LANSING — A right to farm is just that — a right by farmers and non-farmers to have “a fair and science-based review of farm practices to prevent conflict.”
Those words from Matt Kapp Tuesday during the Lansing Legislative Seminar aim to proactively address any potential problems encountered by Michigan farmers with neighboring landowners, including the filing of nuisance claims pertaining to odors, noise and visual clutter.
According to Kapp, government relations specialist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, local governments are “restricted from telling farmers how to farm.”
“Today, agriculture is facing a lot of different threats,” Kapp said. “There is a threat of low-commodity prices, rising input costs (and) rising farm rental land values… but we’re talking about a different threat that agriculture is facing and that’s our right to farm in the state of Michigan.”
Michigan adopted the Right to Farm Act in 1981 to deny nuisance lawsuits against farmers, Kapp said, adding that the act includes preempting local zoning authority and governments “from telling farmers how to farm.”
Today, Michigan farmers often abide by Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMP) — or farm-management practices — which help eliminate some hurdles for farmers.
“All 50 states have some form of Right to Farm law,” Kapp said. “The Right to Farm laws do different things. We have one of the best ones in Michigan. … From the agricultural side, we talk a lot about the Right to Farm Act providing protection for farmers, but I would argue the act also provides protection for non-farmers because it establishes a formal complaint process.
“Anyone, by the Right to Farm law, has a right to file a complaint against a farm.”
Kapp said if a non-farmer files a complaint, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development will respond in seven business days. According to Kapp, there are some elements the Right to Farm Act cannot protect, such as water permits, certain agri-tourism activities and labor housing.
However, Michigan’s version of the law is a “role model for the whole country,” he said.
While states like North Carolina are experiencing a “current threat” to its Right to Farm Act — which recently found a number of hog farms liable of being a nuisance to “neighboring landowners” — Michigan’s “act is stronger,” Kapp said.
“Right to Farm is a proactive program,” he said. “If you are conforming to all of the GAAMPs, including siting GAAMPs for new and expanding livestock facilities, then you are going to be fine; you’re going to get nuisance protection in the court of law. Michigan Farm Bureau is a big supporter of the MAEAP program. … One of the great components of MAEAP is if you are MAEAP-verified, you’re conforming to all of the GAAMPs.”
In Michigan, Kapp said farmers in Edwards Township (Ogemaw County) “were successful at confronting an illegal ordinance.” However, despite efforts from Calhoun County Farm Bureau officials, an illegal ordinance was approved in Leroy Township.
“The two ordinances attempt to tell farmers how to farm which is a clear violation of the Right to Farm Act,” Kapp added. “Farmers must either address concerns with the township or challenge ordinances in the court of the law or the ordinances will stay on the books.
“The Michigan Right to Farm Act has worked very well for nearly 40 years and has been affirmed by the court of law.”