Ag Districts can be a great way for farmers to receive legal protections for some farming activities, but property owners need to be aware that annexation can potentially cause problems.
Ag Districts represent Ohio’s version of “right to farm” laws by providing farmers with some degree of protection from utility assessments, nuisance lawsuits and eminent domain proceedings. To be eligible for enrollment, the land must be devoted exclusively to production agriculture or enrolled in a federal retirement/conservation program for three prior calendar years. Landowners also must have at least 10 acres or produce an actual gross income of at least $2,500. Every five years, the Ag District designation is renewed.
In a recent case, the city of Troy annexed land and tried to impose the assessments on three farms already enrolled in Ag Districts. The city argued that the assessments could be imposed when the Ag District designation was up for renewal because the landowners had signed a petition in favor of annexation.
“The landowners did not realize that by signing a petition favoring annexation that they were giving up some of their protections,” said Chad Endsley, OFBF’s director of agricultural law. “If you are enrolled in an Ag District and you sign a petition favoring annexation or if you sell your land, the city has the ability to review your renewal application every five years and eliminate or modify the protections that are provided under the Ag Districts law.”
In the Troy city case, the landowners who signed the petition were able to negotiate with the city, which agreed to continue to defer sewer, water and electrical assessments, Endsley said. However, the city will begin assessing the farms for street lights.
Ohio Farm Bureau is continuing to encourage members to enroll in Ag Districts.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
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.