Maryland's Right-to-Farm Summary

Legislators proposed and amended Maryland’s right-to-farm law, calling it a tool to combat the threat of urban encroachment.1 Yet since becoming law in 1981, Maryland has lost 32 percent of its farm operations and 29 percent of its acreage in farms.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

Maryland’s RTF Law at a Glance

Maryland’s law provides no protection tailored to farmland or farms by size (for example, family or small operations). Rather, Maryland’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, protects certain types of farm operations from nuisance suits when their activities impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. Maryland generally defines nuisance as a
“condition that is dangerous to health or safety,” which includes “a foul pigpen.”3 Simultaneously, though, the state’s nuisance law explicitly exempts farms as well as commercial fishing or seafood operations from its definition of nuisances, so long as they follow generally accepted practices that do not endanger health or safety.4

Maryland extends RTF protections to agricultural operations, defined as the processing of agricultural crops or on-farm production, harvesting, or marketing of any agricultural, horticultural, silvicultural, aquacultural, or apicultural product that has been grown, raised, or cultivated by the farmer.5 Since a 2009 amendment, RTF nuisance suit protections also extend to silvicultural operations, defined as those involved in the establishment, composition, growth, and harvesting of trees.6 Since 2014, the state’s RTF law also protects commercial fishing and seafood operations from nuisance suits, encompassing harvesting, storage, processing, marketing, sale, purchase, trade, or transport of any seafood product.7 From that time, “commercial watermen” gained the same protections as agricultural operations from nuisance suits.8

Conditions and Activities

Maryland’s RTF law protects agricultural operations that have been underway for at least one year from being deemed either a public nuisance (interfering with public rights generally) or a private nuisance (interfering with individual property rights).9

This protection remains subject to a few conditions. Operators must comply with applicable federal, state, and local permits.10 If such operations are negligent, meaning they fail to take proper care, they lose RTF protections. Additionally, agricultural operations must implement a nutrient plan for nitrogen and phosphorus if required by law.

As long as operations meet these conditions, they gain immunity from nuisance suits related to sight, noises, odors, dust, or insects.11 A 1986 amendment further stipulated that if these conditions are met, no private action can be taken that accuses an operation of interfering with the use or enjoyment of another’s property.12


Since 1996, Maryland requires that any complaints against agricultural operations use mediation before proceeding to litigation. Before a nuisance suit can be filed, the complaint must be considered by a local agency. No person can file a nuisance suit until the local agency hears the complaint and makes a decision or recommendation. Local agencies’ decisions can be appealed to a circuit court.

When no local agency is available, the State Agricultural Mediation Program considers the complaint. Only once the mediation concludes can a nuisance suit be filed against an agricultural operation.13 Agricultural mediation, according to the law, is a process whereby “a mediator helps private parties or government agencies resolve agriculturally related disputes in a confidential and non-adversarial setting.”14 The mediation process remains confidential, except to meet reporting requirements of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.15

The prominent role of local agencies and the state’s mediation program may have kept nuisance suits out of Maryland’s courts.16

Local Governance

Maryland’s RTF law does not prohibit federal, state, or local government from enforcing health, environmental, zoning, or any other applicable law.17 This includes the right to prevent and remove nuisances, including keeping contagious diseases out of counties.18 More specifically, counties may approve the location for soap manufacturing, fertilizer manufacturing, slaughterhouses, packinghouses, or “any other facility that may involve conditions that are unsanitary or detrimental to health.”19

Before passing an ordinance, counties must hold a public hearing.20 County commissioners are required to publish notice of the public hearing and a summary of the proposed act, ordinance, or resolution in at least one newspaper of general circulation in the county once each week for two successive weeks.21 County commissioners may not adopt an act, an ordinance, or a resolution until ten days after a public hearing has been held on it.22 As a result, much debate about the extent of permitting and special exemptions for agriculture plays out at the county level.23 The Carroll County Farm Bureau, for example, played a central role in introducing regulations that expanded RTF protections for operations and reduced neighbors’ capacity to make claims. Simultaneously, the county provides some of the most far-reaching protections for agricultural operations in the state.24

While counties can adopt ordinances, resolutions, and regulations pertaining to seafood businesses, they must be approved by the secretary of natural resources.25

  • 1. “Farms’ Right to Smell Draws Complaints—Neighbors Opposed to Glendening’s Plan to Strengthen Law,” Baltimore Sun, March 25, 1997.
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Maryland, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed December 13, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Maryland,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Md. Code, Health-Gen. § 20-301(a) (2021).
  • 4. Md. Code, Health-Gen. § 20-301(b)(1)–(2) (2021).
  • 5. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. §§ 5-403(a)(2) (2021).
  • 6. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(a)(4) (2021).
  • 7. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(a)(3)(i) (2021).
  • 8. Craig O’Donnell, “‘Right to Fish’ Lawsuit Immunity Moves Forward,” Easton (Md.) Sunday Star, April 6, 2014.
  • 9. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(c) (2021).
  • 10. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(b)(1)(iii) (2021).
  • 11. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(c)(1) (2021).
  • 12. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(c)(2) (2021).
  • 13. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(c)(3)–(4) (2021).
  • 14. Md. Code, Agric. § 1-1A-01(b) (2021).
  • 15. Md. Code, Agric. § 1-1A-04 (2021).
  • 16. Our research did not uncover any published court opinions pertaining to nuisance suits in Maryland, but see George Dorsey, “Judge Dismisses Hog Farm Lawsuit,” Frederick (Md.) News-Post, December 3, 1999.
  • 17. Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-403(b)(1) (2021).
  • 18. Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 13-401(c)(2) (2021).
  • 19. Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 13-401(d)(5) (2021).
  • 20. For more details on the specific definitions of counties, see Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 13-401 (2021).
  • 21. Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 9-105(c)(2) (2021).
  • 22. Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 9-105(c)(1) (2021).
  • 23. ake Owens, “CAFO Committee Debates Purpose, Mitigation Factors,” Cecil (Md.) Whig August 23, 2017; Chris Knauss, “Commissioners Place Property Nuisance Law on Hold,” Easton (Md.) Times Record, November 23, 2011; David Abrams, “Lawmaker’s Bill Asserts Farmers’ Rights,” Maryland Gazette, Annapolis, August 18, 2004.
  • 24. Carrie Ann Knauer, “Carroll’s Right to Farm Ordinance One of Maryland’s Toughest,” Carroll County Times (Westminster, Md.), July 26, 2009; Christian Alexandersen, “Bills Going to General Assembly,” Carroll County Times, January 2, 2011.
  • 25. Md. Code, Local Gov’t § 13-601(b)(2) (2021).