Minnesota's Right-to-Farm Summary

Since Minnesota enacted its first right-to-farm law in 1982, the number of farmers in the state has dropped by 28 percent, with 8 percent fewer acres of farmland.1 Advocates of RTF laws promoted Minnesota’s RTF legislation in 1982 as a tool to protect farmland from encroachment.2 But what does this legislation now do in practice, particularly after a series of significant amendments?

Minnesota’s RTF Law at a Glance

Minnesota’s original RTF law protected agricultural operations that were part of family farms, so long as they had been in existence for at least six years and were not nuisances at the time they began. However, the law was amended in 1994, 2001, and 2004, reducing the number of years in existence to receive protection (from six years to two years) and no longer requiring the operation be part of a “family farm.”3 The law does not safeguard farmland but rather protects operations that are engaged in the production of crops, livestock, poultry, dairy products, or poultry products (with the exception of processing).4

Conditions and Activities

Like other states across the nation, Minnesota’s RTF statute stipulates time- and activity-specific protections for operations. Once up and running for two years, operations cannot be declared a general nuisance to the public or a private nuisance to neighboring owners.5 The operation must be located in an area zoned for agriculture, use agricultural practices common to the area, and meet other applicable laws. Even if entities have been in operation less than two years but meet other conditions, they also are somewhat protected.

Operations in Minnesota can change without restarting their two-year clock required for nuisance immunity.6 Accepted changes include changes in ownership, use of new technologies, changes to the type of crops being produced, or a gap in time when production stops. There are two additional criteria that are unique to Minnesota, as no other state has the same language. If a facility expands the number of animals or livestock by 25 percent or more, the clock starts over. Further, the RTF protections do not apply to feedlots with a swine capacity of 1,000 animal units or more, defined by the Pollution Control Agency, or a cattle capacity of 2,500 animals or more.

Local Governance

The state of Minnesota has a unique history of enforcing nuisance claims against operations, such as a corporate dairy farm violating emission standards.7 In addition, local governments, like townships, can enact zoning ordinances, like setback requirements, against agricultural operations as long as they do not conflict with the RTF law or other state laws.8

  • 1. 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 23: Minnesota 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-Minnesota-CHAPTER_1_State_Data-121-Table-01.pdf; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: Minnesota,” 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=MINNESOTA.
  • 2. See Darry Elwood Owens, “Where City and Country Collide—‘Right to Farm’ Law Protects Smell, Sound of Agriculture,” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, June 26, 1989.
  • 3. See 2004 Minn. Laws 254 (S.F. 2428); 2001 Minn. Laws 128 (S.F. 1659); and 1994 Minn. Laws 619 (H.F. 2493) (each amending Minn. Stat. § 561.19).
  • 4. Minn. Stat. § 561.19 (2021).
  • 5. Minn. Stat. § 561.19 (2021).
  • 6. Minn. Stat. § 561.19 (2021).
  • 7. Tom Meersman, “Dairy Calls State Lawsuit on Odors ‘Publicity Driven,’” Star Tribune: Newspaper of the Twin Cities, June 24, 2008.
  • 8. Canadian Connection v. New Prairie Twp., 581 N.W.2d 391 (Minn. Ct. App. 1998). See also Minn. Stat. § 561.19(c) (2021), which states that the RTF law does not apply to large animal confinement operations of a certain size, to nuisance actions brought by governmental entities under the state’s criminal code, or when a county or municipality brings an action under a valid local zoning law or ordinance.