It’s no secret that most North Dakotans favor businesses owned and operated by residents of the state. Currently on the books, corporate farming laws prevent nonfamily corporations from owning and operating swine or dairy farms in the state.
SB2351 would change that, opening the door for nonfamily corporations to own and operate swine and dairy operations, with each farm controlling up to 640 acres. Many agricultural groups and a number of residents committed to protecting family farm operations in North Dakota oppose the bill.
Presently nine states have laws on their books prohibiting or restricting corporate farming. The intent behind current law is to protect the economic viability of family operations in each respective state, with the belief that outside corporate ownership is a threat to a way of life, in effect the family farm.
It isn’t that corporate farming isn’t present in North Dakota agriculture; it exists with the caveat that majority ownership in the operation be held by those living, and actively farming, in the state.
Opponents of corporate farming laws argue that the laws are unnecessarily restrictive, and anti-capitalistic in nature. They also feel the laws are unconstitutional because they restrict a free trade economy. States inhibiting outside interests in agriculture will continue to be tested by those groups.
SB2351’s lead sponsor, Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, said the bill is similar to South Dakota law and is intended to encourage out-of-state investors to provide capital to lift the state’s declining swine and dairy industry.
The state’s largest farm-member organization, North Dakota Farmers Union, strongly opposes the bill. A recent poll sponsored by NDFU and conducted by DFM Research of St. Paul, Minn., indicates that approximately 75 percent of those polled are against the bill.
NDFU President Mark Watne said the poll reflects his organization’s position that farmers and ranchers should be the ones who own and operate land for agricultural purposes in North Dakota. NDFU feels current corporate farming law in North Dakota protects family farms, inhibiting the industrialization of agriculture in the state.
The biggest factor SB2351 doesn’t and cannot address is depressed swine and dairy prices both industries typically contend with. That, combined with logistical challenges related to getting products to market and limited processing options, will continue to create downward pressure on swine and dairy producers in North Dakota regardless of SB2351’s outcome.
Farming and ranching in the state, in our opinion, is best left to those calling North Dakota home. Agriculture significantly impacts virtually every segment of our economy, from small towns to our larger cities. It’s important to keep as many dollars in the state as possible, and protect the tradition of the family farm.
The Bismarck Tribune editorial board supports a no vote on SB2351.