Alaska Right-to-Farm Summary

Advocates view Alaska’s RTF law as a tool to protect farmers from nuisance lawsuits when people come “in from the city” and build near farms.1 Since the law passed in 1986, the number of farming operations has increased by 83 percent, while the acres of farmland have decreased by 17 percent.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Alaska’s RTF Law at a Glance

Alaska’s RTF law does not explicitly protect farmers or farmland. Rather, Alaska’s RTF law, similar to other such statutes nationally, centers on protecting agricultural operations and facilities from nuisance lawsuits over matters like pollution.3 The law expansively defines operations, which includes aquatic, livestock, and crop production; the raising, slaughtering, and processing of livestock; timber harvesting, manufacturing, and processing; and the application and storage of pesticides, herbicides, animal manure, treated sewage sludge, or chemicals. In the RTF law, protected facilities are those that engage in commercial production or processing that pertains to,“any land, building, structure, pond, impoundment, appurtenance, machinery, or equipment” related to crops, livestock, livestock products, or aquatic farming.4

Conditions and Activities

Alaska’s right-to-farm law protects agricultural facilities and agricultural operations from nuisance suits when conditions change nearby, as long as the facility was not a nuisance when it began.5 A facility cannot be a private nuisance if it is operated consistent with a soil conservation district plan.6 In 2001, legislators amended the definition of agricultural operations to protect those that change or utilize new technology, practices, processes, or procedures, as well as those related to the activities of “agricultural facilities.”7 Further, their beginning date does not restart regardless of any expansion or use of new technology. The amendment also removed the stipulation that operations be in existence for three years before they could receive protection from nuisance suits. Operations remain liable, however, for improper, illegal, or negligent conduct of their agricultural operations or when the operation causes flooding.8

The Supreme Court of Alaska has only heard one RTF case, where debate settled around questions of timing and what constituted an agricultural operation.9 An operator owned land where he kept farming equipment, livestock, and lagoons for storing septage waste collected by his company and another. A real estate developer, who owned land adjacent to the defendant’s property where he built and sold new homes, sued the defendant for alleged nuisance in the form of odors and negligence. The developer sought a court order for the agricultural operation to stop, while the operator claimed that the RTF law protected him from such complaints. The court ruled that even though the RTF law lists sewage application as a protected activity, the operator did not use or intend to use the septage for farming because the spreading of the waste on pastures began only after the neighbors were impacted. The court wrote that “the [Right-to-Farm] Act was meant to protect commercial agricultural facilities or operations that would otherwise become nuisances, not nuisances that may later become agricultural facilities or operations.”10

RTF and Local Governance

Alaska’s RTF law prevails over municipal ordinances, resolutions, or regulations that local governments try to enforce.11 However, this is specific only to cases that pertain to nuisance. For example, in a 1991 case, a property owner built a fence and gate, which the city later removed, saying it was a right-of-way encroachment. The property owner sued, claiming an RTF defense. However, the court ruled that the RTF statute was a defense specifically tailored to nuisance, not to permit violations pertaining to local ordinances. In conclusion, the RTF defense did not apply.12

  • 1. See Zaz Hollander, “Alaska Supreme Court Goes to Valley School to Hear Case of Smelly Septage-Students Heard Oral Arguments in the Case Pitting a Farmer Who Uses Septage on His Crops against a Next-Door Developer Who Complained about the Stink,” Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage),. October 20, 2016.
  • 2. U.S. Department of Commerce, "Table 1. Historical Highlights: 1987 and Earlier Census Years," in 1987 Census of Agriculture, Volume 1: Geographic Area Series, Part 2: Alaska State and County Data, Chapter 3: State Data, (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989),; "2021 State Agriculture Overview: Alaska," U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.255 (2021).
  • 4. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235 (2021).
  • 5. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235(a) (2021).
  • 6. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235 (2021)
  • 7. 2001 Alaska Sess. Laws ch. 28 (S.B. 60). See also Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235(d)(1) (2021) (“‘agricultural facility’ means any land, building, structure, pond, impoundment, appurtenance, machinery, or equipment that is used or is intended for use in the commercial production or processing of crops, livestock, or livestock products, or that is used in aquatic farming”).
  • 8. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235(b) (2021)
  • 9. Hollander, "Alaska Supreme Court Goes to Valley School to Hear Case of Smelly Septage."
  • 10. Riddle v. Lanser, 421 P.3d 35 (Alaska 2018).
  • 11. Alaska Stat. § 09.45.235(c) (2020).
  • 12. Gates v. City of Tenakee Springs, 822 P.2d 455 (Alaska 1991).