Kansas’s Right-to-Farm Summary

Legislators advocated Kansas’s right-to-farm law in 1982 as a tool to prevent the loss of farmland.1 Since that time, the number of farms in the state has dropped by 20 percent, with 3 percent fewer acres of farmland.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Kansas’s RTF Law at a Glance

Kansas’s RTF law does not explicitly protect farmland from development. Rather, Kansas’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, centers on protecting certain activities on farmland from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. The statute defines farmland as “land devoted primarily to an agricultural activity.” Agricultural activities protected from nuisance suits range from growing horticultural and agricultural crops to raising livestock, as well as handling, storage, and transportation of agricultural commodities.3

Conditions and Activities

To receive protection from nuisance suits, the law stipulates that agricultural activities be good agricultural practices but does not specify what this means. Agricultural activities must comply with applicable local, state, and federal laws and not substantially harm public health and safety. However, some state and federal environmental rules and regulations exempt agricultural operations from standards required of other industries.4 Air pollution, like odor, is not mentioned.

Kansas courts have held that RTF protections apply only to agricultural activities established prior to surrounding agricultural or nonagricultural activities.5 In accordance with this, a court ruled in 1993 that because a cattle feeding operation did not predate a family’s use of a farmhouse on their agricultural land, RTF protections did not apply.6 However, a 2013 series of amendments markedly altered this previously understood meaning. Now, an operation can (1) expand in scope by adding more animals or acreage; (2) alter its activities or cease them temporarily; (3) or change owners—and still qualify as existing before surrounding owners.

Local Governance

Generally, counties cannot apply state regulatory laws to land or buildings used for agricultural purposes, except in floodplain areas.7 In one case, a court ruled that a political subdivision can enforce ordinances related to nuisances when an agricultural operation does not meet the required conditions mentioned in the prior section.8

Other Important Aspects

Only owners can file nuisance suits, and if they win, their awards are limited. In one 1998 ruling, a couple was awarded $15,000 in punitive (intended to punish) damages against a cattle feedlot for pollution, odors, and flies. However, the statute now prevents such awards.9 Further, more recent amendments limit permanent (not possible to lessen) nuisance awards to the fair market value reduction of the owner’s property. If a nuisance is determined to be temporary (possible to lessen), the owner can receive only the lesser value of (1) the decrease in fair rental value; (2) the value of the loss of the use and enjoyment of the property; or (3) the reasonable cost to repair or mitigate any injury. If the defendant tries to mitigate the nuisance and cannot, damages are limited to the permanent category.10

For agricultural chemicals, Kansas’s RTF law has a special provision for when a court orders an activity to cease—what is known as an injunction. Defendants can sometimes claim attorney fees alongside other retrospective costs if they can prove they used chemicals properly, no damages were sustained by the plaintiff, and they sustained losses as a result of the injunction.11

  • 1. Kan. Stat. § 2-3201 (2021).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Commerce, “Table 1. Farms, Land in Farms, and Land Use: 1982 and Earlier Census Years,” in 1982 Census of Agriculture, Volume 1: Geographic Area Series, Part 16: Kansas State and County Data, Chapter 1: State Data (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984), https://agcensus.library.cornell.edu/wp-content/uploads/1982-Kansas-CHAPTER_1_State_Data-121-Table-01.pdf; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Kansas,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022, https://www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state=KANSAS.
  • 3. Kan. Stat. § 2-3203 (2021).
  • 4. 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. Kan. Stat. § 2-3202 (2021); Desaire v. Solomon Valley Co-Op, Inc., No. 94-1271-PFK, 1995 WL 580064 (D. Kan. Sept. 14, 1995).
  • 6. Finlay v. Finlay, 856 P.2d 183 (Kan. Ct. App. 1993).
  • 7. Kan. Stat. § 19-2921 (2021).
  • 8. Weber v. Board of County Comm'rs of Franklin Co., 884 P.2d 1159 (Kan. Ct. App. 1994).
  • 9. J. Hays, “Jury Punishes Feedlot Owner for Making Neighbors’ Lives Miserable,” Wichita Eagle, May 27, 1998
  • 10. Kan. Stat. § 2-3205 (2021).
  • 11. Kan. Stat. § 2-3204 (2021).