Local Regulation of Agriculture
What is ACRE?
Since its enactment in 2005, Pennsylvania legislation known as the “ACRE” (Agriculture, Communities, and Rural Environment) law has been an effective legal tool to ensure that ordinances adopted by local governments to regulate normal agricultural operations are not in violation of state law. ACRE provides a useful, timely and cost-effective means for farmers burdened by ordinances that illegally inhibit farming practices to initiate a process through which the ordinance or action can be challenged and invalidated in court. A farm owner or operator can challenge an ordinance if the local ordinance inhibits current or future normal agricultural operations for his or her farm or other farms within the municipality.
How Does ACRE Work?
- If a farmer believes that a local ordinance is unauthorized, he or she may request that the Office of the State Attorney General begin a formal review process. ACRE defines an “unauthorized local ordinance” as an ordinance enacted or enforced by a local government which does either of the following:
a. Prohibits or limits a normal agricultural operation unless the local government unit has authority under state law to adopt the
ordinance and it is not prohibited or preempted under state law.
b. Restricts or limits the ownership structure of a normal agricultural operation.
- Once the Office of the Attorney General examines all relevant information, the ACRE law directs the Office to notify both the farmer and the local government unit of its decision within 120 days of the farmer’s initial request for review is received. The farmer is required to receive a written notice of that decision.
- If the Office finds the ordinance to be in violation of ACRE, the Office and the local government will work together to bring the ordinance into compliance with state law. The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture and Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences are directed under ACRE to provide expert consultation for the Office of the Attorney General regarding the nature of normal farming operations in the Commonwealth. If a resolution cannot be reached, the Office may file a lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court.
- If the Attorney General decides not to file a lawsuit, the owner or operator may still pursue a lawsuit to challenge the local ordinance or action. The farmer may file his or her lawsuit in the Commonwealth Court, rather than a County Court of Common Pleas. Decisions made by the Commonwealth Court on illegal ordinances inhibiting agricultural operations should establish statewide legal precedent that may be applied to municipalities attempting to implement similar ordinances or actions in other regions of the Commonwealth.
Requests for review should include a copy of the ordinance, a short explanation of the objection the farm owner or operator has with the ordinance, and any other materials that will aid the Attorney General’s review. To begin the ordinance review process, farmers may submit a formal request, in writing, to one of the following:
Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General, Attn: ACRE
15th Floor, Strawberry Square, Harrisburg, PA 17120