Louisiana's Right-to-Farm Summary

When legislators passed and amended Louisiana’s right-to-farm law, they declared it a tool that protected the value of agricultural land and reduced the loss of it.1 But since the law was enacted in 1983, the number of farm operations in the state has dropped by 23 percent and the number of acres farmed by 20 percent.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Louisiana’s RTF Law at a Glance

Louisiana’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland. Like those present in the other forty-nine states, the law centers on protecting certain types of operations and processing facilities from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. The law explicitly protects “persons” engaged in agricultural operations or production.3 In 2008, the law was amended to expand the definition of protected agricultural operations to include any agricultural facility or land used for production or processing, including crops, livestock, farm-raised fish and fish products, wood, timber and forest products, and poultry. Protected operations also include the use of farm machinery, equipment, chemicals, and structures.4 The RTF protection of agricultural processing includes the slaughtering and processing of livestock and poultry as well as the elevation and drying of grain, among other things.5 Agricultural production refers to the planting of crops, leaving land idle, participating in government programs, using support services, or crop and livestock rotations.6 In 1995, the law was also amended to include a right to forest.7

Conditions and Activities

Once up and running for a year, agricultural operations cannot be sued for nuisance. Since a set of sweeping amendments in 2008, in addition to being protected from private nuisance suits (those brought by people like neighbors), agricultural operations are also protected from public nuisance suits (those brought by the government on behalf of the general public).
Louisiana’s RTF law creates a presumption that agricultural operations utilize traditional or generally accepted agricultural practices, which the law explicitly protects from nuisance suits. This presumption places the burden of proof on any litigant trying to contend otherwise.8 For example, one court ruled that even though a ConAgra Foods Inc.’s Peavey grain elevator had been cited for violations by the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, its agricultural practices still qualified as generally accepted. The court faulted the residents who brought the suit for not providing sufficient evidence that the elevator’s practices were not generally accepted.9

However, on appeal, the same court clarified that some residents were eligible to proceed with the nuisance suit because their ownership predated the facility. Louisiana’s RTF law explicitly protects agricultural operations from “persons who subsequently acquire an interest in any land in the vicinity.”10 Operations cannot constantly change themselves to receive protection and must be established prior to substantive changes nearby.11 For example, an Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. facility was ordered to pay a judgment of $280,000 (an award of $500 to $1,500 per over 200 residents) for penetrating dust from its River Road grain elevator.12

Initially, Louisiana’s RTF law protected only generally accepted agricultural practices, defining them as consistent with accepted and customary standards by similar agricultural operations.13 However, a 2008 amendment expanded what qualified as protected practices by adding “traditional” ones, which can include best management practices. Best management practices for animal feeding operations and confined animal feeding operations are determined by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry and the Louisiana State University AgCenter.14 They suggest best management practices relative to the commodity with the stated intention of controlling the transmission of pollutants from agricultural resources to the state.15

The definition of what qualifies as an agricultural operation often intersects with what are acceptable practices. For example, a resident sued a produce business for nuisance. Initially, the trial court used the RTF law to rule that the business was an agricultural operation and thus shielded from nuisance suits.16 However, the state appellate court reversed the ruling, saying it was up to a court to determine not just whether the business was an agricultural operation but also whether it utilized generally accepted agricultural practices. In a separate 2020 case, the court ruled that a series of companies could claim an RTF defense as it pertained to timber production. However, the court had a split ruling, where it allowed the residents to proceed with suing for damages in regard to alleged chemical exposure to formaldehyde. But the court did not allow the plaintiffs to seek injunctive relief—meaning stopping the chemical spraying immediately—as the RTF law barred such action.17

Agricultural operations do not qualify for RTF protections if they are negligent (that is, failure to take proper care), intentionally cause injury (that is, harm purposefully directed), or violate state or federal laws or rules.18 However, some state and federal environmental rules and regulations exempt agricultural operations from standards applicable to other industries.19

Local Governance

Louisiana’s RTF law prevails over local ordinances that governments try to enforce, as long as the agricultural operation is not negligent and uses generally accepted or traditional practices.20 Municipal zoning and nuisance ordinances do not apply to operations established outside the corporate limits of the town and later incorporated.21

More generally, as of 1995, any governmental entity must provide an extensive written assessment of any action that potentially diminishes the value of private agricultural property.22 A private owner of an agricultural property can sue the government to determine whether its action has diminished the value of the property at hand.23 If the owner prevails, the government not only is required to pay the owner’s litigation fees but can rescind or repeal the regulation. When such happens, the government is also liable for damages sustained by the property owner.24 Importantly, actions by government entities charged with the promotion, protection, and advancement of agriculture cannot be held liable for the diminution of the value of agricultural property.

Attorney Fees

Those who file nuisance suits and their attorneys can be required to pay attorney fees and costs if the court determines there was not substantial justification for the suit.25 This and similar language may have a chilling effect on the filing of nuisance suits in favor of industrial operators.26

  • 1. La. Stat. § 3:3601 (2021).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1983 Survey, Louisiana, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed December 14, 2020, https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/results/CB69E29B-7097-38A1-A18E-73F45CAF3523; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Louisiana,” 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=LOUISIANA.
  • 3. La. Stat. § 3:3603(A).
  • 4. La. Stat. § 3:3602(5) (2021).
  • 5. La. Stat. § 3:3602(6) (2021).
  • 6. La. Stat. § 3:3602(8) (2021).
  • 7. La. Stat. § 3:3621 (2021).
  • 8. La. Stat. § 3:3604 (2021).
  • 9. Albert v Peavey Co., No. 04-1611, 2009 WL 321934 (E.D. La. Feb. 6, 2009); Trosclair v Matrana’s Produce, Inc, 717 So.2d 1257 (La. Ct. App. 1998).
  • 10. La. Stat. § 3:3603(A) (2021).
  • 11. La. Stat. § 3:3603(B) (2021).
  • 12. Gordon Russell, “Residents Win Grain Elevator Suit,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, December 30, 1999.
  • 13. La. Stat. § 3:3602(12) (2021).
  • 14. La. Stat. § 3:3602(18) (2021).
  • 15. Ron E. Sheffield, Karl Harborth, Guillermo Scaglia, Brian D. LeBlanc, Karen Nix, and Kim Pope, Sustainable Best Management Practices for Beef Production, Louisiana State University Agricultural Center Publication 2884, 2012, accessed December 14, 2020, https://www.lsuagcenter.com/~/media/system/c/f/1/6/cf1624fa7391138c9a9fa5ff206ee88f/pub2884beefbmppublowres.pdf.
  • 16. Trosclair, 717 So. 2d 1257.
  • 17. Collett v. Weyerhaeuser Company, No. 19-11144, 2020 WL 6828613 (E.D. La. Nov. 19, 2020).
  • 18. La. Stat. § 3:3606 (2021).
  • 19. 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.
  • 20. La. Stat. § 3:3607(A), (C) (2021).
  • 21. La. Stat. § 3:3607(B) (2021).
  • 22. 1995 La. Acts 302 (H.B. 2199) (adding, in relevant part, La. Stat. § 3:3609).
  • 23. La. Stat. § 3:3610(A) (2021).
  • 24. La. Stat. § 3:3610(F) (2021).
  • 25. La. Stat. § 3:3605 (2021).
  • 26. Cordon M. Smart, “The ‘Right to Commit Nuisance’ in North Carolina: A Historical Analysis of the Right-to-Farm Act,” North Carolina Law Review 94, no. 6 (2016): 2097–154.