By DOUG SCHMITZ
BISMARCK, N.D. — The farmer protection amendment North Dakotans voted to add to their state constitution Nov. 6 is similar to safeguards already built into legislation in most Midwest states, protecting farmers from the agendas of special interest groups, said some farm organization officials.
North Dakota became the nation’s first state to pass Measure 3, which prevents special interest groups and government entities from entering the private properties of farmers using high-tech practices, and telling them how to run their farms. According to the legislation, North Dakota farmers have the right to employ and engage in modern “agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”
“This is a great day for the people of North Dakota,” said Doyle Johannes, North Dakota Farm Bureau (NDFB) president and chair of the N.D. Feeding Families Committee. “Measure 3 passed in every county.
“North Dakota voters saw how important agriculture is to our state, and how vital it is for farmers and ranchers to keep moving forward with technology and best management practices. We are truly thankful and gratified for the support of our state’s voters.”
Scott Hendrick, a program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, told The Associated Press (AP) the amendment “could inspire similar efforts in other farm states.
“There’s certainly a lot of interest in the states in protecting agriculture and agricultural practices,” he said. “This takes a broader tack. I think some states will look at this.”
According to the AP, “after the Humane Society of the United States unsuccessfully pushed a measure two years ago to abolish fenced hunting preserves in North Dakota,” the NDFB gathered signatures to get the amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.
Tonia Ritter, manager of the state governmental affairs department at the Michigan Farm Bureau, said that state has had Right-to-Farm legislation on the books since 1981.
“It’s based on Generally Accepted Agricultural Management Practices (GAAMPS),” she said, “and works well for us,” since the GAAMPS are reviewed and revised annually with representation from the land-grant university (Michigan State University), state regulators and individuals involved in farming.
“The law was amended in 2001 to protect those following Right-to-Farm and GAAMPs from local ordinances or restrictions on agriculture. Also in 2001, the law adopted site selection and odor control GAAMPs for expanding and new livestock production facilities, which, when followed by the farmer, protects them from nuisance lawsuits.”
Don Petersen, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation government relations director, said the constitutional amendment in North Dakota is “an example of the actions states will consider to counter the efforts of activist groups that work to regulate or prohibit specific farming practices.
“Iowa has a much different process when it comes to amending the constitution,” he said. “However, Iowa farmers will continue to expect that legislative actions, rules and decisions made in our courts will support farmers who make sound choices about their farming practices.”
Petersen said consumers “should be particularly wary of activists who play on emotional appeals. By imposing requirements that may have very little practical benefit to our animals or our environment, there are many ripple effects, including contributing to an increase in food costs,” he said. “We support measures that allow our farmers to continue their work to care for their livestock, crops, environment and communities.”
Johannes said he was “proud of the fact that all the money collected to support the North Dakota measure was funded in-state,” with nearly 300 volunteers working daily to gather signatures.
“One hundred percent of the money for our ‘Vote Yes on Measure 3’ campaign came from in-state,” he said. “Our county Farm Bureaus donated a great deal of time and money to the campaign, and we could not have placed the ads nor done the work we did without their support.”
One state group that tried to push back on the legislation was the North Dakota Farmers Union (NDFU), which is a part of the National Farmers Union, a left-leaning farmer group with a history of supporting animal welfare activist legislation. The NDFU told the AP “(the amendment) was too broad and could trump important local and state laws, such as those dealing with zoning and water drainage.
“It’s probably going to have to be challenged at some point through the court system, and we believe it will be at some point,” said NDFU President Woody Barth. But, he added, the NDFU has no immediate plans to challenge the amendment.
Johannes said this is the reason the North Dakota measure would be “a better tool to protect modern farming and ranching practices from being curtailed by radical agendas.
“There is nothing more dangerous than half-truths and outright lies designed to move an agenda forward,” he said. “We have seen what happens in other states when those agendas are made into law. We are thankful that with passage of Measure 3, it will be harder for groups with those agendas to gain a foothold in our state. We don’t expect this to stop these agendas from surfacing, but at least we will have recourse when they do.”