Coalition forms to oppose ‘right to farm’ revisions, says they favor industrial farms over family operations

By: - February 13, 2023 4:30 am
chicken barns

Dozens of chicken barns, like this complex southwest of David City, were built in Butler County to supply broilers for Costco. The county became a popular location because it has no zoning ordinances. (Paul Hammel/Nebraska Examiner)

LINCOLN — A coalition of environmental and farm groups has formed to oppose the latest effort to amend Nebraska’s “right to farm” act.

The groups, ranging from the Nebraska Farmers Union to Nebraskans for Peace, say that Legislative Bill 662, which is up for a public hearing Tuesday, is an attempt to relax regulation of large, industrial livestock operations at the expense of rural residents and family farmers.

“This proposed legislation exempts large corporate farms from being a good neighbor,” said Ron Todd-Meyer, a retired farmer and a Nebraskans for Peace board member.  “This legislation should be pitched into the manure pile for composting.”

The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln, will be the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln  (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)

The bill would narrow who, and when, nuisance lawsuits could be filed against farm operations for issues such as excessive odors and dust.

Only landowners who live within a half-mile of agricultural operation, and only those landowners who have a majority interest in their land, could file nuisance lawsuits, under LB 662.

‘Material compliance’

Such lawsuits would be disallowed if an operation was utilizing “commonly accepted” practices and was in “material compliance” with applicable laws and regulations, under the proposal. The statute of limitations would be shortened from the current two years to one.

Officials from the Farmers Union, GC Resolve, Nebraska Interfaith Power and Light and Nebraska Communities United, in a press release last week, all indicated they will oppose the bill.

Ballard, whose district extends into rural Lancaster County, has said that agricultural producers deserve extra protection from nuisance lawsuits.

Chicken farm rejected

His district was the site of a proposed multi-barn chicken farm with a capacity of 380,000 birds that was denied a construction permit in 2021. The farm was intended to supply broilers for Costco, via a processing plant built in Fremont.

Randy Ruppert of Nebraska Communities United said LB 662 would restrict the rights that rural residents were granted in the U.S. Constitution for “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

“Large corporations nor elected officials have the right to diminish those rights,” he said.

Nancy Meyer, a resident of rural Cedar Bluffs, said the proliferation of confined-animal feeding operations in Nebraska poses a threat “to our good life and our property rights.”

Meyer said the issue has her family considering leaving Nebraska.

The state’s Right to Farm Act was last amended in 2019 when, in a compromise, the timeframe for filing a nuisance lawsuit was shortened to two years.


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Paul Hammel
Paul Hammel

Senior Reporter Paul Hammel has covered the Nebraska state government and the state for decades. Previously with the Omaha World-Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Omaha Sun, he is a member of the Omaha Press Club's Hall of Fame. He grows hops, brews homemade beer, plays bass guitar and basically loves traveling and writing about the state. A native of Ralston, Nebraska, he is vice president of the John G. Neihardt Foundation.