How Right-to-Farm Laws Operate to Protect Ag Practices Used by Producers

Right-to-farm laws provide agricultural producers, forestry operations, and aquaculture producers a defense in a nuisance lawsuit under certain circumstances.  A 2022 Supreme Court of Mississippi decision highlights how the right-to-farm defense can protect agricultural operations.  In this case, two producers began using propane cannon scare guns to prevent deer from eating their cotton and soybean crops during summer. The propane cannons created loud noises, and the neighbors’ ensuing nuisance lawsuit tried to prevent the two producers from using the guns. The trial court agreed with the two producers that the state’s right-to-farm law barred the nuisance claim, and the Supreme Court of Mississippi recently upheld the trial court’s ruling in Briggs v. Hughes.

            On appeal, the neighbors argued that the Mississippi legislature did not create blanket protection for operations adding new practices on a farm, and the Court should look at when the practice began to be used.  The Court disagreed with this view of the state’s right-to-farm law.  The Court must only determine if an agricultural operation complies with all applicable state and federal permits and not when a new practice, such as a scare gun, was first used. 

            The Court then turned to the neighbors’ argument that using propane cannons was not a best management practice.  The neighbors argued that expert testimony demonstrated  propane cannons would become less effective over time and that propane cannons could not be a best practice because they are not always practical.  The court disagreed, relying on expert testimony showed the propane cannons were used appropriately for pest control, and the Court upheld the lower court’s finding.

            Importantly, each state’s right-to-farm statute is different in certain details.  With Mississippi’s law, the farm only needed to demonstrate that the operation complied with federal and state permits and that the practice was a best management practice. Here the producers’ use of scare guns adhered to the Mississippi law.  The analysis would have been different in states with different statutory provisions. Operations should pay attention to the language used in right-to-farm laws to ensure they can maintain the defense.

Goeringer, Paul. “How Right-to-Farm Laws Operate to Protect Ag Practices Used by Producers“. Southern Ag Today 2(25.5). June 17, 2022. Permalink