The PlanSector


Goal 2

Farming regulations will support the growth of agriculture.

Image courtesy of Marlene Stasinos

As they are in most sectors of our economy, regulations are a necessary part of farming. Well-crafted and reasonable farm regulations protect the environment, workers, public health, and other community interests. They help create a level economic playing field. The agriculture regulatory system includes provisions and requirements that pertain to many aspects of farming, including – but not limited to – food safety, air quality, water quality, public safety, siting, taxes, land use, and labor.

show more


  1. 2.1 Create a regulatory system that does not outpace the capacity of the agricultural community to comply.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.1.1 As new regulations or revisions to existing ones are considered, regulators should work directly with stakeholders, including providers of technical, educational, and financial assistance, to produce a consensus draft of new regulations prior to their release for review by the general public. Regulators and stakeholders should work together to craft regulations that are based on farming practices that are currently achievable; identify how these practices can be improved over time; and develop processes for making such improvements, such as allowing for extended phase-in periods, and providing education and technical assistance.
    3. 2.1.2 Ensure that regulatory processes are transparent; that they operate in a timely and predictable fashion; and that they are appropriate to the size of the farm being regulated.
    4. 2.1.3 Train and manage regulators to enforce regulations consistently, and to offer technical assistance to farmers so that compliance concerns can be remedied quickly. Ensure that regulators who conduct on-site farm inspections are well-versed in farming issues and are able to understand and address specific concerns found on one farm in a broader context.
    5. 2.1.4 Establish a circuit rider program at MDAR with staff who can visit farms in a non-enforcement capacity to explain regulations and programs available through the department that may aid with compliance.
    6. 2.1.5 Review regulations at least every 10 years to ensure that the standards they set match the reality of current agricultural practices and needs and other concerns.
    7. 2.1.6 Facilitate improved communication among agencies and stakeholders with a focus on balancing regulations and farm viability.
  2. 2.2 Review and revise state regulations hindering farms’ viability.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.2.1 Review all state programs, regulations, and laws relevant to farming that include a definition of farming or agriculture and, where possible, establish common definitions as the basis for a consistent and understandable set of rules for farmers to follow.
    3. 2.2.2 Engage farmers and other relevant stakeholders in a review of nutrient management regulations; update as needed.
    4. 2.2.3 Establish a state livestock care and standards board to ensure that livestock is treated humanely, and that state requirements are based on the standards of practice and the values of Massachusetts farmers, consumers, and residents.
    5. 2.2.4 Bring together farmers, plumbers, and regulators to develop a suitable agricultural plumbing code.
    6. 2.2.5 Adapt building codes and regulations to promote utilization of vacant industrial buildings for hydroponic growing and other food production.
    7. 2.2.6 Develop regulations to facilitate dairy farms’ capacity to sell raw milk and related value-added products direct to consumers while ensuring adequate oversight to protect safety and consumer confidence.
    8. 2.2.7 Establish a committee to review state apiary laws and propose recommendations to support the growth of native pollinators.
    9. 2.2.8 Work with the congressional delegations of Massachusetts and other New England states to advocate for changes in the federal dairy pricing structure so that it is more sensitive to the particular needs of Massachusetts dairy farms.
  3. 2.3 Minimize municipal regulations that hinder farm viability.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.3.1 Develop a system of checks and balances to support appropriate engagement of municipal boards of health and conservations commissions in agricultural issues and reduce unwarranted or unjustified regulations.
    3. 2.3.2 Develop the capacity of agricultural commissions through an organization such as the Massachusetts Association of Agricultural Commissions, with support from MDAR, to play a formal role in local decisions and issues related to agriculture.
    4. 2.3.3 Encourage farmers to serve on local select boards, boards of health, conservation commissions, planning boards, water and sewer commissions and similar local bodies to ensure that the perspectives of agriculture are represented in local government.
    5. 2.3.4 Develop incentives to encourage towns and cities without agricultural commissions to create them, particularly in Gateway Cities, and support technical assistance, education, and networking opportunities for all commission members.
    6. 2.3.5 Work to achieve greater overall consistency in municipal health regulations pertaining to agricultural production and marketing so that farmers can more efficiently manage agricultural operations and market opportunities across town lines. State agencies, regional planning agencies, and support organizations should encourage and assist with this action.
    7. 2.3.6 Require and publicly fund training of local and state regulators in agriculture and food issues.
    8. 2.3.7 Explore and implement options for credentialing of the local public health workforce, accreditation of local health departments, and regionalization of local public health services and regulations.
    9. 2.3.7 Create a professionally-facilitated working group that includes representatives from the fields of public health and food systems, as well as regulatory agencies, to develop a proposal to improve regulatory oversight of the local food system with respect to public health. This proposal should address: (1) Actions to achieve consistent, science-based state and local regulations that are developed by practitioners and public health professionals concerning animal slaughter, on-farm processing, product aggregation, farmers markets, and other relevant issues that may be identified. (2)Requirements for training local regulators in food system practices and current science, and a plan for developing resources for doing so. (3) Requirements for training local regulators to enforce regulations consistently and, wherever possible, to offer resources to remedy concerns before taking punitive action. (4) A requirement for public review of new regulations that is timely and transparent, involves affected stakeholders early on, and includes at least one public hearing. (5) A system of checks and balances on local regulations and actions, including appeal processes. (6) Consideration of other, related issues as raised in this plan. The working group should present its proposal to the Food Policy Council, appropriate agencies within the state administration, and the legislature within nine months of the first working group meeting. The proposal should note whether or not state legislative or regulatory changes are needed to implement the proposal’s recommendations, and it should include a draft budget for implementation.
  4. 2.4 Address outdated and confusing regulations concerning agricultural labor to better meet the needs of Massachusetts farm businesses while protecting the well-being and security of agricultural workers.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.4.1 Develop an online, centralized job matching hub for domestic agricultural workers.
    3. 2.4.2 Facilitate partnerships between farmers who require labor during different seasons.
    4. 2.4.3 Establish a time-limited youth and training minimum wage for farm workers.
    5. 2.4.4 Allow retail farm workers to qualify for the agricultural minimum wage.
    6. 2.4.5 Educate farmers about federal and state labor laws, with an emphasis on assistance with compliance, rather than punitive measures for violations.
    7. 2.4.6 Ensure that when changes to state labor laws are considered that may affect sick leave, scheduling, overtime, and other related topics that consideration is given to relevance and applicability for on-farm workers.
    8. 2.4.7 Change the definition of agriculture as it is applied to the federal Fair Labor Standards Action (FLSA) so that it allows for retail agriculture (work other than field work) and a limited amount of aggregation of goods from area farms.
    9. 2.4.8 Work with the congressional delegations of New England states to move administration of the federal H2A Temporary Agricultural Workers Program from the Department of Homeland Security to the USDA.
    10. 2.4.9 Allow brokers to aggregate farm work on multiple farms so that a number of farms can share the costs of transportation and housing of H2A temporary agricultural workers.
    11. 2.4.10 Allow H2A temporary agricultural workers to remain in the U.S. for a full year.
    12. 2.4.11 Support federal legislation to forgive student loans to college graduates after ten years of working in farming.
    13. 2.4.12 Offer graduates of local vet schools forgiveness on student loans if they work with large animals in Massachusetts for a set period of time.
  5. 2.5 Revise regulatory requirements for livestock processing to facilitate development of increased infrastructure.
    1. Actions:
    2. 2.5.1 Form a committee to review all state laws and regulations relative to livestock processing, as well as the Commonwealth’s current livestock slaughter and processing capacity, and make recommendations for improvements. The committee should include state health and agricultural officials, livestock producers, UMass Extension professionals, and representatives of existing livestock processing facilities.
    3. 2.5.2 Move livestock processing oversight from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources to foster a more agriculturally informed environment for regulation of livestock processing.
    4. 2.5.3 Assess the suitability of a state-level meat inspection program and implement, if deemed appropriate.
    5. 2.5.4 Conduct a study to determine how on-farm poultry processing regulations compare with those of other states and revise Massachusetts’ regulations to facilitate growth in local poultry production.
    6. 2.5.5 Create a sliding fee for livestock processing permits based on the number of animals processed.
    7. 2.5.6 Develop a clear, practical manual for on-farm poultry processing, including regulatory information.