Arkansas's Right-to-Farm Summary

Arkansas legislators passed the state’s right-to-farm law in 1981, advocating it as a tool to protect agricultural and forest land by reducing the loss of the state’s agricultural resources.1 Yet since first enacted, the state’s number of farm operations has dropped by 27 percent and the land in farms by 14 percent.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Arkansa's RTF Law at a Glance

Arkansas’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland or family farmers. Rather, Arkansas’s RTF law, like those present in all other forty-nine states, centers on protecting certain types of operations from nuisance lawsuits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. Arkansas’s RTF protections apply to either private nuisance suits (those brought by people, like neighbors) or public nuisance suits (those brought by the government on behalf of the general public).

Initially, only facilities received RTF protections in Arkansas, but amendments in 2015 extended protections to agricultural and farming operations at large, defined as those involved in silviculture, agriculture, or aquaculture. Protected operations include those engaged in the production of any plant or animal in freshwater or saltwater; the planting, harvesting, and processing of crops and timber, and the care and production of livestock and plants.3

Conditions and Activities

Once up and running for a year, the RTF law shields agricultural operations from nuisance claims that result from a change in the area surrounding the operation.4 In other words, an agricultural operation, if established first, is protected from nuisance suits so long as the operation was not a nuisance at the time it began.5

In 2005, a series of amendments markedly expanded the protection afforded to agricultural and farming operations. Operations now receive protection if they utilize methods or practices “that are commonly or reasonably associated with agricultural production.”6 If using such practices, the court assumes that the agricultural operation is not a nuisance, unless proven otherwise.7 This places the burden of litigation on anyone trying to sue an agricultural or farming operation.

The 2005 amendments do not define the meaning of common and reasonable agricultural practices, but if operations utilize such practices, they receive sweeping protection from nuisance suits.8 Agricultural operations can change their ownership or size without restarting the one-year clock necessary for nuisance protection.9 They can change the product they produce or use a new technology and retain the same start date.10 They can cease or become interrupted as well as participate in a government-sponsored agriculture program without restarting the clock.11

In addition, the RTF law stipulates that agricultural operations be in compliance with state and federal law to receive protection.12 The RTF law also states that operations are not protected if they pollute water, cause a change in the condition of the waters of any stream, or cause any overflow of the lands of any person, firm, or corporation.13 However, agricultural operations are exempt from air pollution standards in the Arkansas Water and Air Pollution Control Act, making it unclear what compliance with state and federal laws means in practice.14 Agricultural operations are also exempt from the state’s Solid Waste Management Act within the state’s Environmental Compliance Resource Program, unless the agricultural operation creates an illegal dump site; a fire, health, and safety hazard; or a public or private nuisance.15 However, the Arkansas RTF protection from public and private nuisance suits may mean agricultural operations are not liable when their solid waste is a nuisance.

Local Governance

Arkansas’s RTF law voids any municipal ordinance that attempts to declare an operation a nuisance or require an operation to stop a nuisance-causing activity if the farm or farm operation meets the statutory requirements.16

For example, Pilgrim’s Pride Corporation operates Premium Protein Products, a twenty-six-acre animal by-product rendering plant, proximate to the city of Russellville. The company sued the city over an odor ordinance it passed in response to complaints about smells up to 2.5 miles away from the facility. The facility collected nonedible poultry and animal by-products from butcher shops, poultry processors, and slaughterhouses. It then converted them into animal feed and organic fertilizers. In response to complaints from Russellville residents, the city passed an ordinance creating a fine of $1,000 for single offenses and up to $500 daily if the odor was continuous.17 The corporation countered that the facility was an agricultural operation, which made such ordinances void. The city withdrew the ordinance in light of the costs imposed by the lawsuit.18

Some local organizations and governments have utilized methods outside of the courts to stop intensive agricultural operations. After a lengthy battle in both state and federal court, the Buffalo River Watershed alliance worked with the Department of Arkansas Heritage and the governor’s office to pay $6.2 million to close a controversial hog facility.19 The group also successfully advocated a five-year ban on concentrated animal feeding operations in the Buffalo River watershed. However, the ban ended without renewal in July 2020.20

Attorney Fees

Arkansas’s RTF law allows a court to award expert fees, reasonable court costs, and reasonable attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in any action brought to assert that an agricultural operation is a public or private nuisance.21

  • 1. Ark. Code § 2-4-101 (1981).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Arkansas, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed Dec. 13, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Arkansas,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Ark. Code § 2-4-102(1)(A)–(C) (2021).
  • 4. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(a) (2021).
  • 5. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(a) (2021).
  • 6. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(c)(2) (2021).
  • 7. Also known as a “rebuttable presumption.” Ark. Code § 2-4-107(c)(2) (2021).
  • 8. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(b)(1) (2021).
  • 9. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(b)(2)(A) (2021).
  • 10. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(b)(2)(D) (2021).
  • 11. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(b)(2)(B)–(C) (2021).
  • 12. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(c)(2) (2021).
  • 13. Ark. Code § 2-4-106 (2021).
  • 14. Ark. Code § 8-4-305(1) –(8) (2021).
  • 15. Ark. Code § 8-6-2019 (2021).
  • 16. Ark. Code § 2-4-105 (2021).
  • 17. Linda Satter, “Arkansas Plant Files Suit to Toss Odor Ordinance,” Arkansas Democrat Gazette (Little Rock), May 30, 2017.
  • 18. Sean Ingram, “PPP Lawyers File Second Amended Suit,” Russellville (Ark.) Courier, June 16, 2017; Linda Satter, “Arkansas Rendering Plant Stops Suit after City Agrees to Look for a New Way to Fight Stink,” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, September 25, 2017.
  • 19. Settlement Agreement, C&H Hog Farm, Inc., and State of Arkansas, June 13, 2019, in Buffalo River Watershed Alliance website,
  • 20. Michael M. Wickline, “Proposal to Ban Hog Farms near Buffalo River Tossed Out,” Arkansas Democrat Gazette, June 20, 2020.
  • 21. Ark. Code § 2-4-107(d) (2021).