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What Do Wisconsin’s Right to Farm Laws Protect?

Wisconsin is a widely agricultural state. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, there are about 64,100 farms in Wisconsin as of 2021. Many thousands of people make their living farming, usually living and working on the property. Although there are many farms in Wisconsin, they are on the decline. Farms are now often located adjacent to or near to other properties such as residential communities and subdivisions. This proximity can lead to a number of nuisance complaints from neighbors. Wisconsin has right-to-farm laws in place to protect farmers against legal actions against them.

What are Right to Farm Laws?

Every state has some form of right-to-farm laws in place. These types of laws were often put into place to protect farmland as urban development began to significantly sprawl. Better roads and safer vehicles meant that people could live further away from urban centers where they worked. Farmland sale to subdivision developments was popularized, which took away from agricultural needs. When people live closer to farmland, disputes arise. People often do not like the noise, smells, or other things associated with farming so close to their homes and nuisance lawsuits resulted. Right to farm laws protect farmers from lawsuits or legislation that could cause them to have to shut down or change part or all of their operations.

Right to Farm Laws Protect Farmers

Right to farm laws protect farmers from encroachment from suburban areas. Without such laws in place, farmers could be run out by the threats or legal actions of local neighbors, who would rather not live near the farms. The Wisconsin right-to-farm law was put into place after a farmer was forced to close his egg farm in Kenosha County in 1981 due to nuisance complaints. After that, farmers and legislators got together to enact laws that were designed to protect farms from such actions in the future. Without the law in place, farms could face frivolous legal actions that might put them out of business. The law has been updated, most recently in 2019.

Nuisance Lawsuits are Still Possible

While the right-to-farm laws protect farmers against frivolous nuisance lawsuits, it is important to note that lawsuits may still be brought as long as they are valid. Farmers who are working in accordance with proper production procedures should not fear lawsuits. However, the law still allows a lawsuit to be brought if the nuisance presents a threat to public health or safety. To be considered a legitimate nuisance, the problem must not have existed at the time the complainant took possession of their own property. In other words, if the situation is the same now as when you purchased your property, you cannot now complain that the behavior is a nuisance. There is still ongoing debate as to how to handle nuisance complaints on farms that have substantially changed or expanded.

Farmers who are working in accordance with the law should not have to fear frivolous nuisance lawsuits. If a nuisance lawsuit is brought and it fails, the farmer may be able to recover the costs expended for legal representation. To learn more about Wisconsin right-to-farm laws, contact Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd. online or call (608) 784-8310.

Published May 9, 2022
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