On Tuesday, June 14, North Dakotans went to the polls in a primary election to decide, among other things, the fate of North Dakota’s long-standing anti-corporate farming law. Since 1932, North Dakota law has prohibited corporations from engaging in farming and ranching or owning farm or ranch land.
That law, a child of depression-era, progressive reforms birthed by North Dakota’s Non-Partisan League, stood up to multiple legislative assaults over the decades. But on March 19, 2015, the North Dakota Legislature passed SB 2351, which would have created exemptions to the law allowing corporate ownership of swine and dairy operations.
Let the people decide
One week later, the North Dakota Farmers Union state board voted unanimously to pursue a referendum to put the repeal of SB 2351, and the future of their state’s corporate farming law, to a vote of the people. They quickly gathered the necessary signatures and they worked diligently, with their members and other allied organizations, to win the vote.
And on June 14, the people of North Dakota gave that victory, hands down. By a 3-to-1 margin, North Dakotans voted to repeal SB 2351 and preserve North Dakota’s corporate farming law. Thank God for the calm, enduring wisdom of the people of North Dakota.
Many joined the fight against corporate farming
We owe a special debt to a lot of people in North Dakota over this vote against corporate farming, too many to mention here. But I’ll offer these words of gratitude, and hope that no one who worked to achieve this victory goes unnoticed.
Thank you Mark Watne, for your leadership of North Dakota Farmers Union. And to your board, your members, and your staff for all you do for North Dakota family farmers and ranchers. A special note of thanks to Kayla Pulvermacher, of your staff, for her tireless work and for helping us help you whenever we could.
Thank you Sarah Vogel, for bringing your voice into this fight. Your experience as a former North Dakota Commissioner of Agriculture and a lifetime of fighting for family farmers and ranchers was indispensable. And thanks for helping bring our friend Willie Nelson into the fray as well. Willie and Farm Aid have also spent decades fighting these fights, and their voice also made a difference.
Thank you Alison Beutler. Alison lives (and votes) in North Dakota. And when I urged her through a Facebook comment to remember to vote #NoOnMeasure1, she responded, “I voted early so I could vote NO on Measure 1… NO, NO, NO.” Your vote mattered Alison, and your determination to make that vote count is representative of how clear North Dakotans were in sending a message on corporate farming - NO, NO, NO.
The fight is not over
Before we celebrate the victory of commonsense over corporate farming in North Dakota too much, we must report that the North Dakota Farm Bureau filed suit in federal court on June 2, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s entire anti-corporate farming law.
Daryl Lies, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, announced the filing of the lawsuit against the state of North Dakota less than two weeks before North Dakotans went to the polls to vote on Measure #1.
“At the heart of the issue is the simple question of whether the state of North Dakota should be able to pick winners and losers,” said Lies. “Our court system is the only appropriate place to settle this question without the issue being derailed by emotion.”
Frankly, I’ve had enough whining from corporate farming apologists about “picking winners and losers.” In truth, they want to be the ones picking winners and losers, and they want to pick corporate mega-farms over family farmers and ranchers.
Center For Rural Affairs will never give up
We don’t buy the argument that the voters of North Dakota cannot be trusted because they might allow their emotions to play a part in their voting decisions. The hopes, dreams, doubts and concerns of the citizens of North Dakota should play a vital role in shaping public policy in their state. Just because 75 percent of North Dakota voters have more doubts than hope when it comes to corporate farming, doesn’t mean they should be discounted.
North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem indicated his office is preparing to defend the state’s laws, saying “We have defended the corporate farming law before.” And North Dakota Farmers Union will fight on. “It’s going to be a long fight. We’re not going to be done with this issue for a while,” said Farmers Union spokesperson Kayla Pulvermacher.
She’s probably right, and the Center for Rural Affairs is going to stand by our friends and with the people of North Dakota in defense of their corporate farming law for as long as it takes.
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