New Jersey's Right-to-Farm Summary

Legislators justified New Jersey’s right-to-farm law as “mitigat[ing] unnecessary constraints on essential farming practices” so long as they were “nonthreatening to the public health and safety.”1 Since the law was first enacted in 1983, the state has lost 25 percent of its farmland acres while the number of farm operations has grown by 4 percent.2 So what does this legislation do in practice?

New Jersey’s RTF Law at a Glance

New Jersey’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for farmland, nor does the state tailor its protection to small or family farms. Rather, New Jersey’s RTF law, like those present in the other forty-nine states, centers on broadly protecting commercial farms from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. After sweeping 1998 amendments, the state expanded its RTF protections to “farm management units” that can be a parcel or parcels of land, buildings, facilities, or other structures that may not be proximate to one another but are operated as a single enterprise.3 The extension of RTF protections to farm management units forthwith protected consolidated and expanded farming operations where farmers no longer resided on their primary properties.4 Such farm management units can fall into one of three defined categories. First, a unit can be five acres or more producing agricultural or horticultural products worth $2,500 or more (and meet Farmland Assessment Act eligibility criteria for property taxes). Second, a unit can be less than five acres that produces agricultural or horticultural products worth $50,000 or more (and meet Farmland Assessment Act eligibility criteria for property taxes). And third, as of a 2015 amendment, a unit can also include beekeeping or other apiary/pollination services and products worth $10,000 or more.5 Permissible activities for commercial farm owners are extensive and include processing and packaging agricultural outputs.6

RTF Administrative Process: County and State Level

Since its inception, New Jersey’s RTF law has shielded commercial agricultural operations from public nuisance lawsuits (filed on behalf of the people by the government) and private nuisance lawsuits (filed by individuals).7 However, the 1998 amendments markedly expanded protections afforded to commercial farms by disallowing immediate court action and instead requiring that complaints first be filed with county agriculture development boards or the State Agriculture Development Committee.8 Further, boards became the ultimate power determining whether an agricultural practice warranted RTF protection. The 1998 amendment and “fortifying” of the state’s RTF law set forth an administrative process to achieve these ends.9

Under this administrative process, rather than proceeding directly to court, the local agricultural board determines whether the RTF law protects the commercial farm from being a public or private nuisance or from being deemed to otherwise invade the use or enjoyment of nearby lands.10 There are two principal ways a commercial farm can be protected. In the first, an operation, activity, or structure is protected from nuisance suits if it meets the agricultural management practices adopted by the State Agriculture Development Committee.11 In the second, an operation, activity, or structure will receive RTF protections if the agricultural board determines it is a generally accepted agricultural practice or operation. In both cases, an agricultural operation, activity, or structure still should meet relevant federal and state statutes, rules, and regulations.12

The results of the administrative process are binding unless the decision is later appealed to the appellate court.13 In practice, however, the board’s interpretation of a case can often influence a court’s decision on appeal, because in many cases courts will give great weight to the board’s expertise.14 In one case, neighbors appealed the county board’s and then the State Agriculture Development Committee’s determination that the use of a liquid propane cannon noisemaking device was a generally acceptable practice because it protected sweet corn from pests. The superior court then upheld that the practice was allowed under the RTF law, mostly relying on the mediation process.15

Further, once commercial agricultural operations comply with recommendations via the administrative process, they gain an irrebuttable presumption that they are not public or private nuisances.16 In effect, this means nuisance suits nearly become impossible for aggrieved neighbors to file in court, as the administrative process creates a binding presumption that agricultural operations are not nuisances.

However, if the commercial farm or operation poses a direct threat to public health and safety, it may lose its special protections afforded by the RTF law.17 The State Agriculture Development Committee, in consultation with the attorney general and the Department of Health and Senior Services, determines what constitutes a direct threat to public health and safety.18

Local Governance

New Jersey relies on local agricultural boards and the State Agriculture Development Committee not only to prevent the initial filing of nuisance lawsuits against commercial farming operations but also to prevent the use of local ordinances, zoning, and regulations that conflict with the RTF law. If a board or the committee recommends an agricultural management practice or deems it generally accepted, municipalities cannot enact laws to the contrary. In effect, this means—in the words of the Supreme Court of New Jersey—that “the Right to Farm Act preempts municipal land use authority over a commercial farming operation.”19 Once a commercial farming operation uses a board-recommended practice, it may do any of the following: (1) produce livestock, poultry, and agricultural and horticultural crops; (2) process and package agricultural products from the farm; (3) operate a farm market; (4) control pests, predators, and diseases of plants and animals; (5) conduct on-site disposal of organic agricultural wastes; (6) generate renewable energy on-farm; or (7) conduct agriculture-related educational and recreational activities.20 This holds as long as the activities do not directly threaten public health or safety and the operation complies with federal and state laws.

If any conflicts arise between a commercial farm and a municipality, the RTF law gives local agriculture development boards the primary authority to resolve such disputes, with appeals possible to the State Agriculture Development Committee.21 As with claims of nuisance, before a dispute between a commercial farm and a local government can be brought in court, it must first be addressed by the county board and the State Agriculture Development Committee.

New Jersey courts have ruled that the courts are improper places to initially address the following issues: (1) whether a farming operation meets the definition of a commercial farm under the RTF act; (2) whether a specific activity constitutes a generally accepted agricultural operation or practice; and (3) whether a certain activity is a direct threat to public health and safety such that RTF protections would not apply.22 One court opined, “We recognize that the task before the agricultural boards is complex. Agricultural activity is not always pastoral. The potential for conflict between farming interests and public health and safety exists. Nevertheless, we repose trust and discretion in the agricultural boards to decide carefully future disputes on a case-by-case basis and to balance competing interests.”23

  • 1. Senate Natural Resources and Agriculture Committee Statement, 1983 N.J. Laws 31 (S. 854).
  • 2. U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1983 Survey, New Jersey, distributed by National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed January 6, 2021,; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: New Jersey,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. 1998 N.J. Laws 48 (Assemb. No. 2014) (amending, in relevant part, N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-3).
  • 4. Bridget Bradburn, “Farmers Seek Balance with Neighbors,” Trenton Times, June 8, 1996.
  • 5. 2015 N.J. Laws 75 (Assemb. No. 1294) (amending, in relevant part, N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-3).
  • 6. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-9 (1983).
  • 7. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-7 (1983).
  • 8. 1998 N.J. Laws 48 (Assemb. No. 2014) (adding, in relevant part, N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10.1); Harold Shelly, “State Cooking Up New Right to Farm Law,” Trenton Times, June 2, 1996.
  • 9. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10.1 (2021). See also Mona Moore, “Fortifying an Old Law: The Right to Farm,” Press of Atlantic City, June 9, 1998; Casella v. Postorivo, No. A-5166-14T1, 2017 WL 444315 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Feb. 27, 2017).
  • 10. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10 (2021).
  • 11. N.J. Stat. §§ 4:1C-3, “Committee,” 4:1C-10, 4:1C-10.1 (2021).
  • 12. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10 (2021).
  • 13. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10.1 (2021).
  • 14. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10.1 (2021). See also Curzi v. Raub, 999 A.2d 1182 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2010); and Borough of Closter v. Abram Demaree Homestead, Inc., 839 A.2d 110 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 2004).
  • 15. In re Samaha Farms, No. A-2163-04T5, 2006 WL 923700 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. Apr. 11, 2006).
  • 16. 1998 N.J. Laws 48 (Assemb. No. 2014) (amending, in relevant part, N.J. Stat. § 4:1C).
  • 17. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10 (2021).
  • 18. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-10.4 (2021).
  • 19. Twp. of Franklin v. Den Hollander, 796 A.2d 874 (N.J. 2002)
  • 20. N.J. Stat. § 4:1C-9 (2021). This aspect of the law applies only to farms that either (1) as of December 31, 1997, are located in areas that are zoned for agriculture or (2) were in operation as of July 2, 1998.
  • 21. N.J. Stat. §§ 4:1C-10.1, 4:1C-10.2 (2021). See also Borough of Closter, 839 A.2d 110; Den Hollander, 796 A.2d 874.
  • 22. Abram Demaree Homestead, Inc., 839 A.2d 110 (citing N.J. Stat. §§ 4:1C-3, 4:1C-10.1); Den Hollander, 796 A.2d 874.
  • 23. Den Hollander, 796 A.2d 874.