Ag Districts represent Ohio’s version of “right to farm” laws by providing protection to farmers from utility assessments, nuisance lawsuits and eminent domain takings. In order to be eligible to enroll in an Ag District, the land must have been devoted exclusively to production agriculture or enrolled in a federal retirement/conservation program for three prior calendar years.
Similar to the CAUV program, landowners also must have at least 10 acres or produce an actual gross income of at least $2,500.
If the land is outside of a municipal corporation and no annexation petition has been filed, it can be enrolled through the county auditor. Otherwise, the application must also have the approval of the municipal legislative body. If land is outside of a municipal corporation at the time it is enrolled in an Ag District, municipal approval will not be required for any subsequent renewals, even if the land is later annexed by a municipal corporation.
Land in an Ag District is exempt from any sewer, water or electricity assessments levied by local officials. However, an assessment can be levied on a one acre lot containing a house or non-production related structure.
As long as certain criteria are met, farmers operating in accordance with accepted agricultural practices within an Ag District are afforded a defense from nuisance lawsuits.
Additionally, under certain circumstances, if an appropriating authority attempts to take 10 acres or 10 percent of individual land (whichever is greater) enrolled in an agricultural district, the authority must notify the Ohio Department of Agriculture, which makes recommendations to the governor regarding the impact of the taking.
The Ag District designation must be renewed every five years to avoid paying deferred assessments. There are penalties if the land is taken out of agricultural production before the five-year term expires. At the end of five years, a landowner can enroll their land again. There is no penalty if the landowner chooses not to renew the Ag District designation; however, any deferred assessments will be due at that time.
The benefits of an Ag District will not apply until the date the district is approved, and there is no retroactive application of the benefits of an Ag District. That means for farmers to receive the benefits of the program, the land must be enrolled prior to an annexation petition, nuisance suit or appropriation petition is filed or assessments are charged.
To learn more about enrolling in Ag Districts, ask for an “Ohio’s Right to Farm Law” brochure from your county Farm Bureau office or contact your county auditor’s office.