Idaho's Right-to-Farm Summary

When enacting its right-to-farm law, Idaho legislators called farming “a natural right” that was threatened by urbanization. They advocated the RTF law as a tool to stop the “premature removal of the lands from agricultural uses.”1 Since first passed in 1981, the number of farm operators in the state has grown by over 1 percent, while the acres of land farmed have dropped by 23 percent.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Idaho’s RTF Law at a Glance

Idaho’s state law provides no explicit protection for farmland. Rather, Idaho’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, centers on protecting agricultural and farming operations from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. In a 2002 case, landowners neighboring a proposed subdivision attempted to use the RTF law to stop the conversion of land into residential lots. While future owners in the subdivision would have RTF deed restrictions, the plaintiffs alleged that surrounding dairies and feedlots still could be subject to nuisance suits. However, the court ruled that this was speculation.3 Thus, the RTF law provided no such land use protections.

Idaho’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). Prior to 2011, only agricultural operations—but not facilities and expansions—were protected in the law. For example, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that the expansion of a farrow-to-finish hog operation qualified as a nuisance.4 Likewise, in a 1995 case, the court ruled that a feedlot could not expand from approximately 1,000–2,500 cattle to 4,900 cattle and still receive RTF protections.5 In a 1983 case, the court similarly did not apply RTF protections to another cattle feedlot that expanded.6

However, controversial 2011 amendments advocated by farm industry lobbyists made these operations consequently protected by adding “expansion” to the law.7 In addition, the amendments provide explicit protections for facilities, defining them as buildings, structures, ponds, and machinery (among other things) used in an agricultural operation.8 Protected agricultural operations include the production of animal and crop products, application of chemicals, and the production and processing of agricultural products and by-products.9

Conditions and Activities

Idaho’s law protects agricultural operations, facilities, and their expansion from nuisance suits once they have been in operation for one year.10 The law also protects agricultural activities from nuisance lawsuits if the area around them changes.11 But if the area around them remains unchanged, agricultural operations may not receive RTF protections. For example, a riding arena built adjacent to a neighboring property did not predate its neighbors. Thus, the court ruled that the Bar Double Dot Quarter Horses LLC and the couple running it were not entitled to RTF protections.12 In another case, families and their children with preexisting health conditions filed a class action suit for damages, future costs of exposure, expenses of medical monitoring, and other relief related to the burning of grass seed.13 The North Idaho Farmers Association and affiliated farmers alleged that the RTF law protected them from such claims. The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that the children and their families predated the nuisance and were not part of any urbanization. Thus, the RTF protections did not apply. Directly after, the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation introduced a bill to immunize farmers from lawsuits based on smoke and odor in the context of trespass laws.14 The law passed but was later repealed in 2008.15

Agricultural operations are protected so long as they use generally recognized agricultural practices or if they comply with state or federally issued permits. In 2011, however, a controversial bill proposed transferring some confined animal feeding operations processes from the Department of Environmental Quality to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.16 Today, the Department of Environmental Quality and the Idaho State Department split responsibilities when it comes to CAFOs.17 Relatedly, the RTF law does not define what “generally recognized agricultural practices” mean.

Operations also must conform with federal, state, and local laws and regulations and not adversely affect the public’s health and safety.18 For example, one court found in 2020 that a composting facility had to comply with the Department of Environmental Quality solid waste management rules, even though the facility tried to claim RTF immunity.19 It is not clear how the RTF law interacts with the Department of Environmental Quality’s standards for odor.20

Local Governance

In 1994, an amendment to Idaho’s RTF law drastically reduced the power of cities, counties, taxing districts, and other political subdivisions to regulate agricultural operations using generally accepted agricultural practices.21 In addition to stating that these different levels of local government had no such power, the amendment also removed a sentence that made an exception, which formerly allowed local governments to act when operations were negligent (failure to take proper care) or improper (wrongful acts, like violence or trespass). Another amendment in 1997 gave local governments the capacity to require “nuisance waivers”—regarding such things as flies, odors, animal noises, and other operations found annoying, unpleasant, or obnoxious—when people bought properties.22 Then in 2011, yet another amendment further extended the policing power of the state over local government, stating, “Any such ordinance or resolution shall be void and shall have no force or effect.”23

As noted earlier, the RTF law does not prevent political subdivisions from granting land use permits that transform agricultural land into residential uses.24

  • 1. Idaho Code § 22-4501 (2021).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Idaho, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed December 13, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Idaho,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Proesch v. Canyon Cty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 44 P.3d 1173 (Idaho 2002).
  • 4. Crea v. Crea, 16 P.3d 922 (Idaho 2000).
  • 5. Payne v. Skaar, 900 P.2d 1352 (Idaho 1995).
  • 6. Carpenter v. Double R Cattle Co., Inc.,669 P.2d 643 (Idaho Ct. App. 1983).
  • 7. Laura Lundquist, “Lawmaker Will Introduce Bill to Protect Confined Animal Feeding Operations in Idaho,” Twin Falls (Idaho) Times-News, February 21, 2011; “Speaker Denney, Right-to-Farm and the Arrogance of Power,” Twin Falls Times-News, February 24, 2013; Jon Norstog, “Ag Bill,” Idaho State Journal (Pocatello), March 13, 2011; “Panel Backs Changes in Right to Farm Act,” Lewiston (Idaho) Morning Tribune, March 23, 2011.
  • 8. Idaho Code § 22-4502(1) (2021).
  • 9. Idaho Code § 22-4502(2) (2021).
  • 10. Idaho Code § 22-4503 (2021).
  • 11. Idaho Code § 22-4503 (2021).
  • 12. McVicars v Christensen, 320 P.3d 948 (Idaho 2014); Crea, 16 P.3d 922.
  • 13. Moon v. N. Idaho Farmers Ass'n, No. CV 2002 3890, 2002 WL 32102995 (Idaho Dist. Nov. 19, 2002).
  • 14. “Idaho Legislature 2003. Attorney: Laws May Be Unconstitutional,” Twin Falls Times-News, March 13, 2003.
  • 15. See Idaho Code §§ 22-4801 to 22-4804, which were repealed by 2008 Idaho Sess. Laws ch. 71, § 4 (H.B. 557). See also Moon v. N. Idaho Farmers Ass’n, 140 Idaho 536, 539 (Idaho 2004) (“HB 391, which was passed as an emergency measure, amended the Smoke Management and Crop Residue Disposal Act of 1999, I.C. § 22-4801 et seq., and effectively extinguished liability for all North Idaho grass farmers that burn in compliance with its provisions. Of particular significance, HB 391 amended portions of I.C. § 22-4803 and added a new statute, I.C. § 22-4803A”).
  • 16. “New CAFO Bills Carry a Stench,” Idaho State Journal, March 15, 2011.
  • 17. See “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations,” Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, accessed December 16, 2020, Also see “Rules Governing Beef Cattle Animal Feeding Operations,” Idaho Department of Agriculture, accessed December 16, 2020,
  • 18. See Idaho Code § 22-4503 (2021).
  • 19. Department of Environmental Quality v. Gibson, 461 P.3d 706 (Idaho 2020).
  • 20. N. S. Nokkentved, “State: Odors Can Close Dairies. Difficulty Lies in What Constitutes a Problem, Office States,” Twin Falls Times-News, November 4, 2000.
  • 21. 1994 Idaho Sess. Laws ch. 107 (H.B. 695) (repealing and then adding Idaho Code § 22-4504).
  • 22. 1997 Idaho Sess. Laws ch. 341 (H.B. 1145) (amending Idaho Code § 22-4504). See also Betsy Z. Russell, “Bill Protects Farm Practices from Lawsuits: New Neighbors Would Waive Right to Sue Over ‘Nuisances,’” Idaho Spokesman-Review (Spokane, Wash.), February 7, 1997.
  • 23. 2011 Idaho Sess. Laws ch. 229 (H.B. 210) (amending Idaho Code § 22-4504).
  • 24. Proesch, 44 P.3d 1173.