New York Agriculture Districts and Right-to-Farm

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NY Agric. & Mkts § 300 et seq. sets forth agricultural districts in New York.  “The socio-economic vitality of agriculture in this state is essential to the economic stability and growth of many local communities and the state as a whole. It is, therefore, the declared policy of the state to conserve, protect and encourage the development and improvement of its agricultural land for production of food and other agricultural products.”  See  NY Agric. & Mkts § 300.

Section 303 sets forth the standards for creation of “agricultural districts.”  Any owner or group of owners that owns the greater of:  (1) at least 500 acres, or (2) at least ten percent of the land proposed to be included in the district, is eligible to submit a proposal to the county legislative body.   At a minimum, the proposal must include “a description of the proposed district, including a map delineating the exterior boundaries which shall conform to tax parcel boundaries, and the tax map identification numbers for every parcel in the posed district.”  NYSDAM may impose additional requirements for the proposal.  After complying with notice and hearing requirements, the county legislative body may adopt a plan to create an “agricultural district.”   In order to be adopted, the plan must include “an appropriate review period,” typically of eight, twelve, or twenty years.

The operative feature of New York’s Right-to-Farm Statute is in Section 308, which bars private nuisance suits if “the Commissioner issues an opinion that a particular agricultural practice is sound[.]”  Pure Air and Water Inc. of Chemong County v. Davidsen, 668 N.Y.S.2d 248, 249 (1998).    The statute only applies to actions for “private nuisance.” However, the same conduct which it protects could still be actionable pursuant to other theories, such as public nuisance, trespass, or violations of federal environmental statutes.   See, e.g., Concerned Area Residents for the Environment v. Southview Farm, 843 F.Supp. 1410 (W.D.N.Y. 1993).  It is also inapplicable to damages for any personal injury or wrongful death claims.   Importantly, the Right-to-Farm statute is limited in scope primarily to land that is designated as an “agricultural district” and “used in agricultural production subject to an agricultural assessment” under section 306.

There is a four-step analysis for a New York Right-to-Farm determination. (More information on those 4 steps in my book!)  

This is an excerpt from my first book that I co-authored with Pat Dillon, an Iowa agriculture lawyer titled “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs” available on CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. You can find out more about this book here.

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