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Michigan Right To Farm Act Update

The Michigan Court of Appeals recently issued an unpublished decision interpreting the scope of the Michigan Right To Farm Act (the “Act”) and its protections for farm equipment against municipal zoning regulations.  In Lima Township v Bateson, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued on October 11, 2018 (Docket No. 338934), Lima Township sought to enforce provisions of its zoning ordinance that prohibited the storage or staging of commercial vehicles and equipment used for commercial operations in one of its agricultural zoning districts.  In that case, a landowner had been keeping “gravel haulers, bull dozers, road graders,” and other industrial equipment on its property, claiming the equipment was used for commercial production related to a tree farm.

           Under the Act, activities of a commercial “farm” or “farm operation” cannot be barred by local zoning or other ordinances as long as the activity conforms to Michigan’s Generally Accepted Agricultural and Management Practices.  Under the Act, machinery and equipment “necessary for a farm” can be a protected “farm operation.” However, as the Court of Appeals noted, the machinery and equipment at issue must be used in furtherance of the commercial production of farm products; if the use and storage are not necessary for the farm, a municipality may enforce its ordinances regulating the use and storage of machinery and equipment.

           In Lima Township, extensive discovery conducted at the trial court level indicated that, while the defendant landowners did plant a number of trees at the front of the property, the equipment at issue was actually used in furtherance of the defendant’s landscaping business.  Accordingly, the Court of Appeals found that the equipment was not protected under the Act.

           While unpublished, and therefore carrying no binding precedential value, this case nevertheless illustrates the factual questions involved in Michigan Right To Farm Act disputes.

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