers in all manners of their business, real estate, and planning.