‘Right to Farm’ opponents in North Dakota used similar scare tactics

In 2012, North Dakota was the first state to propose a constitutional amendment protecting farmers and ranchers.  Their experience provides an important backdrop as rhetoric heats up in Missouri over Amendment 1– Keep Missouri Farming.

The North Dakota Feeding Families Initiative passed in every county and was approved statewide with almost 67 percent of the vote.

While the vast majority of North Dakota farmers supported the measure, opponents such as the Washington, D.C.-based Humane Society of the United States waged a campaign long on scare tactics and short on local support.

North Dakota Farm Bureau President Doyle Johannes and Administrator Jeff Missling recently shared some of their experience from the campaign:  “During the battle to ratify the Feeding Families measure, our opponents used a variety of scare tactics in an effort to sway public opinion, but history proved their outlandish predictions to be false.  The voters of North Dakota saw the truth through the minutia, and in spite of a well-funded opposition, the truth prevailed and agriculture was protected.  Since the measure passed we have NOT witnessed an increase in lawsuits, animal abuse has NOT increased, and agribusinesses have NOT been forced to shut down.  Water quality and other environmental concerns that were being fabricated by the opposition have not come to pass.”

The pair went on to say that “Members of the North Dakota Farmers Union charged that the passage of this initiative would grant big corporate farms the ability to freely pollute the streams, over- fertilize croplands and cloud the air with pesticides.  Obviously these claims were groundless, but a small segment of the population wanted to believe their accusations.

“However, a review of our state’s environmental record quickly revealed we have enjoyed a very clean track record and that agriculture has never posed a serious threat to the environment in North Dakota, thanks in part to technological advancements.”

Sound familiar?  HSUS, the Sierra Club, Missouri Coalition for the Environment and others are making many of the same accusations, and even adding a few more, here in Missouri.  So keep the North Dakota experience in mind as you hear them proclaim the “sky is falling” yet once again.

– Todd Hays

Vice President,

Missouri Farm Bureau

Todd Hays, of Monroe City, is a pork producer.


Joplin Globe: Our View: Vote no on Amendment 1

Proponents of Amendment 1 – the Right to Farm Act – have not made their case. We’ve met with advocates of this amendment to the Missouri constitution and listened to their arguments, but we don’t believe they have adequately answered the central question: Who is it protecting, and from what?

We understand that many small farms are struggling, but threats to their livelihood aren’t going to go away because of the vague wording in the proposed amendment. In fact, this amendment could hurt them.

Darvin Bentlage, a Barton County farmer, made a compelling case in this newspaper that what’s threatening small, independent family farms is big ag – corporate ag – which is what some critics think this amendment is designed to protect.

“I remember our right to farm when we didn’t have to sign a grower’s contract to buy seed, a document telling us what we could and couldn’t do with what we grew on our farm,” Bentlage argued. “I remember when family farmers could load their own feeder pigs in their truck and go to the local auction and sell their livestock in an open and competitive market. So who’s taken this right to farm away from us? It is the same corporate factory farm supporters, corporations and organizations that have pushed this constitutional amendment through the Missouri Legislature?”

The ballot question asks, “Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranging practices shall not be infringed?”

Infringed by whom? What practices? And who qualifies as a farmer in Missouri?

Smithfield Foods, for example, owner of Premium Standard Farms? How about Tyson Foods? Both of those are Fortune 500 companies that count their revenue in the billions.

Which Tyson practice “shall not be infringed,” the one that left more than 100,000 dead fish in Clear Creek this spring?

It’s Missouri that may need protection from big ag.

Proponents of the amendment point to environmental and animal rights organizations – “radical, out-of-state groups,” they call them – but most of the family farmers we know don’t fear laws aimed at protecting Missouri’s water and air. They already behave as good stewards of the environment because they live on the land they farm and drink the water from their own wells, and they treat their livestock humanely.

We suspect critics of the amendment are on to something when they say this is a measure designed to protect corporate agriculture rather than the traditional family farm.

In fact, we’d be better off making sure that public ownership of water, for example, and the right to clean water and clean air are enshrined in the state constitution.

That’s an amendment we can get behind, but we can’t get behind Amendment 1.

The Joplin Globe published its editorial July 13.

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