Belfast Township, PA restrict corporate farming

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Belfast Township, PA, US

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Type: Ordinance

Status: Adopted in July 2000 and upheld by court ruling

Source File:


Belfast Township in Fulton County has won the first round in a legal fight to regulate corporate farming.

John R. Walker, president judge of the Franklin/Fulton County Court of Common Pleas, recently upheld a township's authority to prohibit corporate involvement in farming.

Agribusiness interests had sought a summary judgment and asked the court to rule that the township's "anti-corporate farming" law and other ordinances were "void as a matter of law."

They argued that Pennsylvania Corporations Code preempted the ordinances, and that the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution, and provisions in the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibited the township from adopting the ordinances.

Walker rejected each argument and ruled that the "plaintiffs have failed to prove that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law."

Belfast Township supervisors in July 2000 adopted the ordinance, which stated:

  1. Corporations cannot engage in farming, either by owning farmland or by contracting for a farmer's production.
  2. Family corporations and family partnerships are exempt.

During the mid-1990s, residents had become concerned about the economic, cultural and environmental harms that could be caused by corporate factory farms, according to court documents.

Needmore farmers Ricky Leese and Ralph Swope in November 2001 challenged the ordinance and two others that regulate farming.

A dozen townships in five counties have adopted similar ordinances.

The Pennsylvania Farm Bureau lobbied the governor and state Legislature to ban local ordinances that control farming.