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Right To Farm Amendment Allows County Government To Regulate Farming Practices

| Nov 18, 2016 | News |

If Old MacDonald had a farm today, would he want his cows to “moo moo” in Missouri?

The supporters of Article I, Section 35 of the Missouri Constitution would say “yes.” On August 5, 2014, Missouri voters approved Article I, Section 35, commonly known as the Right to Farm Amendment, which provides:

“That agriculture which provides food, energy, health benefits, and security is the foundation and stabilizing force of Missouri’s economy. To protect this vital sector of Missouri’s economy, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state, subject to duly authorized powers, if any, conferred by article VI of the Constitution of Missouri.”

The Right to Farm Amendment leaves open multiple questions. For example, who qualifies as “farmers” and “ranchers?” What farming and ranching practices are guaranteed by the Amendment? What is the scope of the exception for powers conferred by Article VI of the Constitution?

The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District recently shed some light on the answer to the last question in the case of Vimont v. Christian Cty. Health Dep’t, 2016 WL 5922849 (Mo. App. S.D. Oct. 11, 2016). At issue in Vimont was a Christian County Ordinance that regulated the sale and distribution of raw milk. Id. at *1. Under Section 192.300, RSMo., which “empowers county commissions and boards of county health centers to promulgate orders and ordinances to enhance public health and combat disease,” the Christian County Commission enacted an ordinance stating that producers of raw dairy products could only sell their products at the location where the products were produced. Id. The County Commission ordered Mr. Vimont to abate his off-premise sale and distribution of raw milk. Id. Mr. Vimont claimed that the abatement order violated his rights under the Right-to-Farm Amendment. Id.

According to the Court of Appeals, Article VI of the Missouri Constitution provides that county commissions “shall manage all county business prescribed by law” (§ 7) and county powers are defined by “general laws” (§ 8). Id. The Court found that Article VI authorized the County Commission “to manage all legal county business.” Id. Therefore, the Court held that the ordinance was within the County Commission’s duly authorized Article VI powers, and Mr. Vimont’s theory of the supremacy of the Right to Farm Amendment was unavailing. Id.

While the holding in Vimont is limited, it is a small victory for local government. As the first Missouri Appellate Court case analyzing the Right to Farm Amendment, local governments will likely rely on Vimont as authority for enacting regulations that affect farming and ranching activities. However, Vimont shed no light on what activities constitute “farming” and “ranching.” Further court review is necessary to determine the full scope of the Right to Farm Amendment.