Alabama’s Right-to-Farm Summary

In 1978, legislators proposed a right-to-farm law in Alabama as a tool to prevent the loss of farmland and protect family farms.1 Since that time, the number of farms in the state has dropped by 33%, and today 29% fewer acres are being farmed.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Alabama’s RTF Law at a Glance

Alabama’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland or family farmers. Rather, Alabama’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, centers on protecting certain types of operations from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. This special protection applies to many types of production, ranging from silviculture to processing. Alabama’s initial 1978 RTF law included manufacturing and other industrial plants as protected operations, and later amendments expanded to include race tracks as warranting protection from nuisance suits. Later statutory revisions clarified that the RTF law prevails over local governments when they pass ordinances that try to stipulate otherwise.3

Conditions and Activities

In 1990, a couple sued a neighboring poultry operation, claiming that odors from a disposal pit for dead chickens and litter applied near their trailer hampered the enjoyment of their property. They lost their case at the Pickens County circuit court, which said the RTF law protected the corporate operation from nuisance suits. The case was appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which ruled that since the chicken house was built after the couple started living on their property, RTF protections did not apply.

Since that time, the Alabama legislature has added a series of conditions, including one that no longer requires operations to predate local property owners, just that they be in operation for one year.4 When operations meet such conditions, they cannot be deemed a nuisance under state or local laws.5 If conditions around the facility change after it starts operating, the protections for the operation still hold.6 If operations use generally accepted agricultural practices, they are protected. However, what constitutes accepted practices is not clear.

Certain activities, though, are not protected in Alabama’s RTF law. When an operation is negligent (meaning it fails to use proper care) or pollutes the water, it is not protected from nuisance suits.7 However, some state and federal environmental rules and regulations exempt agricultural operations from standards required of other industries. Air pollution, like odor, is not mentioned.

Local Governance

Alabama’s RTF law prevails over municipal ordinances that local governments try to enforce. More specifically, local governments cannot declare an operation a nuisance or require it to stop, as long as it is not negligent and meets the aforementioned criteria.8

Other Important Aspects

By drawing on statutes separate from the state's RTF law, those who file nuisance suits and their attorneys can be required to pay attorney fees and costs if the court determines there was not substantial justification for the suit. 9 This and similar language may have a chilling effect on the filing of nuisance suits in favor of industrial operators.10

  • 1. See Markeshia Ricks, “Measure Would Protect Farms from Nuisance Declarations,” Anniston (Ala.) Star, March 13, 2003; Amy Sieckmann, “Bills to Protect Farms from Lawsuits and Ban Indoor Fireworks Pass Committee,” Anniston Star, April 24, 2003.
  • 2. U.S. Department of Commerce, "Table 1: Farms, Land in Farms, and Land Use: 1945-1978," in 1978 Census of Agriculture, Volume 1: Geographic Area Series, Part 1: Alabama State and County Data, Chapter 1: State Data (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1981), (; "2021 State Agriculture Overview: Alabama," U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service), accessed October 21, 2022, (
  • 3. Ala. Code § 6-5-127 (2021).
  • 4. Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act, 2010 Ala. Acts 397 (S.B. 61).
  • 5. Ala. Code § 2-6B-3 (2021). The criteria in Table 1 are summarized. See the Alabama Family Farm Preservation Act for exact language and more in-depth information.
  • 6. Ala. Code § 2-6B-3 (2021).
  • 7. Ala. Code § 6-5-127 (2021).
  • 8. Danielle Diamond, Loka Ashwood, Allen Franco, Aimee Imlay, Lindsay Kuehn, and Crystal Boutwell, "Farm Fiction: Agricultural Exceptionalism, Environmental Injustice, and U.S. Right-to-Farm Law," Environmental Law Reporter 52 (Sept. 2022): 10727-10748.
  • 9. Ala. Code § 2-6B-3 (2021).
  • 10. Ala. Code § 12-19-272 (2021).