Indiana’s Right-to-Farm Summary

Indiana declares in its right-to-farm law the conservation, protection, development, and improvement of agricultural land for production as its state policy.1 But since the law first passed in 1981, the number of farms has dropped by 36 percent and the acres of farmland by 11 percent.2 So what does the state’s RTF legislation do in practice?

Indiana’s RTF Law at a Glance

Indiana’s law provides no protection tailored to farmland. Rather, Indiana’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, protects operations spanning agriculture, forestry, and industry at large from nuisance suits when their activities impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution.3 The law defines agricultural operations as any facility that is used for the production of crops, livestock, poultry, or the growing of timber.4 Agricultural operations also include facilities used for the production of livestock, poultry, or horticultural products. Forestry operations include facilities, activities, and equipment related to raising, managing, harvesting, and removing trees. Industrial operations include facilities used for the manufacture of a product from other products; the transformation of a material from one form to another; the mining of material and related mine activities; and the storage or disposition of a product or material.5 Despite the RTF law’s protection of industries well beyond agriculture, the Indiana courts contend that the law, “by its plain terms, was intended to prohibit nonagricultural land uses from being the basis of a nuisance suit against an established agricultural operation.” 6

Conditions and Activities

In the original 1981 version of the law, agricultural operations that had operated continuously at their location for more than one year were protected from nuisance suits in the event of a significant change, with the exception of a significant change to the operation’s hours or type.7 Amendments in 2005 made a series of major clarifications regarding what is considered a protected significant change.8 Changes protected from nuisance suits include (1) the conversion from one type of agricultural operation to another type of agricultural operation; (2) a change in the ownership or size of the agricultural operation; (3) enrollment, reduction, or cessation of participation in a government program; or (4) the adoption of new technology. Indiana courts have interpreted these provisions to protect operations that change from crop and smaller-scale livestock production to industrial-scale concentrated animal feeding operations. For example, the Indiana Court of Appeals held that a farm that converted from cropland with 100 dairy cows to a 760-head dairy CAFO did not constitute a significant change.9 The court stated, “The Act removes claims against existing farm operations that later undergo a transition from one type of agriculture to another.” The court of appeals similarly ruled, in a later case, that the transition from being a row-crop farm to an 8,000-hog CAFO did not constitute a significant change under the 2005 amendments, even though it would have prior to that time.10

Under Indiana’s law, agricultural operations receive RTF protections only if they have been operating continuously on the same area of land for more than one year.11 An operation can experience an interruption that lasts for one year or less and still be considered to have operated continuously.12 In addition, an agricultural operation will be protected only if it would not have been a nuisance at the time it began operating at its present location.13

Indiana’s RTF law stipulates that it will not protect an agricultural operation from a nuisance lawsuit in the case of negligence.14 Recently, neighbors that predated the construction of a hog CAFO filed a nuisance suit alleging, in part, that the facility was negligently operated.15 However, the court ruled that there was no evidence it was negligently operated or that the CAFO violated Indiana Department of Environmental Management regulations. The court pointed out that the siting of a CAFO at a particular location, in and of itself, cannot constitute negligent operation under the state’s RTF law. The court thus ruled that the negligence exception under the RTF act did not apply. The plaintiffs in this case attempted to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court of the United States, arguing that the Indiana RTF law violates the Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, they argued that the law provides complete immunity from nuisance and trespass liability, even when neighbors predate the construction of an agricultural operation that causes noxious substances to invade their homes and remove their ability to use and enjoy their property.16 The case, however, was recently denied review by the U.S. Supreme Court.17

Local Governance

The RTF act does not explicitly address how local governments may or may not regulate agriculture. Other law, however, stipulates that the Department of Agriculture “shall promote the growth of agricultural business” by assisting such businesses in the permitting process.18 Other statutes limit county zoning and regulations of agricultural land.19

Attorney’s Fees

Indiana’s RTF law stands apart from other states when it comes to costs and attorney fees. This is because the law allows fees and costs to be awarded not only to the prevailing defendant (typically the agricultural operation) but also to the prevailing plaintiff, under certain circumstances.20 A 2012 amendment clarifies that if a nuisance case brought under the RTF law is deemed frivolous, the successful defendant or plaintiff is awarded costs and reasonable attorney fees.21 While not defined in the state’s law, “frivolous” typically means that a party involved (either defendant or plaintiff) takes action even when that party knows the claim does not have sufficient merit to win. The law clarifies that simply not prevailing in a lawsuit is not enough to conclude that the action was frivolous.22 In addition, if a county, city, or town brings a successful nuisance action under Indiana’s RTF law, it can recover reasonable attorney fees incurred.23 A governmental body has yet to be a party in an Indiana RTF case, while CAFOs and/or business firms are winning more cases in Indiana than anywhere else in the nation.

  • 1. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Indiana, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 14, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Indiana,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021). See also Himsel v. Himsel, 122 N.E.3d 935 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019) (quoting Ind. Code Ann. § 15-11-2-6, also known as “The Agricultural Canon,” enacted in 2014, which provides, “The general assembly declares that it is the policy of the state to conserve, protect, and encourage the development and improvement of agriculture, agricultural businesses, and agricultural land for the production of food, fuel, fiber, and other agricultural products. The Indiana Code shall be construed to protect the rights of farmers to choose among all generally accepted farming and livestock production practices, including the use of ever changing technology.”).
  • 4. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-1 (2021).
  • 5. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021) stipulates a “policy toward agricultural and industrial operation.” Industrial operations are defined in Ind. Code § 32-30-6-2.
  • 6. Himsel, 122 N.E.3d 935 (quoting TDM Farms, Inc. v. Wilhoite Family Farm, LLC, 969 N.E.2d 97 (Ind. Ct. App. 2012)).
  • 7. 1981 Ind. Acts 288 (adding Ind. Code § 34-1-52-4(e) (1981)) (now codified at Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9).
  • 8. See 2005 Ind. Acts 23 (S. Enrolled Acts 267) (amending Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9).
  • 9. Parker v. Obert’s Legacy Dairy, LLC, 988 N.E.2d 319 (Ind. Ct. App. 2013).
  • 10. Himsel, 122 N.E.3d 935.
  • 11. Ind. Code §§ 32-30-6-3, 32-30-6-9 (2021).
  • 12. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021).
  • 13. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021).
  • 14. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9 (2021).
  • 15. Himsel, 122 N.E.3d 935.
  • 16. Petition for Writ of Certiorari in Himsel v. Himsel, 122 N.E.3d 935 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019), cert. denied, 141 S. Ct. 364 (U.S. Oct. 5, 2020) (No. 20-72); Sarah Bowman, “Does Right to Farm Act Violate Constitution? Hog Farm’s Neighbors Say It Decimates Their Property Value,” Evansville Courier and Press, July 27, 2020.
  • 17. Himsel v. 4/9 Livestock, LLC, 141 S. Ct. 364 (2020).
  • 18. Ind. Code § 15-11-2-6 (2021).
  • 19. Ind. Code § 36-7-4-616 (2021).
  • 20. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9.5 (2021).
  • 21. See 2012 Ind. Acts 73 (H.E.A. 1091) (adding Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9.5).
  • 22. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-9.5 (2021).
  • 23. Ind. Code § 32-30-6-7 (2021).