Farmers get tips on how to deal with neighbors

AFP Correspondent

NEW BRUNSWICK — Wrangling with neighbors can be an unanticipated farm chore, Donna Jennings of Wilentz, Goldman and Spitzer told organic farmers at the Northeast Organic Farming Association-New Jersey winter conference on Jan. 29.
Jennings, who specializes in land use law, spoke on the right-to-farm act and farmers’ need to negotiate with neighbors who may not understand the needs of a farm, especially in a quickly suburbanizing part of the country.
Municipal government doesn’t always enjoy ceding jurisdiction to the respective county agricultural development board, but leaders have to, Jennings said, because the primary jurisdiction for nuisance complaints is the county ag board.
If a problem can’t be resolved by the county, it will end up in court, but the appellate division, not the law division.
One problem some farmers could encounter even going before an agriculture board is some boards are dominated by members from a particular municipality.
There is no provision for a change of venue and, although members of a county ag board are expected to step down if they have a conflict, there is no requirement they do so.
Certain farming practices are most likely to incite neighbors, Jennings pointed out, such as open burning and farmers must make sure they have the proper permits.
On-site disposal of ag wastes is also subject to permitting.
Once a farmer opens a stand or brings the public onto the farm for educational or recreational programs, municipal government tends to look at the farm as a commercial use.
To use a legal term, Jennings said, “it is an irrebuttable presumption that an agricultural act is not a public nuisance,” but once a farmer installs solar, wind or biomass energy sources of holds cooking classes, municipalities tend to forget.
Jennings advises farmers to “avoid your town at all costs,” by not needing a zoning variance for any operation on the farm. Not protected under the right-to-farm act are landscaping businesses and worker housing, either seasonal or permanent, Jennings said.
Jennings gave the farmers some tips for avoiding a clash with neighbors, primarily get to know them and take note of their schedule so no action on the farm disrupts a particularly important event on their property.
Keeping the farm neat and attractive and inviting the neighbors over work wonders as well, she said, and suggested going into local schools to talk about what goes on in farming.
Common sense should prevail, as well, she said, citing a farmer she heard of who painted box trailers in neon colors and was not popular with his neighbors.