New Mexico's Right-to-Farm Summary

Advocates of the right-to-farm law in New Mexico argue it protects farms and farmland from urban newcomers.1 Since first enacted in 1981, the number of farm operations in the state has increased by 83 percent, while the acres in farmland has decreased by 15 percent.2 Governors cited the loss of dairy operations and urban encroachment as motivation for signing 2014 and 2016 amendments to the state’s RTF law.3 But what does this legislation do in practice?

New Mexico’s RTF Law at a Glance

New Mexico’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for family farms or farmland. Rather, New Mexico’s law, similar to those present in the other forty-nine states, protects activities and operations from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution. When first passed in 1981, New Mexico’s RTF law limited its protections to agricultural operations, meaning the use of land for the production of plants, crops, trees, livestock, poultry, fish, forest products, and orchard crops.4 A 1991 amendment expanded the law’s protections markedly by extending them to agricultural facilities, including any land, building, structure, pond, machinery, or equipment that is used for the commercial production of crops, livestock, or honey.5 The 1991 amendment also greatly broadened the types of activities that fall within the definition of a protected agricultural operation. Protected activities now include most activities commonly associated with farming, as well as pesticide and herbicide application; animal production, such as breeding, hatching, feeding, slaughtering, and processing; the manufacturing of feed for poultry or livestock; the operation of a roadside market; and the application of changed or new technology, practices, processes, or products.6 Unlike agricultural facilities, agricultural operations do not have to be “commercial” to receive RTF protections, though they can be.7

Conditions and Activities

Once in existence for more than one year, agricultural operations and facilities are protected from nuisance suits arising out of changed conditions in or around the location of the operation or facility.8 The date of establishment for an agricultural operation is the day it commenced, and for an agricultural facility it is when it was originally constructed. This date remains unaltered even if the operation or facility subsequently expands or adopts new technologies. In 2016, the law was amended to include a provision that anyone who purchases, rents, leases, or occupies land near a previously established operation or facility may not sue for nuisance, unless the operation or facility has substantially changed in nature and scope.9 In other words, if an operation or facility substantially changes, only existing neighbors can bring a nuisance lawsuit at any point after the substantial change occurs. The law does not define what it means to substantially change.

New Mexico’s RTF protections apply only if the operation or facility was not a nuisance when it began and was not operated negligently or illegally.10 In 2014, an amendment broadened the protections afforded to agricultural operations and facilities by removing the requirement that they also be operated properly.11

As of 1991, none of the provisions in New Mexico’s RTF law prevent persons from recovering damages for injuries resulting from polluted stream water or water overflows onto their land.12

Local Governance

No unit of local government can impose local nuisance regulations on agriculture operations or facilities or require that they stop certain activities as a result of being found to be a nuisance under the state’s RTF law if the operations or facilities were located within the corporate limits of a municipality as of April 8, 1981.13

Attorney Fees

As of a 1991 amendment, an agricultural operation can recover the money it spent defending itself if a court determines that that the nuisance lawsuit was frivolous.14 This and similar language may have a chilling effect on the filing of nuisance suits in favor of industrial operators.15

  • 1. John J. Lumpkin, “Corrales Life a Rude Awakening for Some,” Albuquerque Journal, June 7, 1997.
  • 2. 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 31: New Mexico State and County Data, Chapter 1: State Data (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984),; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: New Mexico,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 3. J. Mclaughlin, “Law Expected to Give Dairy Farmers More Protections,” Roswell Daily Record, March 6, 2014; Zack Ponce, “Bill Aims to Protect NM Dairies from Out-of-State Lawsuits,” Carlsbad Current-Argus, January 28, 2014; Sherry Robinson, “Gov. Signs Bill to Protect Sex Assault Victims,” Gallup (N.M.) Independent, March 4, 2014.
  • 4. N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3 (1981).
  • 5. 1991 N.M. Laws 129 (H.B. 310) (amending N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3 and creating N.M. Stat. § 47-9-5).
  • 6. N.M. Stat. § 47-9-5 (2021).
  • 7. N.M. Stat. § 47-9-5 (2021).
  • 8. N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3 (2021).
  • 9. 2016 N.M. Laws 44 (S.B. 72) (amending N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3); Sherry Robinson, “Bill: No Right to Complain If You Move Next to a Feedlot,” Gallup Independent, February 13, 2016.
  • 10. N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3 (2021).
  • 11. The 2014 amendment removed “improperly” from the requirement that operations and facilities must not be operating “negligently, improperly or illegally” in order to receive RTF protections. See 2014 N.M. Laws 22 (H.B. 51) (amending N.M. Stat. § 47-9-3).
  • 12. 1991 N.M. Laws 129 (H.B. 310) (creating N.M. Stat. § 47-9-6).
  • 13. N.M. Stat. § 47-6-3 (2021). The language of this law is ambiguous. It is possible, though not certain, that a court could find that this provision means that local nuisance regulations cannot be enforced against operations or facilities that were located within a municipality anytime on or after April 8, 1981.
  • 14. 1991 N.M. Laws 129 (H.B. 310) (creating N.M. Stat. § 47-9-7).
  • 15. 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.