Lawmakers reconsider corporate farming to address livestock declines

Published: Jan. 27, 2023 at 4:39 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 27, 2023 at 9:50 PM CST
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BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - North Dakota is a family farm state. Laws preventing corporate farming date back 90 years. But that could soon change.

As most farmers and ranchers know, it’s against the law for people who aren’t related to co-own a farming or ranching operation. But HB 1371, introduced today, would change that, something that opens the door to corporate farming in North Dakota.

Agriculture is the bedrock of North Dakota’s economy. And some state leaders say it’s time to make a change.

“This is a wonderful ag state, how can we better enhance it without threatening it?” said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

One solution Commissioner Doug Goehring believes will enhance agriculture is to revamp North Dakota’s corporate farming laws so we can compete with surrounding states in animal agriculture.

“As North Dakotans, I can’t believe that Minnesotans and South Dakotans and Nebraskans and Iowans can figure it out and we can’t,” said Governor Burgum, R-North Dakota.

Governor Burgum says the state’s 90-year-old corporate farming law is to blame for declining livestock numbers. HB 1371 would keep the state’s corporate farming law but would allow ranchers to partner with neighbors for livestock operations.

“You cannot do corporate farming under this law, farmers can do animal agriculture under this law, and that’s great,” said Burgum.

Despite support from the Farm Bureau, Corn Growers Association, Stockmen’s Association and others, many farmers came out in opposition to the bill. Some say it doesn’t address the issues facing the industry.

“We need to be paid more for our products, plain and simple, a corporation isn’t necessarily going to fix that. We need better markets, better access to processing,” said Shelly Zisch, who farms and ranches in Pettibone.

Others say, even though the bill would restrict livestock operations to 160 acres, the environmental concerns that go along with a 160-acre hog farm – like the smell – should be taken into consideration.

“Nobody’s going to want to come here if our rural communities are laden with that in their air,” said Rebecca Phillips of Emmons County.

Still others say the very diagnosis of the problem by the Governor – that the corporate farming bill is the sole reason for the state’s decline in animal agriculture – is wrong.

“We have a distance to market problem. You have to build out the supply chain, you have to build out the processing, we have to profit from multiple levels of this, integrate ourselves up as farmers,” said Mark Watne, president of North Dakota Farmers Union.

Something Mark Watne and Farmers Union believe is possible without making changes to corporate farming laws.

Many in North Dakota will remember the Legislature passed a similar bill in 2015, which was later overturned by voters with a ballot measure in 2016, which passed with 76% of the state voting to repeal the law.