A crowd of more than 100 supporters of family farms gathered at the steps of the state Capitol in Bismarck in March 2015 for a rally supporting North Dakota small farms and protesting the recent loosening of the state's anti-corporate farming law by the legislature. The rally was organized by the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Voters chose Tuesday to maintain North Dakota's nearly century-old ban on corporate farming.

As of 10 p.m. with 72 percent of precincts reporting, opposition to Measure 1 was leading with 69,008 votes, representing 75 percent of the total.

“The results tonight are a strong message that the people don’t want corporate farming in North Dakota," North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne said in a statement. 

NDFU and North Dakotans for Family Farms ran the opposition campaign. 

“We left no stone unturned to defeat Measure 1, because it was that important to us and to our state,” Watne said. “There is a reason that our volunteers made tens of thousands of calls in January alone. North Dakotans want to keep family farming strong in our state."

Measure 1 would have affirmed legislation from last session, providing exemptions to allow for corporate dairy and swine operations of at least 50 cows or 500 hogs on a farm of up to 640 acres.

The legislation was introduced in an effort to save the state’s dwindling pork and dairy industries by allowing non-family members to form corporations and share in investments. Opponents said the law was an invitation for big, out-of-state corporations to set up operations in the state, threatening family-owned farms.

“All I saw was opportunity, and the opposition -- all they see is fear,” said Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, who introduced the legislation. “If I felt it had threatened (family farms), I never would have supported it.”

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Wanzek said he does not plan to reintroduce the bill in the next legislative session.

“I’m not going to throw it back at the voters,” he said, adding that the legislation would need a two-thirds majority to be resurrected.

Wanzek and his son, Ryan Wanzek, treasurer of Yes for Dairies & Pork Producers, instead asked opponents: “What’s your solution?”

And in the time between the law’s passage and the referral vote, Wanzek said the state’s declining number of dairies has shrunk even further, from 91 to 86. “They keep quitting," he said.

Watne said NDFU believes something needs to be done to address pricing, and a new business model was not the solution. He suggested a better government-run farm program would help, along with research into value-added options.

"We have to invest in the industry," he said.

Pork Council Executive Director Tamra Hines called the results "disappointing, but not surprising." She said the council's board will meet later this week to decide on a plan of action, though the council has no solutions in mind at this point.

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Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com