The Supreme Court of Nova Scotia has dismissed a spray drift claim brought by landowners against a neighbouring farmer and his farm business. The plaintiffs are organic farmers and alleged that, in 2007, the defendant farmer sprayed his lands with a herbicide that drifted onto their property causing various damage: significant health issues, crop damage, and miscarriages by four horses as a result of exposure to "overspray".
In response to the claim, which was founded in negligence, the defendants relied on the provisions of the Farm Practices Act. They stated that their farming activities were carried out in accordance with "normal farm practice" so that, under the legislation, they were protected from any civil action in "nuisance, negligence or otherwise, for any odour, noise, dust, vibration, light, smoke or other disturbance resulting from an agricultural operation." Following a motion by the defendants, the civil action was stayed pending a determination by the Farm Practices Board of whether the activities in question constituted "normal farm practice".
The plaintiffs then made an application to the Board and a hearing took place in June, 2012. In January, 2013, the Board ruled that the defendants had not acted in a manner inconsistent with "normal farm practice", and dismissed the plaintiffs' complaint. That Board decision was appealed unsuccessfully by the plaintiffs.
With all of that completed, the plaintiffs returned to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia to have the stay lifted so that they could proceed with their action for damages. The defendants also asked for the stay to be lifted, but for the purpose of dismissing the claim. The Court had to deal with the ruling by the Board that the activities in question, in particular the spraying, were "normal farm practice". However, the Board decision was not automatically determinative of the civil action - the question for the Court was whether spray drift was "other disturbance" within the meaning of the Farm Practices Act.
If spray drift fell outside "other disturbance", then there would be no protection against a civil claim afforded by the Act. Justice Murphy concluded on this point: "Absent contrary authority, I remain of the view that the activities the plaintiffs allege occurred, herbicidal overspray or drift and contaminated run-off from ditching, are "other disturbances" resulting from an agricultural operation as contemplated by section 10(1)(a) of the Act." Therefore, the claims made by the plaintiffs were barred by the normal farm practices legislation and dismissed as such.
Read the decision at: Nauss v. Waalderbos.