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Published April 30, 2012, 08:59 AM

NDFB's right to farm initiative progresses

UNDERWOOD, N.D. — Doyle Johannes, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, says his group started thinking about a petition for a “right to farm” constitutional amendment more than a year ago.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

UNDERWOOD, N.D. — Doyle Johannes, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, says his group started thinking about a petition for a “right to farm” constitutional amendment more than a year ago.

It must get 26,904 signatures by Aug. 8 to meet a 90-day deadline for the statewide vote on Nov. 6. (The Farm Bureau could get the signatures by an Aug. 16 deadline to be eligible for the next statewide vote in the next June 1, 2013 election.)

The organization has 250 to 300 petition carriers. It needs about 27,000 signatures and estimate it is about halfway there. By the end of April, the Farm Bureau wants 20,000 signatures, Johannes says. The organization wants to finish strong by collecting signatures from the North Dakota State Fair being held July 20 to 28, in Minot. If the signatures are achieved, he figures it’ll take a six-figure effort to get it passed by a simple majority.

“Eight to 10 of us from the Farm Bureau got together and we were looking at ways we could protect agriculture in North Dakota, after good friends in Arizona and other states where the Humane Society of the United States basically shut down veal calf operations, their crates for swine.”

The Farm Bureau thought about starting with the Legislature, but decided on the initiated measure for a constitutional amendment so that it couldn’t be easily changed. The Farm Bureau contacted an attorney with three or four options for wording, and the organization picked the best.

Johannes says the amendment is designed to protect “modern” practices, but anything from hot-iron branding or cattle roping that have been around for decades, and genetic modifications. “Whatever is common to the time,” is what would be approved. “If a practice will still be used in 20 years, it’s modern,” he says. “Something you continue to use is modern.”

Johannes says farming does change, noting his family uses new herbicides and don’t use the fallow-style tillage systems of the past. He farms with his son, son-in-law and nephew. The boys have 250 cows and custom-feed steers for others.

“We always go back to the second amendment of the United States, to have a militia, and the right to bear arms. It’s about 24 words long. It didn’t keep Washington, D.C., and Chicago, from banning handguns for awhile, but it was tested by the Supreme Court and found unconstitutional,” Johannes says. “We will keep it simple and we’ll work with our Legislature to help define what it is. If it’s challenged in court, then you go there. The right to bear arms doesn’t give you the right to an automatic .50 caliber machine gun. There are limits.”

Johannes says there is no other state that’s tried a similar effort. He acknowledges the organization is trying to be proactive in defending against animal welfare and animal cruelty. Members of the HSUS and others are also trying to get an initiative on the ballot in November to make animal cruelty a felony.

“If that is determined to infringe on the rights to farm and ranch in North Dakota, that would be unconstitutional,” Johannes says, of the thinking. “That’s what we’re trying to protect against,” and adds, “That’s why we’ve got to get ours in first.”

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