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Published November 19, 2012, 10:48 AM

ND Farm Bureau: 70 years

The North Dakota Farm Bureau looks back over 70 years at its annual meeting in Fargo, N.D.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — The North Dakota Farm Bureau may stand alone in the state as far as influence on agriculture policy, said Doyle Johannes, organization president, at the group’s 70th anniversary annual meeting, Nov. 16 to 17 at the Fargo, N.D. Holiday Inn.

In an address that often was punctuated with applause from the organization’s House of Delegates, Johannes talked about the accomplishment of passing Measure 3, a “right-to-farm” constitutional amendment designed to protect “modern farming practices” from legal challenges in the state.

Passing with a 67 percent vote, Johannes pulled no punches in his bitterness at opposition from the North Dakota Farmers Union. “I was terribly, terribly disappointed,” Johannes said.

Johannes described how, before his group started its petition drive on the measure, he met with Farmers Union President Woody Barth to ask for the organization’s support. When the Farmers Union launched an “onslaught” of advertising against it, the Farm Bureau spent “a little more money” and was gratified by winning “every county in this state.”

“I just really feel — really feel —after what has gone on here, what has transpired, that I think North Dakota Farmers Union is becoming an irrelevant force in agriculture in North Dakota,” he said. “I’m sorry to have to say that.”

Reached at his own convention in Grand Forks, N.D. on Nov. 16, Barth said he was “disappointed” at Johannes’ remarks and said his own organization’s position was established a year earlier. Barth said it’s “not a fair statement” that his 40,000 members are irrelevant, but that his organization would “respect the wishes of the voters” on the measure and move forward. The state Farm Bureau has 27,000 members.

Other issues

Johannes also spoke about Measure 5, an initiated measure that would have created a state law against cruelty to cats, dogs and horses. It was defeated by a coalition headed by the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association. He cited the “tremendous growth and maturity” of the association to win on that issue, considering that 99 percent of the funding for Measure 5 came from outside of North Dakota, from the Humane Society of the United States.

On various national issues, Johannes said:

•The struggle to prevent over-regulation of agriculture by the Environmental Protection Agency continues.

•A five-year federal farm bill is necessary for agriculture, but House Speaker John Boehner has told him to expect only a one-year extension to be passed in the lame duck session.

•A reduction of the federal estate tax exemption from $5 million to $1 million, and increasing the rate to 55 percent would be devastating. The change could cost a 1,200-acre farm in North Dakota up to $2 million if the fiscal house weren’t in order, Johannes said.

“I don’t know of anyone around this room that has that kind of money laying around in the bank account to take care of that kind of tax debt, plus everything else that’s going to go with it, to keep that farm intact and pass it on to the next generation.”

This year’s policy resolutions, which were to be decided Nov. 17, included those favoring property tax reform and/or relief, opposition to anti-livestock education in the schools, opposition to government entities owning mineral rights, policies in favor of infrastructure investments — especially in the western oil areas — and opposition to recent changes in school lunches, including calorie limits.