Lawmakers step up for farmers

Frank Priestley

By FRANK PRIESTLEY

For the Capital Press

Our hats are off to Idaho's citizen legislators and the work accomplished during the 2011 session. They should be commended for passing several bills that will benefit Idaho residents without raising taxes during a difficult economic time period.

One such bill that shows a lot of foresight strengthens Idaho's Right to Farm Law, and demonstrates the continuing value of agriculture to the state's economy.

At a time when many other states are wishing they would have done more to protect farmland and the open spaces it provides, Idaho's Legislature granted overwhelming support to a law protecting farms and ranches from nuisance lawsuits.

Further, it protects expansion of agricultural operations from nuisance lawsuits as long as they obtain necessary permits, comply with local planning and zoning regulations and operate in accordance with all state and local regulations.

This legislation rose from the need to protect agriculture from increasing conflicts caused by urbanization. Conflicts between Idaho farmers and ranchers and folks who want a rural lifestyle but don't understand all it entails are on the rise.

People who move out to Idaho's abundant rural regions should first understand that farmers work all hours of the day and night during the growing season and many of the activities generate dust. Hay is often baled in early morning hours to take advantage of the presence of dew. Livestock and the spreading of manure on fields can create odors and harbor flies.

Anyone who wants to know more about rural living should read a publication titled "The Code of the West," which can be found on the Internet or by contacting the Idaho Farm Bureau Pocatello office.

Several misperceptions about this new law, especially at the county level, arose. Following is an explanation of what the bill does and does not do.

The legislation amends current law by adding a comprehensive list of generally recognized farming activities or agricultural operations that are protected from being declared a nuisance by a lawsuit or local ordinance. The current law only applies to a facility that produces or processes agricultural products. The legislation also extends the law's nuisance protections to an expansion of an agricultural operation.

The key provision of the law reads, "No agricultural operation, agricultural facility or expansion thereof shall be or become a nuisance, private or public, by any changed conditions in or about the surrounding nonagricultural activities after it has been in operation for more than one year, when the operation, facility or expansion was not a nuisance at the time it began or was constructed."

Here's what the bill doesn't do: It doesn't provide protection for improper or negligent agricultural operations. It doesn't impair a local government's zoning and planning authority. An agricultural expansion still must go through the local permitting process and obtain any necessary permits.

Frank Priestley is president of the Idaho Farm Bureau.

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