Agriculture/Jun 3, 2014

Hobby Farms Need Not Be Profitable For Protection Under Michigan’s Right To Farm Act

In a recent unpublished opinion, the Michigan Court of Appeals once again stated that a farming operation met the definition of a “commercial production,” subject to protection under Michigan’s Right To Farm Act (RTFA), despite a complete absence of profits. Township of Webber v Austin, 2014 WL 1614613 (Apr 22, 2014).

In this case, the defendant, Bruce Austin, was sued by the Township after he began preparing his commercially zoned property to conduct a horse rescue project. Although Austin had never made a profit from his horse rescue project, he testified at trial that he intended to profit from it at some point in the future. The Court of Appeals reasoned that, because horses met the definition of “farm product” under the statute, the management of horses in connection with their “commercial production” met the statutory definition of “farm operation.” Thus, Austin could avail himself of a defense under the RTFA.

The court referred to its recent opinion in Lima Twp v Bateson, 302 Mich App 483; 838 NW2d 989 (2013), which was published while this appeal was pending. See Nov. 6, 2013 blog on this website: “Recent Court Decision Considers Michigan’s Right To Farm Act.” Just as in Bateson, here, the court cited an earlier case, stating “there is no minimum level of sales that must be reached before the RTFA is applicable.” As long as a farmer can establish that he intends to produce farm products and sell them at a profit, he is entitled to protection under the RTFA – even if no profit is realized.