Standing in the Breach against Corporate Farming

North Dakota was among the first states to prohibit corporate farming in 1932. Nebraska was among the last, when, by a 1982 vote of the people, the state enacted Initiative 300, a constitutional amendment against corporate farming.

During the 50 years between North Dakota’s corporate farming law and Nebraska’s Initiative 300, most Midwest and Great Plains farm and ranch states passed similar anti-corporate farming laws.

Over the last three decades concerted, coordinated efforts by industrial agriculture interests eroded those victories. With the exception of North Dakota, every Midwest and Great Plains state saw them overturned or eviscerated by legislative or legal action. Nebraska’s Initiative 300 was overturned in federal court in 2005.

Thanks to former state Senator Cap Dierks’ foresight following the 1999 hog market crisis, however, Nebraska still possesses a statute prohibiting livestock ownership by meatpacking corporations.

Leah Douglas, a reporter and policy analyst with New America’s Open Markets Program, wrote recently in Fortune Magazine about the current assault on Nebraska’s prohibition of meatpacker ownership of livestock (The last state standing against corporate farming weighs a change, Fortune, March 24, 2015).

Jim Knopik, Center for Rural Affairs board member and past-President, figures prominently in the story.

“Knopik, who is a 65-year-old hog farmer, has fought for decades to protect Nebraska’s family farms. In 1997, he organized protests against a proposed factory farm in his town of Fullerton. Later, when an influx of cheap factory farm meat caused the price of pork to drop precipitously, he established a co-op to maintain a market for his farm and other independent pork producers.

“Now, he’s involved in a new fight, one that’s taking place in the Nebraska state legislature. A proposed bill, Legislative Bill 176, would overturn Nebraska’s ban on corporate ownership of hogs. Knopik and others believe the bill could open the door for giant meatpackers like Smithfield to assume even more control over the state’s meat industry.”

North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law has come under an eerily similar legislative assault this year. SB 2351, which exempts dairy and swine operations from the state’s corporate farming law, was signed into law on March 20.

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne has vowed to fight on. He secured approval from the Secretary of State for their petition to initiate a ballot measure allowing the voters of North Dakota to overturn SB 2351.

And the Center for Rural Affairs and Nebraska Farmers Union aren’t giving in on LB 176, which still awaits debate before the Nebraska Unicameral. We may be the last states standing on these issues, but, in the words of Dylan Thomas, we will “not go gentle into that good night.”

Contact Kayla Pulvermacher to stand with Farmers Union at kpulvermacher@ndfu.org. Contact me, John Crabtree, to stand with the Center, johnc@cfra.org or 402.687.2100.