ND House Ag Committee hears testimony on anti-corporate bill

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota's House Agriculture Committee heard more than eight hours of testimony March 5 on a bill that would relax the state's anti-corporate farming law to allow corporations to own swine and dairy operations.

BISMARCK, N.D. -- North Dakota's House Agriculture Committee heard more than eight hours of testimony March 5 on a bill that would relax the state's anti-corporate farming law to allow corporations to own swine and dairy operations.

Some think the bill opens the door to corporate ownership of beef feedlots above the current size cap of 640 acres, or one square mile.

State Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, told the Committee proposed exemptions to the state's anti-corporate farming law are only for swine and dairy. He said the change is designed to complement the state's strong crop sector -- both for a place to market grain and for a source of nutrients for crop production.

SB 2351 passed the Senate. The House Agriculture Committee plans to vote on the bill March 6. With the committee's recommendation, the full House could vote on March 9 or 10, according to House Agriculture Committee Chairman Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake.

The floodgates


Wanzek said only nine states have anti-corporate farming laws and almost all of them allow the exemptions for swine and dairy. He declined to estimate how many dairies or hog operations would be saved or created by the bill, but said it wouldn't lead to a corporate takeover.

"This bill is not going to open up the floodgates," Wanzek said.

He challenged those who are opposed to come up with better solutions for stopping the industry's decline.

"Doing nothing is not an option," he said. "The question in my mind is do we want to save our swine or dairy numbers, or doesn't it matter?"

Wanzek and others compared North Dakota's declining hog and dairy numbers with South Dakota, where corporate exemptions have led to increases in dairy cow numbers.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring, who supports the bill, said anti-corporate laws in other states have been challenged constitutionally, but said he hoped the stat's exemptions would strengthen the law, so few would challenge it.

Mark Watne, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, the major opponent of the bill, said of 51 new dairies in South Dakota since 2012, 49 were technically family dairies.

"Do you think (North Dakota) couldn't even attract one?" Watne questioned the Committee. "Either we didn't do our job, or economically you can't do it here. There's something going on here."


Kristi Schlosser Carlson, general counsel for the NDFU, criticized how the bill is written, saying it allows a "string" of LLCs to control land in the specified 640-acre increments.

New opportunities

The committee heard from several people in the livestock industry in favor of the changes, or wanting the changes to go even further.

Andrew Holle, a Mandan, N.D., farmer said his 600-cow dairy is a $5 million investment. He said it supplies about one-fifth of the milk used by the Land O'Lakes fluid milk plant in Bismarck, which also is bringing in about that much of out-of-state milk to supply its needs.

Holle said he'd like to expand as much as five times and would benefit from the corporate governance as a tool to grow.

Craig Jarolimek, a Park River, N.D., producer who is involved in two swine farrowing operations and is a former president of the National Pork Producers Council, said the large debt load required to expand is prohibitive to livestock producers who are limited by who they can partner with.

He said the disappearance of the industry means remaining producers are losing transportation options and efficiencies and must go to out-of-state vendors to purchase equipment and other inputs. He also said more livestock development will increase wages for farm workers.

Several speakers talked about new or available livestock slaughter markets for those who could expand. Jarolimek said a Brandon, Manitoba, plant is running on a deficit of hogs, and plants in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Worthington, Minn., also offer processing opportunities for potential swine production.


Roger Effertz, a cattleman from Velva, N.D., said he sees opportunities for cattle feeding operation expansions with the likely restart of the mothballed Aberdeen, S.D., cattle slaughter plant. He and Clark Price, a Washburn, N.D., cattleman, asked the committee to add beef feedlots into the bill.

Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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