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Published October 22, 2012, 10:22 AM

Measure 3

Measure 3 is a “right to farm” constitutional amendment measure spearheaded by the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

Measure 3 is a “right to farm” constitutional amendment measure spearheaded by the North Dakota Farm Bureau.

Rachel Bina, of Park River, N.D., says the measure is specific to practices and technology and doesn’t take away from the ability of local counties and townships to control zoning. “It’s an opportunity to establish in our constitution that we’re a pro-ag state,” Bina says.

Bina was one of 270 petition-carriers from the North Dakota Farm Bureau who collected 29,451 valid signatures (2,547 more than needed) to put the measure up for a vote. The amendment “guarantees the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices,” and “prohibits any law that abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern production and ranching practices.”

A native of Colorado, Bina, 36, met her husband, Spencer Bina, 35, when both worked for John Deere in other states, including on the West Coast. Five years ago, the Binas came home and started farming on his family’s farm. The farm produces seven crops, including wheat, corn, soybeans, edible beans (pintos and blacks) and canola. All are conventional, and 70 percent are non-biotech. The Roundup ready crops in rotation help control weeds and other pests.

Rachel became involved in ag policy issues when she saw anti-technology (genetically-modified organism) measures in California. While not against organic production, some of the efforts against biotech driven by organic interests, and in part by organic interests in Mexico, acted in organic groups’ financial self interests.

“We have looked at how fast the ag market has changed, technology-wise,” Rachel says.

She says it’s been startling to gain perspectives from California and other West Coast states on how consumers perceive agriculture and the impact they can wield. She notes that California Proposition 37, also on the ballot in that state on Nov. 6, would require the mandatory labeling of genetically engineered foods. It is supported by the Organic Consumers’ Association, the state’s Democratic party, and indirectly by the Mexican National Organic Farmers.

Avoiding outside influences

It is this kind of influence that she is trying to avoid with a right-to-farm provision in the state constitution. “Those of us in North Dakota, we need to be prepared for influences that may be from out of the country, or from people from completely different ideological lifestyles,” Rachel says. At the same time, today’s conventional producers must be more transparent and engage with consumers.

She says some of her concern stemmed from suggestions a few years ago that North Dakota should regulate or mandate tillage practices that are sustainable. “These ideas of ‘prescriptive’ farming are not practical,” she says, noting that the weather varies from dry to wet years, and tillage should be dictated by agronomic experts, not regulatory checklists.

Similarly, she says anti-GMO technology measures would remove society’s access to technologies that helped cut drought losses in the Midwest in 2012, among other things. She says biotech soybeans have allowed the crop to provide lower trans-fatty acid oils.

Rachel says the issue of “modern farming practices” was the hardest part of the constitutional measure to explain to petition signers. “I think it means the words progressive, adaptable,” she says, when defining the term. She says the term in a constitutional measure must be somewhat vague to provide longevity.

The North Dakota Stockmen’s Association, and about 50 other agriculture groups — grain and livestock groups, including the North Dakota Ag Coalition — have come out in favor of it. Only the North Dakota Farmers Union has expressed opposition.

bIn opposition

The NDFU opposed the measure on grounds it is contrary to many of its policy positions, including those regarding “stewardship, responsibility, a balance between conservation and agriculture interests,” and others.

“Unlike the state’s current right-to-farm statute, the amendment doesn’t require that a famer/rancher use sound agricultural practices or operate without negligence, as the measure guarantees an unlimited right to use any modern practice,” the organization’s website says.

NDFU President Woody Barth says the amendment would prohibit any law — local zoning, state statute and agency regulation from animal cruelty prevention and water/health regulations to GMO regulation or segregation rules — that would regulate agricultural practices. Barth says that means farmers and others could lose local control and the authority to find solutions at the local and state level. The Farm Bureau disputes this.

“Further, while this constitutional ‘right’ would trump local and state laws, federal law will preempt it and will remain in place,” the Farmers Union says. “Any authority the state or local government might currently have to provide reasonable regulations will be gone, and the federal law would be all that’s left, even if it isn’t a good fit.”

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