On Delta states…

“A lot of Mid-South states have fairly strong Right to Farm statutes…

“One of the main concerns has been defining ‘substantial change.’ If you’re running a farming operation and you change it in a substantial way, you may lose the Right to Farm protections for a certain period of time.

“Say you have a row-crop operation growing corn and soybeans. Then, you decide to switch over to running a poultry operation. That would be considered a substantial change in many states and you would lose those protections for several years. If no one sues within those two years, the statute comes back into play.”

On legislative updates to “substantial change” language…

“In 2009, Oklahoma changed the Right to Farm statute and modified the substantial change language allowing the farmer to change their operation, adopt new technologies or expand their operation without it being considered a ‘substantial change.’

“One of the provisions in the Arkansas statute actually prohibits local government from enforcing any ordinance that would make a farming operation be considered a nuisance. One of the reasons for that is it can be easier to affect change at the local level of government.

“Another important provision in some states says that if you sue a farmer and the judge finds the case to be frivolous he can order you to pay the farmer’s attorney fees. Some states say that if you sue a farmer for nuisance, lose, and the Right to Farm statute applies then you automatically must pay the farmer’s attorney fees. Texas is a good example of that.

“At the same time, in Arkansas and soon to be in North Carolina, if a suit is brought and Right to Farm (is applicable) then either the farmer or the neighbor that brought the suit could be made to pay the other side’s attorney fees if the judge finds in a certain way.”

How do juries typically react to these nuisance suits and Right to Farm statutes?

“A lot of the cases are very fact-specific. Whether they reach juries or not is dependent largely on each state’s procedural rules.

“And one of the things to consider is that states like Arkansas and Mississippi have extremely wide, diverse types of agriculture. There can be some really interesting cases brought.”

Anything else?

“I’d stress that these laws have been on the books for the last three or four decades. What we’re seeing now is some change in how some states are updating their Right to Farm statutes.

“Farmers need to know what their state says about this issue. Neighbors change and so do farming operations. So, they need to be aware of where they might be vulnerable.

“A rancher with a cow-calf operation may decide to try and feed out his own calves as a value-added part of business, but this decision may open him up to a potential lawsuit.

“And it’s always nice to have a good relationship with your local attorney.”

Note: Rumley will be among the speakers at the August 1 Annual Symposium on Advances and Issues in Food Animal Wellbeing hosted by the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville.