Right to Farm law

Right to Farm
By Liz Clancy Lerner

So the other day I was heading down Route 50 near Ballston when I saw the sign above.

I'd never seen one before -- and I wondered what it meant. I asked around -- but no one else I checked with seemed to know either. So I did a little digging.

It turns out it's a concept that's been around for awhile, and it's meant to preserve rural character and give farmers rights when new development moves in.

It's likely enacted in a town near you.

Even if you don't live near a farm it's interesting and worth understanding.

The RTFL differs slightly from county to county, but it was created to show that community leaders understand the importance of local agriculture and its effect on the individuals, families, ecological value and economics of local towns.

The law gives farmers rights when complaints are made about the smell or noise coming from farm land.

The law was created 40 years ago when "mega farms" were being sued because of excessive noise, smell and pollution and many farms were shut down because of it. The Right to Farm Law was created to prevent this from happening again. Every state in the country now has some sort of right-to-farm-law.

Now RTFL often means individuals can't sue farmers over a "nuisance" if it results from "sound agricultural practice" (this is not actually defined in the NY state law; it's determined on a case-by-case basis). Also important, in some counties, individuals who are new to an area may have fewer rights than those who have lived there for awhile.

Albany County enacted the law in June, 2007. The county breaks up the statutes into eight categories and gets into detail about definitions and what makes a "sound agricultural practice."

+ A practice isn't a nuisance if it is "conducted in a manner which is not negligent or reckless" or if it is "reasonable and necessary to the particular farm or farm operation."

+ Disclosure must be given when a purchase and sale agreement is presented to a buyer or seller of land within 500 feet of agricultural land. The disclosure is a four-sentence notice that is added as an addendum to the purchase and sale agreement.

+There is a large section on resolution of disputes. Disputes can go through a resolution committee in an attempt to resolve any issues before the filing of any court action. But, the conflict must be presented to the committee within 30 days of the controversy happening.

According to the USDA Atlas of Rural and Small Town America we have a pretty significant number of farms in our counties, which may explain why some of them have enacted their own right-to-farm statutes (these are 2007 numbers):

Albany - 498
Saratoga - 641
Schenectady - 194
Rensselaer - 506

If you're looking for more info, check out the National Law Center or at The Farmland Information Center.


Wow, never thought to complain about the smell of manure being spread on the fields upstate when I was growing up...

Well, we complained :) but we never thought it was going to change anything.

Thought there is nothing quite so noxious as liquid manure fertilizer.

I see these signs everyday and I've always been curious. I'm glad there are laws that protect farmers' right to not only earn their living, but protect them from complainers who cannot see the larger picture.

Right to Farm laws are great. Hopefully new "smart growth" legislation will help stop the tickytac before it gets to the point of people complaining about the farmers growing their food. I think ending sprawl and reinvesting in cities and farms is one of the most important hurdles our society faces. Great post AOA.

I think most peoples' complaints would almost never stem from the small or family-owned farms. It's the mega-farms that people usually associate with misuse.

It's just another NIMBY (not in my back yard) issue. Everyone wants wind farms - but not near me. Most people like a good pork roast - but no smelly pigs near by. Of course we need group homes for developmentally disabled people - just not on my street.

It's important to understand that farming practices are not a static, pastoral thing, even for small farms. As with all business pursuits, it's natural that operators at any scale adopt methods and equipment (technology, really) that have "industrial" qualities when compared to the prior generation. New machines, new chemistry, new ways to get more and better product from the same plot of land at less cost and in a more reliable stream.

Yes, Right to Farm Life laws are a response to NIMBY-transplant complaints, and in the simplest dimension those NIMBYs are easy to criticize. You move your citified asses to farm country and then complain about farmers? WTF?

But, again, farming practice evolves constantly, like anything else. For example, when I was a little kid in Washington County (on a small farm), nobody keeping cattle hosed the excrement out of the barn into a "lagoon" of liquid sh*t (essentially an open sewer) so that some months later it could be aerosolized onto fields as fertilizer. Now, there's no other way to do it.

So you have to decide for yourself whether farmers or NIMBYs are the assholes in any given case. But understand that farming technology advances constantly, for all operators, and the general effect is to concentrate and expand burden on the land and landscape. Can't knock a guy for working his land (and maybe yours, if you're a neighbor) harder and smarter, but sometimes the NIMBYs are right. You won't be able to see that if you think farming is a simple, finished thing.


LQ you make several valid points about the progression of farming techniques but I don't see how aerosolizing the manure is a bad thing. That's recycling. Also, I'm not sure why you're taking a shot at farmers suggesting they work (thereby steal) their neighbors' land. Got a link for that?

It depends on what you call a farm. You could live in what you think is a residential plot and have your neighbor put a pig pen right on the fence line.

For Mr Galt:

Liquefying manure makes good business sense, but holding and spreading it as liquid makes it much more noxious, contaminant, leeching and potentially concentrated. That isn't always a problem but it can be, so I use it as a simple example of how practical, mechanical choices can be more invasive than they seem. At bottom, local farming deserves our protection. But we can't also say that farming is farming, regardless how it's done, and close the subject as Right to Farm Life laws do. That's a mistake that will bite us.

To understand your point (and link request) about stealing land, I'd have to dial down to TU blog-comment level, so I'll pass. AOA is a snark-free zone.


Had to laugh. A while back I ran across an article about some snobby neighborhood in Caleefornee discussing the hissy fit some neighbors were having when one of their own tilled the front lawn and planted veggies. It was a genuine Clampet's Moment to be sure. LoL

[ Now, of course, that and 100 sq ft homes are all the rage in Caleefornee ... that family was just ahead of their time. LoL ]

The problem with the right to farm laws is that if a farmer abuses his rights under this law and the NYS Department of Ag Farmland Protection Unit protects the farmer there is NOTHING you can do. I know because this happened to me. I live in a mature suburban, well established, residential community that has nothing to do with farming. One day a retired neighbor claimed to want to graze animals on his wetlands but the town would not let him dredge, fill and build on his wetlands so he got himself in the Ag District program. Once protected by the Ag District program this man was able to build right on the other side of my property line an underground water retention system consisting of electrical pumps and a dike that captures water coming from my stream and stores it underground until the pumps move it away over the dike. The result was that the man later died and the electricity stopped working and my property floods in large storms because the pumps are not working. The dike traps the water so it cannot go any where and I could not get any help fro the State to correct this. As a result my property value has been diminished. This is what those atrocious right to farm laws can do to you so beware. By the way, the man never farmed.

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