Michigan Right to Farm Act, GAAMPs, Urban Livestock? What does it all mean?


Image courtesy of Kathleen Reed.  (view larger image)

Image courtesy of Kathleen Reed.

By Dani Heisler, Kathleen Reed, Jude Barry; MSU Center for Regional Food Systems.

Michigan is the second most agriculturally diverse state in the United States, with agriculture and food being the second largest industry statewide. For many communities in Michigan, agriculture is a major economic driver.

From the consumer perspective, more people want to know where their food is from and place a higher value on healthy, fresh, locally grown foods. An article recently published by the MSU Center for Regional Food Systems shows that the national demand for local meats is no exception, but that supply of local meats is limiting and there are challenges to meeting this demand.

The local food movement has led to a growth in urban and suburban agriculture including an increase in raising livestock in urban and suburban areas. In response to this, there has also been considerable discussion about the Michigan Right to Farm Act. But what does this all mean and how does it affect the urban and suburban resident? This article put the Michigan Right to Farm act, GAAMPs and a recent Urban Livestock report into context to help frame the urban livestock discussion.

The Michigan Right to Farm Act and GAAMPs

The Michigan Right to Farm Act (RTFA) was passed in 1981 to give farmers protection from an increasing number of “nuisance” lawsuits, lawsuits that were thought to be increasing from residents moving to the rural areas and were unfamiliar with typical agricultural practices like odor and dust.

Generally Accepted Agriculture Management Practices (GAAMPs) are a set of voluntary farming practice guidelines for farmers. If these guidelines are followed the farmer may use the Right to Farm act as defense in a “nuisance” lawsuit.

So why is there so much discussion about the Right to Farm Act and urban agriculture?

The RTFA has been amended several times since, most recently in 1999. In May 2014, the Michigan Commission for Agriculture and Rural Development approved the 2014 site selection GAAMP, which created an additional category for site selection. In simple terms, if a property is in a primarily residential area  (13 or more non-farm homes within 1/8 mile of the livestock facility) then it does not fall under the Michigan Right to Farm Act. Instead, local municipalities are to make decisions about the permitting of livestock in urban and suburban areas. In response to this, a number of municipalities are reviewing their policies for allowing residents to keep livestock on their property.

In response to the changes in the Site Selection GAAMP, Michigan State Senator Joe Hune charged an Urban Livestock workgroup to generate recommendations that will stimulate and support local efforts to address the increased interest in raising livestock in urban and suburban areas for home use and sale to local markets. The Urban Livestock Report was released in March 2015.

The Urban Livestock Workgroup Report

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development invited 21 individuals representing municipalities, associations, a wide range of farmers from different backgrounds, and legislators to volunteer their time to research and discuss policy issues around urban livestock.

Through a series of five meetings, the Urban Livestock Workgroup generated a report making a list of five of recommendations. There was some division within the workgroup in the recommendations and it was acknowledged that this report was the beginning of a discussion towards urban livestock policy development. The recommendations were as follows:

  1. The majority of the group recommended the development of an Urban Agriculture Act. The purpose of this act is to address, stimulate and support local efforts and interest in raising livestock in urban and suburban areas.
  2. The workgroup suggests that the Urban Agriculture Act require the development of guidelines for urban agriculture.
  3. It was recommended that zoning authority is given to local municipalities over agriculture in urban and suburban areas.
  4. The majority of the group recommended that this Act would give authority to develop, and approve guidelines for urban and suburban agriculture to the Michigan Commission of Agriculture and Rural Development.
  5. The majority of the workgroup recommended that a bill to establish the Urban Agriculture Act should be introduced during the 2015-2016 legislation session.



The Urban Livestock Workgroup Recommendations Report to Director Jamie Clover Adams and State Senator Joe Hune

Urban Livestock Technical Group Report, found in Appendix A of the report. This section of the report specifically highlights a number of livestock production issues, including soil management, heath, housing, and slaughter of livestock, waste and manure management and pest control.

The Michigan Right to Farm Act FAQ