Nebraska State Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango has introduced LB 227 to boost private property rights protection for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, so they can continue to have the flexibility to adopt new technologies, modify and improve their farm and ranch operations. The bill, refered to as the nuisance bill, would help curb nuisance lawsuits like those brought against pork producers in North Carolina which have gained national attention.
LB 227 amends the Nebraska Right to Farm Act to strengthen existing nuisance protections for Nebraska agriculture operations. It adds new terminology regarding changes to agricultural operations while reiterating operations must comply with all local zoning laws and regulatory permitting requirements.
Ag Leaders Support
Jacob Mayer an agricultural engineer and cattle producer, testified before the Agriculture Committee on behalf of the Agriculture Leaders Working Group, which is comprised of the elected leaders of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Corn Growers, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Soybean Association, Nebraska State Dairy Association, and Nebraska Wheat Growers Association. Nebraska Farm Bureau strongly supports LB 227.
“The Nebraska Right to Farm Act provides protection against nuisance liability when residential development moves into areas where agricultural operations already exist,” said Ansley Mick, Nebraska Farm Bureau’s director of NEFB-PAC and state governmental relations. “However, Nebraska courts have been clear the law does not apply when changes occur on the farm itself rather than in the surrounding area,” Mick said.
No Change to Local Zoning
LB 227 is not an aggressive unprecedented action, but rather an amendment necessary to update the State’s laws to mirror states such as Arkansas, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Indiana. In fact, LB 227 is much more limited in nature than such bills enacted in Iowa and North Carolina. LB 227 does not remove the requirement of producers to comply with Nebraska or federal environmental or zoning regulations.
Further, LB 227 still provides adjacent landowners with remedies against agricultural producers to the extent “reasonable techniques” are not employed to minimize dust, noise, insects, and odors.
“As we heard throughout the hearing on LB 227, the threat of nuisance lawsuits has greatly impeded our industries’ ability to expand and grow our state’s agricultural economy. Whether it be a change in ownership, a conversion of technology to increase efficiency of the operation, or increasing livestock numbers – even by a few head – producers can find themselves entangled in a nuisance lawsuit,” Mick said.
North Carolina Jury
In July 2018, a North Carolina jury awarded more than $25 million in a lawsuit against Smithfield Foods, alleging the hog farm owned by Joey Carter was a nuisance, even though Carter had always followed and exceeded the state’s laws, invested in modern technologies, and responded promptly to any concerns raised by his neighbors.
“If it can happen to Joey Carter, it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” said Andy Curliss, CEO of the North Carolina Pork Council. He served on a panel at the American Farm Bureau Convention in early January, that discussed the recent lawsuits targeting production agriculture and suggested actions that State Farm Bureaus could take to fight these targeted attacks.
“We are committed to ensuring private property rights in this state are protected,” said Mick. “LB 227 is a reasonable, much-needed step forward to protect individuals and families who have made huge and important investments in our economy. We thank Sen. Hughes for bringing this bill before the Legislature.”
As of this printing, LB 227 needs to be voted out of the Agriculture Committee so it can be debated by the full Legislature.