Overview of New York Right-to-Farm Law

Rincker Law Food & Ag Law, Land Use & Zoning Law 17 Comments

NY Agric. & Mkts § 300 et seq. sets forth agricultural districts in the State of 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 prosed 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.  First, any person may request an opinion “as to whether particular agricultural practices are sound.”   A “sound” agricultural practice is defined in section 308(1)(b) as one which is “necessary for the on-farm production, preparation and marketing of agricultural commodities.”   Second, the NYSDAM will make this evaluation on a case-by-case basis.   In so doing, it is statutorily required to consider whether the agricultural practices are being “conducted by a farm owner or operator participating in” its Agricultural Environmental Management Program (“AEMP”) as well as to “consult appropriate state agencies and any guidelines recommended by the advisory council on agriculture.”   Third, the NYSDAM must provide notice once it has issued an opinion.   In addition to being published in a newspaper with general circulation in the surrounding area, the notice must also be provided in writing directly to the property owner, as well as owners of adjoining property.   NYSDAM’s opinion becomes final unless it is contested by an aggrieved party within 30 days of publication.   A party contesting such an opinion faces an uphill battle; courts defer to an agency’s expertise on such a decision, allowing it to stand unless it is “arbitrary and capricious.”   Fourth, if the opinion deems a particular agricultural practice to be “sound,” it cannot constitute a “private nuisance” as a matter of law.   Because parties have no vested property interest in the right to sue under a private nuisance theory, this result does not constitute an unconstitutional “taking.”   If someone does bring a private nuisance suit on account of a “sound” agricultural practice, the Right-to-Farm statute authorizes recovery for the reasonable costs attributable to defending against such a lawsuit.

By enacting the Right-to-Farm statute, New York’s legislature intended to provide some protection for farmland against encroachment from non-agricultural development.   Indeed, the legislature expressed particular concern about the potential for competition over land resources to result in a vicious cycle of rising farm taxes, inadequate investment in farm maintenance, and the ultimate idling of productive agricultural land.   While reported cases on the subject are scarce, New York’s Right-to-Farm statute has been recognized by academics as a relatively sensible approach to balancing these competing interests, at least as compared to similar statutes in other states.

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Comments 17

  1. I wonder if you could provide guidance about have to find out exactly what constitutes a farm in NYS. The reason I ask is that some farmers markets that receive funding from NYS require that at least 60% of the vendors be “farmers”.


  2. Does the right to farm law apply if there has not been ANY farm animals on the farm since the 1970’s? It was a dairy farm at that point but has not ANY agricultural related activity since the 1970’s.

  3. At what point does a farmers right to farm within an agricultural district created by farmers constitute the striping of the bundle of rights enjoyed by a neighboring fee simple estate? This seems tantamount to a violation of the 5th amendment.

  4. My residential street backs ups to a large nursery farm. Are there any regulations for noise from irrigation pumps that are powered by diesel engines and are close to residential homes

  5. The noise is allowed as long as its standard farming practice…which it sounds like it is. Speak to the owner and see if you can come up with a solution

  6. I live in a narrow Valley (approx 300 yards wide) and my neighbors across the road are 60 feet higher in elevation. They have alpacas and a great pyrenees guard dog that barks for hours on end. They position the dog in the front of their house approx 10 feet from the public street facing my house. My husband and I complained about the very loud echoing sound. We asked the neighbors to move the dog. They refused. We asked the town to enforce the noise ordinances and they made a lame attempt to enforce then backed down when the neighbors asked for an ag review from NYS Ag & Markets. We asked for mediation, they refused. They did file a federal lawsuit claiming to have a civil rights to have a barking dog. They sued my husband, myself, the town, and the town attorney. They were seeking $1MM in damages for the pain they had endured. The lawsuit was dismissed without merit, but we had to pay to defend the suit. I am not making this up. Since receiving a determination that they are using sound agricultural practices, they have intententionaly positioned the dog facing our home and allowed the dog to bark relentlessly at us in our yard for hours at a time. The NYS right to farm law states that a town cannot unreasonably restrict a sound agricultural practice. For a dog this is defined as the dog not attacking people. Unlimited volume for an unlimited amount of time at any time of day or night is OK. My questions are many. Is my property the territory of my neighbors farm dog? Why didn’t Ag & Mkts encourage mediation. Why didn’t Ag & Mkts visit my house to witness what i hear? Do I have any recourse at all? Cathy Young told us to sue Ag & Mkts. A final note: the neighbors have no income from this farm and do not receive an ag property tax exemption. Tonight the dog has barked for the last 3 hours and I can’t escape even in my house with all of the doors and windows closed.

  7. My neighbor has a 1.6 acre ‘farm’ of which the manure runoff is polluting my water well. The feces is an open air pile 10 feet from his own well, with a 20 ft casing. Our wells are at the same depth. And the place is severely hoarded to the point it is too toxic for his own family to remain and social services have taken them out. Yet the town says he is protected by the right to farm law. Is he? Hoffmeister ny, 13353 is the location. It is within the adirondack park. I can provide pictures.

  8. Need help -my rights as a blood related daughter’s dad as part of inheritance. My Father’s letter said half the farm would go to me and two other sisters. My brother gets the other half- he has married, no children. What are my rights in this situation? Thanks

  9. If there is a piece of equipment that is broken and the equipment makes a terrible noise that it would not otherwise make if it was in good repair and the farm owner refuses to address the problem, is that still protected under the right to farm laws? Would it make any difference if the farm owner refused to allow the complainers (me) to pay for repairs? I just want him to fix that horrible squealing sound.

  10. I have been growing grapes on my property for 17 years and there is no zoning in my town. I live in New York State. A developer bought an adjacent parcel and is building mini homes in some cases 8 feet apart. He intends to build along my entire property line. We have always had a spray program for weeds, pesticides and disease. The law states that I cannot spray within 100 feet of a residence. What can I now do to protect my crops?

  11. What can you tell me as to the obligation of a dairy farm not to spread inches of mud on the public road way, which results in a think cloud of dirt and dust being blown at my residence. It not only results in my home being covered in dirt..but makes it impossible to breath, enjoy my property. Wouldn’t they be required to fix their main driveway (which is often muddy) to prevent this from occurring?

  12. if a man comes to your neiborhood and buys 2 remaining residencial lots,clears the trees and brush,moves an existing waterway and flood zone to build a manure pit and milk parlor 50 feet from the neighbors down wind and down stream causing catastrophic property damage and health problems directly affiliated with the milk parlor. Does that fall under the right to farm law? If it does that other land owners have no rights. Is that right?

  13. Under Right to Farm laws, do farmers have a right to have weddings on the farm? The property owner has mini horses–how does having weddings figure as a farming activity?

  14. Is the use of helicopters that fly all night long ” to heat orchards” an acceptable farming practice under the right to farm?
    Also, are activities such as providing helicopter rides to the public and hosting balloon festivals considered farming activities protected under the right to farm?

  15. Town of Middletown is now taxing us on our barn as-house tarp building and chicken coop. The are all in operation. I thought ag buildings were exempt in NY.

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