CGA Law News & Blog

Green Acres: Pennsylvania’s ACRE Law and How It Helps Farmers

access_time Posted on: March 26th, 2024

The agriculture industry represents a critical component to a thriving Pennsylvania economy. Currently, Pennsylvania’s Department of Agriculture estimates that farmlands occupy 7.3 million acres of land across the state. This means that farm lands constitutes twenty-five percent of Pennsylvania’s  total land mass!! Agriculture contributes $132.5 billion to the economy each year, and one out of every ten jobs in Pennsylvania belongs within the agriculture industry. The significance of agriculture in Pennsylvania truly cannot be overstated.

The significance of agriculture also renders it worthy of protection. The agriculture industry receives protection from all three branches of the Pennsylvania government. The General Assembly has passed various pieces of legislation aimed at affording protections to farmers and incentivizing agricultural operations (e.g., the Right-To-Farm Act, Municipalities Planning Code, Clean and Green Act, etc.). For the executive branch, the express purpose of its Department of Agriculture is to ensure a vibrant economy and a successful future for Pennsylvania agriculture. Even the courts of this Commonwealth have taken up the torch of this “important cause: the defense of Pennsylvania’s precious and ever-threatened farmlands.”

In July 2005, Act 38, or the Agriculture, Communities, and Rural Environment Act (“ACRE”) went into effect. The primary purpose of ACRE is to ensure that local governments do not regulate normal agricultural operations in violation of state law. ACRE prohibits the adoption or enforcement of an “unauthorized local ordinance,” which includes any ordinance that prohibits or limits a “normal agricultural operation” in contravention of state law.

ACRE provides a quick and cost-effective mechanism for farmers to challenge the enactment or enforcement of an unauthorized local ordinance by a local government. ACRE permits an owner or operator of a normal agricultural operation to request the Attorney General to review the local ordinance which is believed to be an unauthorized local ordinance. The Attorney General then has 120 days to determine whether it will bring legal action against the local government, and must provide a response to the person requesting review of the local ordinance.

Furthermore, even if the Attorney General does not decide to bring legal action against the local government, the owner or operator of the normal agricultural operation may bring legal action against the local government to invalidate or enjoin the enforcement of the local ordinance. If the court determines that the local government unit enacted or enforced an unauthorized local ordinance, the court may order the local government to pay the plaintiff’s reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs.

On the one hand, ACRE provides farmers with a useful and economical means of challenging a local government’s unlawful regulation of agricultural activities. On the other hand, local government bodies should not ignore alleged ACRE violations and should carefully review the ordinance in question, given the expense of litigation and the possibility of bearing both sides of the costs.

Whether you are a farmer seeking assistance with challenging an unauthorized local ordinance or you are a municipality seeking guidance following a formal complaint against you, the attorneys at CGA Law Firm are prepared and well-suited to assist you. CGA Law Firm has dozens of qualified and experienced professionals who are able to give you the information, guidance, and representation that you need at this time and can do so in an efficient and cost-effective manner. Contact us today at 717-848-4900 or [email protected], or fill out our Contact Us form to schedule a consultation with our office.

John R. Wilson


John R. Wilson provides legal services to Litigation, Bankruptcy, Government, and Education Law clients. Prior to joining CGA Law Firm, John served as an Advisor for the Mason Veterans and Service Members Legal Clinic, where he represented clients in military proceedings, veterans’ appeals, and civil matters. John focused his legal studies on national security law and policy, serving as a research assistant to the National Security Institute and the Articles Selection Editor of the National Security Law Journal.

Read John’s Bio Page in full here.