North Dakotans Vote to Keep Farming in the Family

by | June 15, 2016

By Mikkel Pates

Anti-corporate farming laws in North Dakota will stand after an overwhelming vote on Tuesday to keep them.

Will all precincts reporting, 76 percent voted "no" to loosening corporate farming law changes that had been passed by the 2015 Legislature.

"We always believed that the people of North Dakota would agree that the family farm structure is best for our state's economy and our communities," said Mark Watne, North Dakota Farmers Union president. "The results tonight are a strong message that the people don't want corporate farming in North Dakota."

The NDFU gathered signatures to force the vote. Watne said he didn't know how much his organization spent to overturn the amendments, but acknowledged it was "hundreds of thousands" on a "very positive message." The NDFU led an effort that included 90,000 phone calls and 5,000 home visits.

Since 1932, North Dakota has barred non-family corporations from owning farmland or operating farms. The exception would have allowed large, corporately-owned dairy and swine farms to own as many as 640 acres.

Watne said polling confirmed what NDFU officials had expected. He declined to say whether his group's campaign, which included print and broadcast advertising, signs and collateral items such as hats, had changed the outcome.

Craig Jarolimek of Forest River, N.D., who had been North Dakota's first and only president of the National Pork Producers Council, had urged a change in the state law.

"We know which way the vote is going to go: it's pretty much an uphill battle," said Jarolimek, adding, "It's a pretty easy issue if you're on the other side, to sway the votes of uneducated voters."

Meanwhile, the North Dakota Farm Bureau has filed suit in federal court, attempting to overturn the entire anti-corporate farming law as discriminatory and contrary to the federal constitution. That suit will start in federal district court in Bismarck and likely take a year or two to go through the court.

Daryl Lies, a farmer from Douglas, N.D., says he's disappointed voters made their choice based on a "one-sided campaign."

State Sen. Joe Miller, R-Park River, a farmer who is not running for re-election, was a champion of the exemptions and tried unsuccessfully to raise funds to defend them. He said that was in part to avoid lawsuits like the NDFB suit.

The North Dakota Pork Producers could not afford to support the attempt, and the North Dakota Milk Producers gave "all they had," $5,000, for a campaign. The groups were able to launch a website and do some Facebook promotions.

"It's unfortunate because it's something the ag sector really needs," Miller said.

(c)2016 Agweek Magazine (Grand Forks, N.D.)