Property owners who want to start or expand commercial livestock operations are required to go through a site verification process designed to ensure compliance with Michigan’s Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPs). The verification process is administered by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), and farmers who obtain site approval are protected from neighbors’ potential nuisance complaints via the state’s Right to Farm law.

According to MDARD’s annual report, 2014 saw 58 site approval requests for livestock operations, up from 40 in 2013. Most of the requests were for dairy or swine operations. Of those 58 requests, 20 came after a change in guidelines that set new standards for siting livestock farms in suburban and urban areas. Of the 20 requests occurring after the new guidelines were issued, 6 of them were denied because the operations would have been too close to neighbors.

As explained by MDARD’s director of environmental stewardship, Jim Johnson, the denied sites “either had more than 13 homes within an eighth of a mile, or another residence within 250 feet.” Although site inspectors generally try to help applicants determine if there is any possible way to create a permissible livestock operation on their property—such as by putting the animals near the back of the property—sometimes it is just not possible.

Even for those applicants who succeed in gaining site approval and Right to Farm protection, those in urban or suburban areas face the risk of their farms falling out of compliance as new houses go up. After all, the Right to Farm protection was traditionally meant for rural farms, to shield them from encroaching residential development. As Johnson noted, it is uncertain what might happen to an approved farm in an already developed or still developing area.

To address these uncertainties, a 21-member Urban Livestock Workgroup was created last summer to formulate recommendations regarding urban/suburban livestock operations. The workgroup’s full report was released in March 2015 and can be read here. The report recommends introducing a bill for an Urban Agriculture Act during the 2015/2016 Legislative session in order “to address, stimulate, and support local efforts and interest in raising livestock in urban/suburban areas.” In the meantime, applicants for site approval should carefully consider the risks involved in setting up a livestock operation in an urban area.