Michigan Department of Ag Looks to Limit Scope of Right to Farm Act
Currently, commercial farms are protected from local regulation, including zoning restrictions. The existing "Site Selection" GAAMPs, which generally require large livestock production facilities to be located in areas primarily designated for agricultural use, only apply to very large farms – those with over 50 animal units. Fifty animal units is the equivalent of 5,000 laying hens, 2,750 turkeys, 25 horses, 500 sheep, 125 swine, 35 mature dairy cattle or 50 feeder cattle. In other words, if farm operation had 499 sheep, then it would not have to comply with Site Selection criteria in order to be protected by the RTFA. Consequently, smaller farm operations have been able to operate in largely residential areas.
The proposed Site Selection GAAMPs eliminate the minimum animal threshold for applicability and further provide that an area exclusively zoned for residential use are not acceptable for livestock facilities, regardless of number.
While the general intent of the revised Site Selections GAAMPs is clear, its practical application is less so. The GAAMPs define the areas where livestock facilities are allowed by reference to zoning, and specifically refer to areas as zoned for agriculture. Oftentimes, however, farms are located in areas zoned residential, but in which agriculture is allowed. For example, it is common to have rural areas zoned residential, but in which agriculture is an allowed use, if certain acreage requirements are met. One could argue that a livestock facility located in an area zoned residential is in violation of the GAAMPs and therefore not protected by the RTFA even though farming may be an allowed use within that zone.
Importantly, the Site Selection GAAMPs only apply to operations where animals are confined, such as feed lots or large dairy operations. If a farmer has sufficient pasture to sustain a herd of sheep, for example, even though they may be located in a residential area, the Site Selection GAAMPs would not apply.