Maine's Right-to-Farm Summary

Maine legislators passed the state’s original right-to-farm law in 1981, later altering the law’s preamble in 2008 to protect agricultural land more explicitly.1 Since 1981, the number of farms in the state has dropped by 6 percent and the land in farms by 19 percent.2 So what does the state’s RTF legislation do in practice?

Maine’s RTF Law at a Glance

Despite changes to the 2008 preamble, Maine’s law provides no explicit protection of farmland from development in its RTF statutes. Rather, Maine’s RTF law, similar to other such statutes nationally, centers on protecting farms and agricultural operations from nuisance lawsuits over matters like pollution. Maine’s law specifically protects farms, farm operations, and composting that takes place on a farm, known as agricultural composting operations, from nuisance suits. Farms are defined as “the land, plants, animals, buildings, structures, ponds and machinery used in the commercial production of agricultural products.” A farm operation is “a condition or activity that occurs on a farm in connection with the commercial production of agricultural products and includes, but is not limited to, operations giving rise to noise, odors, dust, insects and fumes; operation of machinery and irrigation pumps; disposal of manure; agricultural support services; and the employment and use of labor.” 3 Maine is among only a handful of states that reference labor in their RTF statutes, part of its unique history of enacting legislation that seeks to protect underpaid workers in industrial-scale agricultural production.4

Conditions and Activities

Initially, Maine’s RTF law required that farms adhere to generally accepted agricultural practices but heightened farms’ standards to compliance with best management practices (BMPs) in 2008. Today, any protected farm or operation must meet one of three conditions: (1) it must conform to BMPs;5 (2) it must be consistent with the Maine Nutrient Management Act;6 or (3) it must have existed before a change in the land use or occupancy of land within one mile of the boundaries of the operation as long as the operation was not a nuisance before the change in land use or occupancy. This condition does not apply to operations that materially change their conditions or nature after a use or occupancy change within one mile of its boundaries.7


In 2008, the state enacted a unique procedure for nuisance complaints for commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to investigate. If operations fail to adopt BMPs, the commissioner of agriculture is required to send a written report to the appropriate agency. In addition, the commissioner will send a letter to the attorney general for the state of Maine if a federal or state law has been violated. The attorney general may file a legal action to stop the nuisance or enforce applicable laws. Failure to apply BMPs is a separate civil violation carrying a fine of up to $1,000, with an additional fine of up to $250 per day for every day the violation continues.8

Maine’s RTF law includes more general administrative procedures that explain complaint procedures regarding farms and operations. The commissioner can use a fund to investigate complaints involving an operation. If the commissioner finds that operation is using BMPs, the operation and complainant will be notified. If, however, the commissioner finds the problem is caused by not using BMPs, the commissioner shall (1) determine the changes needed to comply with BMPs and prescribe site-specific BMPs for that operation; (2) advise those responsible of the changes necessary to conform with BMPs and then determine if those changes are implemented; and (3) provide any related findings to the complainant and person responsible.9

Local Governance

Maine’s RTF law prevails over local ordinances if (1) the operation is located in an area that permits agricultural activities and (2) if the operation conforms to BMPs as determined by the commissioner. In addition, municipalities are required to provide the commissioner with a copy of any proposed ordinance that affects farm operations or agricultural composting operations.10 State and federal laws apply, regardless.

In the case of Dubois Livestock, Inc. v. Town of Arundel, the livestock operation claimed it was a farm, but the court disagreed. Dubois imported thousands of tons of material, including fish waste from sea processors, horse manure and bedding from Scarborough Downs, and cow manure and other materials from various off-site locations to create compost. The court ruled in 2014 that these activities did not constitute a farm and thus could not be considered an agricultural composting operation. Further, the court clarified that even if the operation could be considered a farm, agricultural composting operations could be regulated by municipalities.11

Other Important Aspects

Maine’s RTF law broadens the scope of the state’s Rules of Civil Procedure, Rule 11. A court may award attorney fees and reasonable expenses to the defendant farm operation if the court determines that a nuisance action was not brought in good faith and was frivolous or was intended for harassment only.12 However, plaintiffs can also be entitled independently of the state’s RTF law for compensation under Rule 11.
Maine has a creative stipulation that requires the commissioner of agriculture to conduct an educational outreach program to increase awareness of the RTF law.13

  • 1. 2008 Me. Laws 649 (S.P. 591).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1981 Survey, Maine, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 14, 2020,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Maine,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. Me. Stat. tit. 7, § 152 (2021).
  • 4. Avery Yale, “Pass Law That Helps Egg Farm? Consider History First,” Portland Press Herald, May 4, 2011.
  • 5. Best management practices are determined by the state of Maine’s commissioner of the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (“commissioner”). Maine Stat. tit. 7, § 158 (2021).
  • 6. For complaints regarding the storage or use of farm nutrients at a concentrated animal feeding operation, the operation must be consistent with the nutrient management plan approved under the Maine Nutrient Management Act. The Nutrient Management Act is found at Maine Stat. tit. 7, §§ 4201–4214 (2021).
  • 7. Me. Stat. tit. 7, § 153(1)–(3) (2021).
  • 8. Me. Stat. tit. 7, § 158 (2021).
  • 9. Me. Stat. tit. 7, § 156 (2021).
  • 10. Me. Stat. tit. 7, §§ 154–155 (2021).
  • 11. Dubois Livestock, Inc. v. Town of Arundel, 103 A.3d 556 (Maine 2014)
  • 12. Me. Stat. tit. 7, § 157 (2021).
  • 13. Me. Stat. tit. 7, §§ 159–160 (2021).