Proposal aims to protect stinky farms from lawsuits

Posted at: 02/07/2013 5:44 PM
Updated at: 02/07/2013 6:17 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

State lawmakers are taking a long, hard look at a measure that would protect New Mexico farmers and ranchers from lawsuits by people who don't like the way their businesses smell.

It's a direct product of the ongoing intrusion of urban New Mexico into what has been farm and ranch country for many years. Lawsuits have been popping up all over the southern part of the state from property owners who don't like the aroma of dairy or beef cattle, or the sound of tractors at 5 a.m.

The bill would essentially say that farmers and ranchers cannot be declared a public nuisance in a dispute with other property owners - even if the farm or ranch is being operated in a negligent or improper manner.

Lawyers in the legislature say the bill is over-the-top unreasonable, but agriculture people say they sure like it.

"The city slickers who move next to a farm don't have a beef, forgive the expression," said South Valley farmer Andrew Leo Lopez. "They knew the farm was there before they moved there."

"It's kind of like when you build an airport and then people move in and they complain about the noise," said Harding County rancher Joe Culbertson. "Who was there first? People from back East move in because they like the Western lifestyle, but when they get here they want to change everything."

"It's less of an issue when you have somebody who's already there and somebody drops a thousand cows on 'em," Lopez said. "Okay, that might be a little bit of a problem."

Legal analysts say farmers and ranchers are already specifically protected from "frivolous" lawsuits as part of the state's Right to Farm Act.

The bill's sponsor is Sen. Phil Griego, a Northern New Mexico Democrat from the tiny San Miguel County village of San Jose. Griego is a rancher, and he's getting a lot of support on this one from farmers and ranchers in both political parties, from all around the state.