Connecticut's Right-to-Farm Summary

Advocates of Connecticut’s right-to-farm law promoted it as a legal tool that protects land from suburban sprawl and protects old-timers from urban newcomers.1 Since the state law was first enacted in 1983, the number of farm operations in the state has grown by 28 percent, while 24 percent fewer acres are farmed. 2 So what does this law do in practice?

Connecticut’s RTF Law at a Glance

Connecticut’s state law provides no explicit protection for farmland. Rather, Connecticut’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, centers on protecting agricultural and farming operations from nuisance suits when they they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. Connecticut’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).

Connecticut’s RTF law does not define agricultural and farming operations.3 A 1997 amendment to the RTF law added the collection of spring and well water as protected agricultural activities. 4 The RTF law defines spring water as that obtained from an underground formation that naturally flows to the surface, while well water means natural water obtained from a hole bored, drilled, or otherwise constructed in the ground.5 One court consulted a local zoning code to determine the meaning of agriculture when a spring water company tried to claim RTF status. Based on its code, the town demanded the company stop collecting and storing spring water. The court deferred to the town’s definition of agriculture—which did not include water as food—to affirm that the company could not bottle water.6

Conditions and Activities

Once agricultural and farming operations are up and running for a year, Connecticut’s RTF law protects them, so long as they use generally accepted agricultural practices. Inspection and approval by the commissioner of agriculture is taken as evidence that the operation, place, establishment, or facility follows such practices, unless proved otherwise.7

The law specifically protects operations from nuisance suits related to odor, dust, noise, and the use of chemicals.8 To receive RTF protections, the method of chemical application must be approved by the commissioner of energy and environmental protection and, when applicable, the state commissioner of public health. The law also protects agricultural and farming operations from nuisance suits over water pollution from livestock or crop production, except when they pollute public or private drinking water. The commissioner of energy and environmental protection determines what constitutes acceptable management practices for water pollution.9

In one case, a city sued horse owners in part for having the horses fenced closer to the neighbor’s property than allowed by city and state ordinances. The horses also were boarded proximate to an abandoned well. In a split ruling, the court ruled that the location of the fence line was in accordance with generally accepted practices and protected by the RTF law. However, the court ruled that the inactive well had yet to be properly abandoned, and RTF protections do not apply to private or public wells.10

The law also does not protect operations that cause a nuisance due to negligent (failed to take proper care), willful (done intentionally), or reckless (person knew or should have known his or her actions would cause harm) agricultural practices.11 In one case, neighbors sued a dairy farm for not adhering to its waste management plan, failing to replace or repair broken pipes that disposed of waste, and housing more cows than permitted under special exemption. The jury found that the dairy farm operators had emitted offensive odors that unreasonably interfered with the residents’ enjoyment of their property. The jury also found that the farm was negligent.12 The couple was awarded $60,000 for permanent loss of the enjoyment of their home and $40,000 for noneconomic damages.13

Willfulness played a central role in a different case, when landowners erected a small sheep pen behind a subdivision home after the subdivision installed signs on the landowners’ property, against their wishes. The owners of the sixteen acres admitted that they knew the homeowner in the subdivision did not like livestock when they placed five sheep and two goats in the pen. In addition, the landowners painted a box truck with the depiction of a goat and the words “baa baa” on the side. The homeowner said the animal pen and box truck interfered with her peaceful enjoyment of her property and reduced its value. The court found that the defendants were likely not protected by the state’s RTF law because their actions were willful.14

Local Governance

Connecticut’s RTF law provides protections from nuisance suits “notwithstanding” any general statute, municipal ordinance, or regulation to the contrary.15 Courts have interpreted this to allow for local zoning as long as those ordinances do not try to regulate odor, dust, noise, and chemicals. Some local governments have responded by passing local right-to-farm ordinances.16 However, most RTF litigation in Connecticut pertains to agricultural operations claiming RTF exemption from local laws.

In one case, a town issued a zoning citation against a farm for constituting a blight to adjacent property owners through deteriorating structures, improper storage of trash, and interference with the use and enjoyment of other properties in the area. The farm claimed that the town’s zoning ordinance was unenforceable due to the restrictions on local government in the RTF law.17 The court found that although the RTF law prohibits ordinances related to nuisance, it does not prevent towns from passing and enforcing ordinances related to safety, health, and the general welfare of residents.

In a similar case, a corporate tobacco farm on multiple occasions allowed a helicopter to take off and land on the property, violating a town’s zoning ordinances. The farmer claimed that the RTF law preempted the local ordinance. The court found that the RTF law did not apply because the town’s opposition to the helicopter did not pertain to nuisance but rather to an illegal use of land. The court also ruled that the zoning ordinance did not prevent the farm from operating and thus did not violate the RTF law. The court stated that the RTF law was intended to protect “longstanding farms” in reference to how they were “historically operated.” Last, the court noted that even if the ordinance had been in conflict with the RTF law, the helicopter had not been in use for more than one year, the amount of time an agricultural activity needs to have existed before RTF protection is given.18

  • 1. George Krimsky, “Here Comes the Neighborhood,” Waterbury (Conn.) Republican-American (Waterbury, Conn.), August 7, 2018; “Right-to-Farm Helps State/Editorials,” Hartford Courant, June 4, 2013.
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1983 Survey, Connecticut, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed December 13, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Connecticut,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Wood v. Zoning Bd. of Appeals of Town of Somers, 784 A.2d 354 (Conn. 2001).
  • 4. A 1997 amendment to the RTF law added the collection of spring and well water as protected agricultural activities. FN: 1997 Conn. Acts 11 (S.B 3004, Spec. Sess.) (adding, in relevant part, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(b)).
  • 5. Conn. Gen. Stat § 21a-150 (2021).
  • 6. Wood, 784 A.2d 354.
  • 7. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(a) (2021).
  • 8. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(a)(1)-(4) (2021).
  • 9. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(a)(4) (2021).
  • 10. Havlicek v. Hills, No. CV030102301, 2003 WL 22962871. (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 5,2003).
  • 11. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(c) (2021).
  • 12. Petsey v. Cushman, No. 530238, 1994 WL 720359 (Conn. Super. Ct. Dec. 15,1994).
  • 13. Petsey v. Cushman, No. X07CV 9470091, 2000 WL 157920 (Conn. Super. Ct. Jan. 28, 2000).
  • 14. Morytko v. Westfort, No. CV04400600S, 2005 WL 1524799 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 31, 2005).
  • 15. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 19a-341(a) (2021).
  • 16. Lynn Mellis Worthington, “Farm Ordinance Going to Voters—Move to Guard Farmers from Nuisance Suits,” Waterbury Republican-American, May 7, 2015; Jackie Nappo, “Ellington Selectmen Endorse Proposed ‘Right to Farm’ Ordinance,” Manchester (Conn.) Journal Inquirer, January 16, 2019; Erik Hesselberg, “Town Eyes ‘Right to Farm’ Ordinance/East Hampton,” Hartford Courant, June 3, 2013; Caitlin Dineen, “Right-to-Farm Vote Draws Outcry,” Willimantic (Conn.) Chronicle, September 30, 2009.
  • 17. Pierczyk Straska Farm v. Town of Rocky Hill, No. CV155016838, 2016 WL 673490 (Conn. Super. Ct. Jan. 7, 2016).
  • 18. Town of Enfield v Enfield Shade Tobacco, LLC., No. CV010809006, 2002 WL 1162815 (Conn. Super. Ct. May 8, 2002).