Don’t gut Oregon’s ‘Right to Farm’ law

Pesticides help all types of farmers, ranchers and forest managers.

A bill in the Oregon Legislature is sure to draw the attention of the state’s farmers, ranchers and forest managers.

It would gut the state’s “Right to Farm and Forest” law.

All 50 states have similar laws that protect farmers, ranchers and forest managers from nuisance or trespass lawsuits filed by neighbors or others who do not approve of how a farm is operated.

These laws are based on common sense. They protect farmers and forest managers from people who don’t understand or don’t approve of certain practices. Among them are making noise, kicking up dust or applying weed killers or other pesticides.

“Right to Farm” laws were written with the recognition that farms and forests need to be managed to be financial sustainable. The Oregon law even states that “farming and forest practices are critical to the economic welfare of this state.”

The law also protects activities as long as they are done in a reasonable and prudent manner. That means pesticide labels must be followed and neighboring crops can’t be damaged.

It doesn’t say anything about whether a complaint can be based on philosophical disagreements about how a farm or forest is managed.

Senate Bill 499 would remove the protections for pesticide use in the current law. A key change would allow anyone who sues a farmer over pesticide use and loses to avoid paying attorney fees to the farmer.

This in essence voids a major purpose of the law, which was written to protect farmers and forest managers, not put them at risk for using pesticides.

In other words, farmers and forest managers who face even a frivolous legal attack for using pesticides could never get their attorney fees from the losers.

That is unfair. If that and other ill-considered changes are made, the Legislature might as well change the name of the law to the “Right to Hassle Farmers and Foresters.”

Pesticides are an important part of agriculture. Without them, costs will spiral out of control, and weeds and bugs will overtake crops.

That’s why the practices of farmers, ranchers and forest managers must continue to be protected by the Oregon Legislature. The best way to do that is to reject SB 499.

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