New York's Right-to-Farm Summary

New York’s right-to-farm law promises to promote a strong agricultural economy, with more recent emphasis on agritourism.1 The state’s agricultural preservation law describes agricultural lands as “irreplaceable state assets.”2 Further, New York’s constitution vows to protect its scenic beauty while developing and improving agricultural land.3 Yet since legislators first passed the initial RTF law in 1982, the number of farmers in the state has dropped by 20 percent and the amount of farmland by 25 percent.4 So what does the state’s RTF law do in practice?

New York’s RTF Law at a Glance

Similar to that in other states across the nation, New York’s RTF law does not afford family farms particular rights or explicitly prevent suburban sprawl, counter to common perception.5 Rather, the state uniquely centers its law on agricultural districts. The state’s RTF law uses such districts to protect those within it from nuisance suits over matters like noise or pollution. Landowners can propose the creation of an agricultural district to their county legislative body, as long as they own at least 250 acres.6 In addition, any owners of land engaged in agricultural production outside of such districts can receive RTF protections if they use their land (both the land they own as well as any additional rented land) for selling crops, livestock, or livestock products for the proceeding two years.7 When land is located in an agricultural district, a disclosure must be made to potential buyers of the property, as well as recorded in property transfers. Such disclosures state that within the district, farming activities could cause noise, dust, and odors.8

Conditions and Activities

New York’s RTF law pertains only to private nuisance suits (those brought by people, like neighbors), not to public nuisance suits (those brought by the government on behalf of the general public).9 For agricultural practices to receive protection from private nuisance suits, the commissioner of agriculture and markets issues an opinion on whether the practices are “sound.”10 Any person may request that the commissioner issue such an opinion.11 The law defines sound agricultural practices as those deemed necessary for on-farm production, preparation, and marketing of agricultural commodities. Examples include the operation of farm equipment, the proper use of agricultural chemicals and other crop protection methods, agricultural tourism, and direct sales to consumers of agricultural commodities. A timber operation—including the on-farm production, management, harvesting, processing, and marketing of timber grown on the farm—also can be considered a sound agricultural practice, so long as the operation encompasses at least seven acres and grosses more than $10,000 in sales.12

The RTF law requires that before issuing an opinion, the commissioner consult with appropriate state agencies and the state’s advisory council on agriculture.13 The commissioner is required to consider whether the practice at hand is utilized by a farm owner or operator participating in the Agricultural Environmental Management Program. The commissioner may consult with either the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service or the New York State College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.14 A New York court used these guidelines to rule in 2006 that sound agricultural practices should be necessary and legal; not cause bodily harm or property damage off the farm; and be reasonably effective in achieving their intended results.15 In a 1998 case, a not-for-profit that represented residents proximate to a hog facility tried to challenge the opinion of the commissioner of agriculture and markets, which stated that the hog facility’s agricultural practices were sound.16 The court offered that the commissioner must balance both the promotion of agriculture and the protection of the environment, which “oftentimes conflict as new technologies and methodologies transform agriculture.” A consequent investigation supported the commissioner’s opinion that the hog farm’s manure management practices were sound, which then barred the residents from filing a private nuisance suit.17

Any opinion issued by the commissioner must be published in a newspaper of general circulation in the area surrounding the property under consideration.18 Written notice of the opinion must also be provided to the owners of the property or any adjoining property owners. While opinions generally are final, the law allows those affected to initiate a review of the opinion within thirty days after its publication.19

A related Environmental Conservation Law requires concentrated animal feeding operations (industrial-scale animal facilities that meet size thresholds) to acquire a CAFO general permit, since 2009. However, operators were provided a choice to adhere to ECL or continue operating under a less restrictive 2004 Clean Water Act version of the permit, that allows for discharge (the ECL version does not).20

Local Governance

New York’s public health law allows local governments to investigate and examine allegations of nuisances that affect the security of life and health in any locality.21 Under these laws, local boards of health are required to examine all complaints by inhabitants that relate to nuisances or activities that are dangerous to life or health. To investigate, local health officers may enter upon or within any place or premises where a nuisance or dangerous condition exists. After examining and then providing a written statement of their results and conclusions, they can order the suppression and removal of nuisances and conditions detrimental to life or health.22

However, the same law provides special protections for on-farm agricultural activities. They cannot be considered a private nuisance if (1) the farm’s activities came before those surrounding it; (2) the activities have not increased substantially in magnitude or intensity; and (3) they do not cause dangerous life or health conditions, as determined by New York’s commissioner of health or any local health officer or local board of health.23 The law’s definition of a farm includes stock, dairy, poultry, fur-bearing animal, fruit, and truck farms; plantations; orchards; nurseries; greenhouses; or other similar structures used primarily for the raising of agricultural or horticultural commodities.24

Taken together, if a local board of health determines an agricultural activity does not endanger life or health, the activities cannot be deemed a private nuisance.25

Attorney Fees

If the commissioner declares an agricultural practice sound and still a party brings a nuisance lawsuit, the court must award the defendant (whose agricultural practice was deemed sound) the fees and other expenses paid in that party’s defense.26 However, courts can choose not to award such fees if they determine that the plaintiff either is substantially justified in bringing the case or there are special circumstances that make the award of fees and expenses unjust.

  • 1. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021). The inclusion of agritourism was added in 2006 upon the recognition of the legislature that agritourism was being embraced by an increasing number of farms in New York. See 2006 N.Y. Laws 600.
  • 2. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 321 (2021).
  • 3. N.Y. Const. art. XIV, § 4.
  • 4. 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 32: New York State and County Data, Chapter 1: State Data (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1984),; “2021 State Agriculture Overview: New York,” U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, accessed October 21, 2022,
  • 5. Kenneth Crowe II, “City Slickers and Country Living Law Protects Farmers from Encroaching Suburbia,” Albany Times Union, March 1, 1992.
  • 6. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 303 (2021).
  • 7. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law §§ 301, 306, 308 (2021).
  • 8. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 310 (2021).
  • 9. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021).
  • 10. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021). Any person may request that the commissioner issue such an opinion.
  • 11. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021).
  • 12. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law §§ 301, 308 (2021).
  • 13. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021).
  • 14. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021).
  • 15. Matter of Groat v. Brennan, 831 N.Y.S.2d 353 (Sup. Ct. 2006).
  • 16. Pure Air & Water, 668 N.Y.S.2d 248.
  • 17. Pure Air & Water, Inc. v. Davidsen, 668 N.Y.S.2d 248 (App. Div. 1998).
  • 18. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021).
  • 19. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308 (2021). For the statutes governing such a review proceeding, see N.Y. C.P.L.R. §§ 7801–06 (2021).
  • 20. N.Y. Department of Environmental Conservation 2023. “Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations.” Accessed February 1, 2023 from
  • 21. N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 1300 (2021).
  • 22. N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 1303 (2021). If a district does not have a local board of health, the local health officers and the county health commissioner have the same authority as a board of health to investigate and abate public nuisances that may affect health. See N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 1304 (2021).
  • 23. N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 1300-c (2021).
  • 24. N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 1300-c (2021); N.Y. Lab. Law § 671 (2021).
  • 25. See N.Y. Pub. Health Law §§ 1300-c, 1303 (2021).
  • 26. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 308-a (2021).