Urban Agriculture in Michigan Threatened by New Rules

Urban Agriculture in Michigan Threatened by New Rules

The 5 member Michigan Ag. Commission will soon be voting on new rules that remove Right to Farm protection from areas not specifically zoned "agricultural" by local governments.  Michigan is widely cited as having the strongest Right to Farm Act in the nation, but that status is currently under threat.  Here is the history:
  • In 1981, as new neighborhoods began to encroach on traditional farming operations, the state legislature passed a Right to Farm (RTF) law to protect farmers from nuisance suits. In its original version, the 1981 Act allowed local units of government to also exert regulatory control over farming operations thru local zoning regulations.
  • In 1999 the state legislature recognized that local units of government could not be depended on to establish local regulations permitting agriculture, and concluded that if agriculture is to remain strong in Michigan it must be regulated instead at the state­ level. The 1999 legislature passed an amendment to RTF that specifically prohibited local units of government from attempting to regulate farming beyond the state-wide RTF provisions:
Beginning June 1, 2000, except as otherwise provided in this section, it is the express legislative intent that this act preempt any local ordinance, regulation, or resolution that purports to extend or revise in any manner the provisions of this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a local unit of government shall not enact, maintain, or enforce an ordinance, regulation, or resolution that conflicts in any manner with this act or generally accepted agricultural and management practices developed under this act.

As a result of the 1999 RTF amendment, everyone in Michigan with a commercial farming operation that follows generally accepted agricultural management practices (GAAMPS) is protected by the Right to Farm Act.  This includes very large operations like CAFOs, traditional family farms, and very small backyard and urban farming operations. However, The Michigan Deparement of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) is currently engaged in efforts to reverse the 1999 RTF amendment by changing the language of the GAAMPS, without going through the normal legislative process.  The legislature gave MDARD the power to adjust GAAMPS language to keep up with scientific advances in agricultural management practices, but in 2012–and proposed for 2013–they used the GAAMPS to give regulatory control over farming operations back to local units of government.  Specifically, a GAAMPS change made in 2012 now permits cities of over 100,000 to impose regulations on farming operations, and proposed changes for 2013 will require local regulations for RTF protection, in the form of agricultural zoning.   The 2012 change could exempt as many as 1.5 million Michiganders from RTF protection, and the proposed 2013 change, if approved, will exempt as many 8 million Michigan citizens from Right to Farm Protection.

What can be done to save Right to Farm protection in Michigan?  Because the proposed changes are being exerted through changes to the GAAMPS, they require approval only by a majority of the 5-member Michigan Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development.  Here’s what you can do to convince them to vote against these changes:

1. Send a message to the Agriculture Commission stating that you oppose the 2012 and 2013 changes to the GAAMPS that weaken Michigan’s Right to Farm Act by allowing local units of government to regulate commercial farming operations.  The Ag Commission can be reached here: mda-ag-commission@michigan.gov

2. Attend an Agriculture Commission meeting and speak to the commissioners directly. The remaining meeting schedule is below, with a vote on the 2013 proposed GAAMPS scheduled for the December 12th, 2012 meeting.

Wed., Sept. 12, 9:00 a.m. – Coopersville Farm Museum; 375 Main Street, Coopersville, MI

Wed., Oct. 31, 9:00 a.m. – Constitution Hall; 525 W. Allegan St., Lansing, MI

Wed., Dec. 12,  9:00 a.m. – Green Stone Farm Credit Services; 3515 West Road, East Lansing, MI

3. The Michigan Farm Bureau supported the 1999 RTF amendment, and opposes these GAAMPS changes that weaken it.  If you are a Michigan Farm Bureau Member, bring this up at your next meeting and ask your leadership to oppose these changes.

4. Pass the message on!  Send the link to this article to others interested in maintaining Right to Farm protection in Michigan, or print this article and post it at your local feed store or veterinary office.

2 Comments on Urban Agriculture in Michigan Threatened by New Rules

  1. As an update on this story, these changes to the site selection “generally accepted agriculture management practices” were rejected after a group of backyard chicken owners appeared at several of these Michigan Department of Agriculture meetings voicing opposition (I was among that group – and am an attorney as well). The commissioners were genuinely appreciative of our efforts and were glad to have concerned individuals stepping forward. It was also a credit to the bipartisan group of commissioners who were open to our views and were very thoughtful on the issue after we pointed out the impact that the changes threatened to impose.

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  1. Right to Farm Laws In Michigan May Affect the Urban Farming Movement | Jason Foscolo LLC | Food Law

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