January 31, 2011
By: Kristen L. Miller, Legislative Analyst II
You asked for information about right-to-farm ordinances. You specifically wanted to know (1) the purpose of such ordinances, (2) which Connecticut municipalities have them, (3) whether they are enforceable, and (4) if other states have right-to-farm laws.
Municipal right-to-farm ordinances, in Connecticut and other states, are often policy statements asserting a community's commitment to agriculture and farming and, generally, reaffirming the state's right-to-farm law. The ordinances and laws mainly aim to protect farms and agricultural operations from certain nuisance lawsuits.
Connecticut's right-to-farm law exempts farms meeting specified conditions and following generally accepted agricultural practices, from certain nuisance laws, regulations, and ordinances concerning odor, noise, and other objectionable farming by-products. But it does not exempt them from nuisances caused by negligence or willful or reckless misconduct (CGA § 19a-341).
At least 12 Connecticut towns have adopted right-to-farm ordinances. None of the ordinances we reviewed impose specific conditions or requirements that could trigger an enforcement action. We attached Columbia's, New Milford's, and North Stonington's right-to-farm ordinances. New Milford's ordinance includes a procedure for mediating disputes and providing advisory opinions for agricultural practice questions, but it does not prohibit parties from directly filing nuisance actions in Superior Court.
Every state has laws protecting farmers from nuisance lawsuits in certain circumstances and municipalities throughout the country have adopted right-to-farm ordinances (American Farmland Trust (AFT) Farmland Information Center Factsheet, http://www.farmlandinfo.org/documents/27761/fp_toolbox_02-2008.pdf).
Municipal right-to-farm ordinances reaffirm and often restate a state's right-to-farm law, protecting farmers from certain nuisance lawsuits. Connecticut's right-to-farm law exempts certain agricultural and farming operations from nuisance laws, regulations, and ordinances related to the odors, noises, and other objectionable by-products associated with farming. The exemption applies to farms and agricultural operations that (1) have been in operation for one year or more with no substantial changes and (2) follow generally accepted agricultural practices. It does not apply to nuisances caused by negligence or willful or reckless misconduct (CGS §§ 19a-341(a) and (c)).
According to AFT and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, municipalities adopt right-to-farm ordinances to emphasize support for local farms and agriculture. They reiterate the right-to-farm law's protections from nuisance lawsuits and often declare farming as an accepted and valued activity within the community (Planning for Agriculture: A Guide for Connecticut Municipalities, http://www.farmland.org/programs/states/ct/documents/PlanningforAgriculture--AGuideforCTMunicipalities.pdf). Some ordinances in other states may require deeds to properties in agricultural areas to have notices cautioning prospective buyers of the impacts associated with farming and agricultural activity (AFT Farmland Information Center Factsheet, http://www.farmlandinfo.org/documents/27761/fp_toolbox_02-2008.pdf).
At least 12 Connecticut municipalities have right-to-farm ordinances: Brooklyn, Canterbury, Colchester, Columbia, Eastford, Franklin, Lebanon, New Milford, North Stonington, Pomfret, Thompson, and Woodstock. Most are available online.
We attached Columbia's, New Milford's, and North Stonington's ordinances, each of which recognizes the importance of farming, declares the town's support for agriculture-related activities, and reiterates the right-to-farm law protections.
New Milford's ordinance also provides a procedure for mediating disputes and issuing advisory opinions on farming and agricultural practices. The procedure does not prohibit a party from appealing the panel's decision or filing a direct action concerning the alleged nuisance with the Superior Court. Similar procedures are included in Eastford's and Thompson's ordinances.
RIGHT-TO-FARM LAWS IN OTHER STATES
According to AFT and The National Agricultural Law Center, every state has right-to-farm laws protecting farmers from nuisance lawsuits under certain circumstances. The National Agricultural Law Center's collection of state right-to-farm statutes is located at http://www.nationalaglawcenter.org/assets/righttofarm/index.html.
In addition to providing protection from certain nuisance actions, some of these laws also prohibit municipalities from enacting ordinances that unreasonably restrict agriculture. A collection of state right-to-farm statutes and municipal right-to-farm ordinances maintained by AFT's Farmland Information Center is available at http://www.farmlandinfo.org/farmland_preservation_laws/index.cfm?categoryID=&stateID=&topicID=3254.