Starting in 2019, the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) has proposed to no longer consider local zoning when determining the location of livestock operations under the Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices (GAAMPs). GAAMPs are voluntary farming guidelines established under the Right to Farm Act. If followed, GAAMPs afford farm operators protections from nuisance complaints and lawsuits from neighbors. Under current GAAMP standards, MDARD considers local zoning ordinances when evaluating locations for livestock operation placements. Under the proposed changes, however, MDARD would not consider such information. Michigan Environmental Council and the Michigan Townships Association released the following statement in regards to this proposal:
“The intent of the Right to Farm Act was to provide farmers protection against nuisance complaints and lawsuits from individuals moving closer to farms who were previously unfamiliar with typical farming practices,” said Tom Zimnicki, Agriculture Policy Director of Michigan Environmental Council. “We wholeheartedly believe this is an important and essential protection for farms. However, since its passage, Right to Farm has devolved into arming the agricultural industry with a broadsword that has allowed them to dictate the makeup of local communities, rather than the shield it was intended to provide.”
With a new hog processing facility coming online in Coldwater, MDARD predicts Michigan will need to produce an additional 1.6 million hogs to meet processing demands. These new livestock operations will need to go somewhere, and it will be unfair to Michigan communities if MDARD refuses to take into account local master plans in their decision-making process.
“This move may also signal broader implications for the future of land use in Michigan, as the continued erosion of local considerations could spell larger issues for Michigan down the road,” Zimnicki added. “As Michigan faces mounting environmental and human health crises related to water contamination, we question whether MDARD will be willing or able to holistically consider local conditions when determining site location for livestock operations.”
If this proposal becomes final, large livestock operations could locate almost anywhere, with no acknowledgement of local zoning. Local units of government carefully zone their communities based on what’s best for their residents. The proposed GAAMPs would ignore these local decisions and future land use planning for the community as a whole.
“This dramatic policy shift is an unnecessary answer to a non-existing problem,” said Michigan Townships Association’s Executive Director Larry Merrill. “Ignoring community decisions and broader community interests will not improve agricultural sustainability or economic viability, and could lead to future disputes.”