Arizona's Right-to-Farm Summary

In 1981, legislators proposed the Right-to-Farm (RTF) in Arizona as a tool to prevent the premature removal of land from agricultural uses due to nuisance litigation.1 Since that time, the number of farm operations in the state has grown by 144%, while the number of acres farmed has shrunk by 31%.2 So what does Arizona’s RTF law do in practice?

Arizona's RTF Law at a Glance

Arizona’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland against urban development. Instead, Arizona’s RTF law, like those present in all other forty-nine states, centers on protecting certain types of agriculture operations from nuisance lawsuits. Arizona’s statute protects owners, lessees, agents, and independent contractors or suppliers if they are engaged in activities “on any facility for the production of crops, livestock, poultry, livestock products or poultry products or for the purposes of agritourism.”3

The state’s RTF law, while changed in name to the “Agriculture Protection Act” in 1995, remained substantively unchanged until sweeping 2021 amendments, discussed further below. 4

Conditions and Activities

To receive protection, operations must be conducted on farmland, defined as land devoted to commercial agricultural production. Operations must be established prior to surrounding nonagricultural land uses. In practice, this means that the operation has to predate its neighbors in order to receive protection, a once common but increasingly rare stipulation. Presently, most states have either amended their RTF laws to say that an operation does not have to predate its neighbors or have failed to include this limitation entirely.

Operations are also required to use good agricultural practices in order to receive RTF protection, which are defined in the statute to mean those practices undertaken in conformity with federal, state, and local laws and regulations.5 However, some state and federal environmental rules and regulations exempt agricultural operations from standards required of other industries. 6 In addition, Arizona’s RTF statute creates a presumption that these so-defined good agricultural practices do not adversely affect public health and safety.7 Burden of proof is placed on any litigant trying to contend otherwise.

Arizona separately regulates environmental nuisances and it is not clear how Arizona’s RTF law may interact with this administrative law. Arizona defines an environmental nuisance as “the creation or maintenance of a condition in the soil, air or water that causes or threatens to cause harm to the public health or the environment.”8 More specifically, this includes a breeding place for flies that transmit diseases in populous areas; waste that risks transmitting disease; spillage of excreta; and the contamination of domestic waters.9 If a condition occurs, the director of the Department of Environmental Quality may bring an action to force the operation to stop the activity causing the environmental nuisance.10

Local Governance

The 2021 amendment to Arizona’s RTF law took away local governments’ ability to regulate agricultural operations, if the state departments of agriculture or Department of environmental quality say otherwise. The law now stipulates that, “Aa city, town, county, [or] special taxing district .. may not declare an agricultural operation conducted on farmland to be a nuisance if the agricultural operation’s practices are lawful, customary, reasonable, safe and necessary to the agriculture industry as the practices pertain to an agricultural operation’s practices as determined by the agricultural best management practices committee established by § 49–457, the Arizona department of agriculture or the department of environmental quality.”

Attorney Fees and Limits on Damages

In 2021, the law was also amended to stipulate that attorney costs and fees be awarded to the prevailing party.11However, if the action is filed in bad faith, determined by whether or not it is grounded in fact or law or for an improper purpose, attorney costs and fees may be awarded to the other party.12The amendment also disallows punitive damages, unless the agricultural operation was subject to criminal or civil action from a state or federal environmental or health regulatory agency.13

Other Related Agricultural Laws

Arizona allows producers, shippers, or an association that represents producers or shippers to bring action for damages or other relief when they suffer from malicious public dissemination of false information.14 Although the term "malicious" is not specifically defined, individuals can be held liable under the statute if they knowingly disseminate false information with intent to harm. If individuals knowingly damage, destroy, or remove any crop or product used for commercial, testing, or research purposes, they are liable for up to twice the market value of what is damaged, up to twice the costs of the production, and the litigation costs of those bringing suit.15

Arizona also allows agricultural landfills on any farm or ranch of more than forty acres in an unincorporated area, as long as the landfill does not create an environmental nuisance (defined above).16 These landfills can consist of solid, household waste generated by those living on the farm or from the property at large’s solid (but not hazardous) waste. These landfills must have a location map and general description filed with the board of supervisors.17 In court, agricultural landfills may be treated differently than general agricultural operations that qualify for RTF protections. Because of this, registered agricultural landfills may not receive RTF protections.

  • 1. Ariz. Laws 1981, Ch. 168, § 1.
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Arizona, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed December 9, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Arizona,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-111(1) (2021).
  • 4. For more details on the context of Arizona’s recent legislation, see 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.
  • 5. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-112(A)–(B) (2021).
  • 6. See Diamond et al., “Farm Fiction.”
  • 7. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-112(B) (2021).
  • 8. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 49-141(A) (2021).
  • 9. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 49-141(A)(1)–(6) (2021).
  • 10. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 49-142 (2021).
  • 11. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-122 (2021).
  • 12. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-122 (2021).
  • 13. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-122 (2021).
  • 14. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-113 (2021).
  • 15. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 3-114 (2021).
  • 16. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 49-766 (2021).
  • 17. Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 49-766(A)–(B) (2021).