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Daryl Lies is the president of North Dakota Farm Bureau. (Jenny Schlecht/Agweek)

NDFB contemplating where to go with corporate farming lawsuit

BISMARCK, N.D. — North Dakota Farm Bureau President Daryl Lies told attendees of his organization's annual convention that the corporate farming lawsuit was not a complete loss for Farm Bureau.

"While the state and interveners claim an overwhelming victory, it was far from it," Lies said at the convention on Nov. 9. "In fact, we prevailed on numerous motions. The judged called many of Farmers Union, Dakota Resource Council and the attorney general's claims unpersuasive, meritless and then dismissed them."

U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland on Sept. 21, upheld North Dakota's corporate farming law, which restricts corporations other than those consisting solely of family members from farming in the state. Hovland also ordered that farmers from other states be able to operate under North Dakota law in the same manner of in-state farmers and that farmers do not have to maintain a physical presence on a farm; the North Dakota Attorney General's Office said that is how the law already had been interpreted by state authorities.

"Because the motion for judgment doesn't strike down the law in its entirety, we are working with our attorneys to determine how to proceed," Lies said at the state convention.

Lisa Hauf, director of public relations for North Dakota Farm Bureau, said she couldn't elaborate on Lies comments.

"We're still working with the attorneys to see if we want to go another direction or not," she said.

In 2015, North Dakota legislators passed a bill that would have exempted hog and dairy farms from the corporate farming law. North Dakota Farmers Union, the state's largest farm group, led a referral effort that led to 76 percent of voters voting to reject the exemptions. North Dakota Farm Bureau filed its lawsuit calling the corporate farming law unconstitutional following the vote.

"We are proud to be on the right side of history again," North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne said in a release after the court decision. "Family farmers and ranchers are both the legacy of our state and the future. We know the great majority of North Dakotans throughout our history and today agree that corporate farming is not right for our communities, our food system, or our state. The court's ruling ... reinforces the purpose of the law: to keep farming and farmland in the hands of family farmers."

Lies comments at the convention explained the purpose for NDFB's involvement in efforts to open up farming in the state.

"The idea that only the way 'I' think farming or ranching should be done or who is or is not a farmer has to go away," he said. "Maybe you farm a few acres of specialty crops or many acres of conventional crops. Maybe you have a handful of livestock or several thousand head. Regardless of size or method of growing, you are important to agriculture."