Wyoming's Right-to-Farm Summary

Wyoming’s Right-to-Farm (RTF) law, called the Right to Farm and Ranch Act, has been on the books since 1991. In 2015, the legislature retrospectively declared the purpose of the law as forever guaranteeing the right to farm and ranch in the state.1 Since the RTF became law in 1991, the number of Wyoming farm operations has increased by 33%, while the farmland acreage has dropped by 16%.2 So what does this and related legislation purport to do?

Wyoming’s RTF Law at a Glance

Wyoming’s RTF law provides no explicit protection for family ranches, farms, or land. Like those present in all other fifty states, the law centers around protecting certain types of operations from nuisance suits when they impact neighboring property, for example through noise or pollution.3 It does so by protecting commercial farm and ranch operations from public and private nuisance claims.4 As originally enacted, the law defined protected farms and ranches as, “land, buildings, livestock and machinery used in the commercial production and sale of farm and ranch products.”5 A 1999 amendment expanded this definition to include farm and ranch operations, defined as “the science and art of production of plants and animals useful to man [except wildlife], including but not limited to, the preparation of these products for man’s use and their disposal by marketing or otherwise, and includes horticulture, floriculture, viticulture, silviculture, dairy, livestock, poultry, bee and any and all forms of farm and ranch products and farm and ranch production.”6

Wyoming’s Conditions and Activities

In order for a farm or ranch operation to be protected under the RTF law, two conditions must be met.7 First, the operation must conform to generally accepted agricultural management practices. Second, the operation must have existed before any change in the land use adjacent to the farm or ranch occurred, and prior to that change the farm or ranch must not have been a nuisance.8 The phrase “generally accepted agricultural and management practices” is not defined in the statute.9

Nearly fifteen years before Wyoming enacted its RTF law, a different law was enacted to provide an absolute defense against claims of nuisance for certain feedlot operations, so long as they can prove compliance with the applicable rules of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.10 An absolute defense means that the feedlot would be immune from nuisance liability. This defense only applies to feedlots established before the person bringing the nuisance lawsuit gained ownership of their land, and only if the conditions alleged to have caused the nuisance are subject to local regulations or related to the activities of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.11 A feedlot, for purposes of this law, is an area where livestock are confined, primarily for the purposes of feeding and growth prior to slaughter.12

RTF and Local Government

Neither Wyoming’s RTF law nor its feedlot law contain any provisions that specifically address their impact on municipalities. However, the state’s county code was amended in 2008 to explicitly reference the RTF law.13 It now stipulates that counties cannot “impair or modify any rights afforded to farm or ranch operations” under the state’s RTF law.14 Attempts to try to give counties more power to determine nuisances have failed to pass in the legislature.15

  • 1. 2015 Wyo. Sess. Laws 175 (S.F. 9) (creating Wyo. Stat. § 11–44–104).
  • 2. United States Department of Agriculture. 1991. USDA Quick Stats Tool: June 1991 Survey, Wyoming. Retrieved October 22, 2020. (https://quickstats.nass.usda.gov/results/DBF6BBF3-86D7-3287-B660-8AD753FB2B02); United States Department of Agriculture. 2019. USDA/NASS 2019 State Agriculture Overview Wyoming. Retrieved October 21, 2020. (https://www.nass.usda.gov/Quick_Stats/Ag_Overview/stateOverview.php?state=WYOMING).
  • 3. See Wyo. Stat. §§ 11–44–101 through 11-44-104 (2020).
  • 4. Wyo. Stat. § 11–44–102 (2020).
  • 5. 1991 Wyo. Sess. Laws 58 (S.F. 7) (creating Wyo. Stat. §§ 11–44–101 through 11-44-103)
  • 6. 1999 Wyo. Sess. Laws 60 (H.B. 12) (amending Wyo. Stat. § 11–44–102).
  • 7. Wyo. Stat. § 11-44-103 (2020).
  • 8. Wyo. Stat. §§ 11-44-103, 11-44-104 (2020).
  • 9. In a separate section of Wyoming’s RTF act, a definition of “generally accepted” practices is referenced. See Wyo. Stat. § 11-44-104 (2020) (referencing Wyo. Stat. § 11-29-115). However, that section of the RTF act does not appear to apply to the requirement that farm and ranch operations follow generally accepted agricultural management practices.
  • 10. 1977 Wyo. Sess. Laws 59 (creating what is now Wyo. Stat. §§ 11-39-101 through 11-39-104).
  • 11. Wyo. Stat. § 11-39-102 (2020).
  • 12. Wyo. Stat. § 11-39-101, “Feedlot” (2020).
  • 13. 2008 Wyo. Sess. 81 (S.F. 27) (amending Wyo. Stat. § 18-2-101).
  • 14. Wyo. Stat. § 18-2-101 (2020).
  • 15. Frazer, Jennifer. 2007. “Senate votes against nuisance legislation.” Wyoming Tribune-Eagle. January 17, pp. A11.