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Farmers operate in a complex regulatory environment involving a wide range of government agencies and departments at the municipal, state and federal level. This section of the Farm Planning Resources portal is designed to explain how those regulations impact some of the major components of a farming operation.

See below for more details about the types of regulations that may apply. 

High tunnel where lettuce and other greens are grown.

High tunnel production of lettuce and other greens.

Food Safety Modernization Act

This federal law, passed in 2010, includes a Produce Safety Rule component that impacts fruit and vegetable growers. The Rule addresses practices related to worker training and hygiene, water quality, manure usage, contamination from domesticated and wild animals, and equipment, tools and buildings.

Pesticide Regulations

Users of pest management products (including weed killers, insecticides and others) must, by law, follow all instructions that accompany the product. In addition, purchase and use of certain products is allowed only by qualified applicators. Other regulations address worker safety, storage, environmental protection, etc. Most of the applicable regulations stem from the Federal level. However, enforcement largely falls under the purview of the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, although note that they typically operate with a philosophy of “compliance assistance”.

Seed Law

This N.C. law addresses issues related to the sale of seed, such as seed quality and labeling. It also requires seed dealers to obtain a license from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Animal Feeding Operations

Farmers who raise livestock in a confined environment may be subject to permitting and other requirements if herd/flock size exceeds certain limits. These regulations fall under the purview of the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.

Land Use Rules on Livestock

The local municipal authority where a farm is located may have ordinances (e.g. zoning) that place limits on raising livestock. There are also rules regarding activities in the riparian zones (areas within a certain distance of water such as a stream or lake), designed to limit movement of sediment, nitrogen, phosphorous and other pollutants into the water. All nutrients, especially those from manures, should be applied using best management practices.

Value-Added Regulations

When a raw agricultural commodity is transformed or processed for sale (e.g. strawberries made into jam), various regulations can come into play. The regulations might dictate what facility is appropriate, which processes can be used, how it must be labeled and other factors. Once again, the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will be the lead regulator and in many cases can help growers understand which regulations will apply and the steps to compliance.

Nursery Certificate and Selling Plants

The N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the primary agency involved in the regulation of plant sales in North Carolina. In some cases, those selling plants will need a certificate or license.

Slaughtering and Selling Meat

Regulations at the state and federal level dictate how and where animals can be slaughtered, how the products are handled, labeling and other aspects of meat sales. The regulations are complex, but help is available from N.C. Cooperative Extension and the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Egg Law

This law, enforced by the NC Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, addresses storage, labeling, grading, and other parameters related to egg sales.

Environmental Regulations

While farms are exempt from regulations that affect many other industries, certain laws related to soil contamination and water pollution do come into play. The NC State Extension Farm Law Portal has posted resources on environmental regulations. Further, an overview of environmental regulations can be found at the National Agricultural Law Center website. And finally, the website of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency includes a guide to environmental laws and regulations related to farming.

Transportation and Hauling

When moving equipment and commodities on public roadways, farmers must be mindful of regulations related to weight limits, vehicle licensing and operator licensing. The regulations are complex and fines can be significant, so farmers are advised to be diligent in researching this topic. More information can be obtained from the State Highway Patrol, or from a guide from the N.C. Farm Bureau (Haulin’ Ag).


For information on how zoning regulations impact farms, visit the “Land and Water” page on this site.