Generally, people prefer their back yards to never change, ever. Even if the rules allow for something different that isn’t currently being done and double if the new permitted use is loud, smelly, or interrupts view.  New proposals for property use create challenges. Nobody wants a permitted use that they don’t particularly care for to occur, especially when it impacts them, regardless of what the current zoning rules may be. That is not how zoning works, the first in line do not get to control the narrative. Instead, we establish uses based on zoning districts (ag. Commercial, residential etc) .

By doing this we all give up certain rights to do things with our property in exchange for other privileges based on the zoning and services. When we live in an agriculture district and enjoy the wide-open spaces, we should expect that livestock production will occur in those spaces. When we live in the city and get our garbage picked up, streets plowed, and water piped to our tap, we give up some of our property rights (such as loud music, building on every square inch of your lot, or keeping animals) in exchange for those conveniences. As farms have lost their nostalgic appeal from yesteryear, and are in some circles villainized, understanding how new ag practices and production techniques impact your neighbors and the current zoning law, is as important as selecting the right chemical program for your row crop production enterprise.

In Iowa, a master matrix controls rules regarding location sites for livestock buildings. Other states allow counties or cities the power to develop zoning ordinances on this issue. Iowa producers would do well to remember the special protections ag zoning and the master matrix system affords them. Consider Minnesota, where counties are in the business of granting a conditional use permit (aka a Special use permit) for new livestock feeding operations. A special use permit gives permission to do something in a zoning district that you can’t do as a matter of right, but can conduct as long as you meet terms made by the zoning authority. However, those terms can’t be outlandish or unrelated to a zoning plan.

In a recent Minnesota case, the operator applied for a permit to build a 4,700-hog finishing facility, which met all the established criteria. After a public hearing, the county granted the application. The real estate agents attacked the permit issued on some specific grounds, claiming the county didn’t apply the law correctly. The real reason, to me, was that they didn’t want hog production in the area as they feared it would drive prices down. That is classic “not in my back-yard” material. The county, or other zoning authority, is given wide discretion on what decisions it makes; the court sided with the county in this case. The take away is that the local government appointees need to be plugged into what is going on in the local environment, and what the status of the law is. The down ticket local elections for supervisors and other locally appointed boards can shape what goes on in an area for a long time.

How long Iowa will maintain its favorable ag zoning is unknown. Last legislative session, environmental groups were seeking support from county level boards to put pressure on the Iowa legislature. Their goal is to loosen some of the control the master matrix has on livestock siting in Iowa. The Minnesota rubric may well seep south in the coming years if the ag community does not stay vigilant.