Michigan has a long history of family farms and closely held agricultural businesses. However, depending on where that farm is located, Michigan’s Right to Farm Act may or may not protect you from local ordinances limiting how you do business. Here’s what you should know about the limits on agricultural uses of urban and suburban land.

What is the Right to Farm Act?

The Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA) is a state law designed to protect farmers against civil nuisance lawsuits for the sights, sounds, and smells that agricultural land use involves. It also limits local cities and municipalities from passing certain local ordinances limiting covered farming activities. It is designed to keep local governments from setting limits on farmers related to:

  • Food standards
  • Site plans
  • Septic systems
  • Nutrient management plans
  • Pesticide and herbicide use including manure use
  • Seeds and planting
  • Transporting hazardous materials
  • Working with local charities
  • Possessing livestock (provided they are given adequate care)

The RTFA does this through legal “preemption.” Put simply, any local ordinance that would extend, change, or conflict with the Right to Farm Act is overruled by the state statute.

Does Your Family Farm Qualify for Protection?

For your family farm to qualify for protection under Michigan’s Right to Farm Act it must:

  • Be a “farm operation” operated and maintained for the production, harvesting, and storage of agriculture
  • Produce “farm products” including agricultural crops and animal products incorporating “the use of food, feed, fiber, or fur”
  • Sell agricultural products for “commercial purposes” including even the smallest amount of commercial activity
  • Follow the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs) in some cases

What are the Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices (GAAMPs)?

GAAMPS are guidelines that the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development sets out for farm operations across the state. These guidelines are updated each year to reflect technology improvements and environmental protection concerns. While every farm must comply with federal and state environmental laws and animal abuse laws, family farms may choose not to GAAMPs. However, choosing not to can limit how much protection the Right to Farm Act provides.

What About Urban Farming Initiatives?

If your family farm is in an urban or suburban area, the local government may prefer to see you give up agriculture in favor of other land uses. In other cases, you may own property within city limits that you decide to convert to urban farming. In 2019, the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development issued a decision that stripped many backyard farmers from protection under the Right to Farm Act. It approved a Site Selection GAAMP that barred animals “if the site is determined to be primarily residential, and zoning doesn’t allow agriculture as use by right.”

This ruling can create problems for family farms, which may have been passed down through the generations while suburbs and neighborhoods grew up around them. It would allow local governments to, for example, prevent the ownership of roosters, or limit the heads of livestock within residentially zoned areas.

What Are Your Options when Local Ordinances Limit Agriculture?

The Department has a Right to Farm program designed to respond to nuisance complaints and determine whether farms are complying with the GAAMPs. However, farming families may sometimes need to may need to hire a real estate attorney to work with municipalities, applying for zoning variances and advocating for grandfathered exceptions to new ordinances. When none of that works, a real estate lawyer can also help you determine if you qualify for protection, and enforce your family’s right to farm.

At Lachman King, our experienced real estate attorneys have been farming families resolve their agricultural real property disputes for years. Our team will meet with you to explain your rights, and help you make the right call for your family farm. Contact us today to set up a meeting.