Refresher Course: Indiana Right to Farm Act

I spent some time on a college campus recently teaching an Ag Law class about the Indiana Right to Farm Act. This was a good chance for me to think about the Act in a new light and reminded me of two key facts about the Act.

First, we all eat. Eating requires food, which requires agriculture. The Indiana Right to Farm Act protects farmers’ ability to produce food for us. The Act is found at Indiana Code 32-30-6-9. It is a statute designed to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of agricultural land for the production of food and agricultural products. The General Assembly noted that when nonagricultural land uses extend into traditionally agricultural areas, agricultural operations often become targets for lawsuits. This discourages farmers from investing in agricultural improvements. Put another way: the Act protects the development of agricultural land to grow food. The protection is aimed to shield against nonagricultural land uses.

Second, the Act protects against competing nonagricultural land uses. One key consideration in any Right to Farm Act case is what kind of damages the plaintiffs allege have occurred because of the defendant farm. Are the damages nonagricultural? Allegations of decreased house value, odor, flies, or truck traffic are nonagricultural. The Court of Appeals made this clear in Parker v. Obert’s Legacy Dairy and TDM Farms v. Wilhoite Family Farms. On the other hand, allegations of agricultural damages (i.e., a lawsuit between two farms) could take away the protections under the Right to Fact Act. In TDM Farms, the Court explained the Act would not bar a suit by one hog farmer against another hog farmer related to a swine disease spread from one farm to another. Because the basis or reason for the suit was agricultural damages (dead pigs) rather than nonagricultural (alleged devaluation of house), the Right to Farm Act had no role to play.

These are the two main refresher points I had after preparing for and teaching the college course (1) the Right to Farm exists to help all of us — to protect traditionally agricultural land so farmers can produce food for a growing global population. (2) The Act applies when alleged nonagricultural damages are the basis for the suit, but not in a lawsuit claiming agricultural damages as the reason for the lawsuit.