NDFU poll: 75 percent would vote against ND anti-corporate farming bill
On March 3, two days before key legislative hearings on a bill that would loosen North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law, the North Dakota Farmers Union released a poll that shows 75 percent of North Dakotans would vote against the bill, if giv...
On March 3, two days before key legislative hearings on a bill that would loosen North Dakota's anti-corporate farming law, the North Dakota Farmers Union released a poll that shows 75 percent of North Dakotans would vote against the bill, if given a chance.
SB 2351 would allow non-family corporations to own and operate dairy and swine farms, and would allow each farm to own or control up to 640 acres of farmland.
The NDFU poll announcement comes just ahead of a House Agriculture Committee hearing scheduled for 8 a.m. March 5. The hearing is expected draw a crowd that will fill the Brynhild Haugland Room, the capitol's largest hearing room.
The NDFU sponsored the poll. DFM Research of St. Paul interviewed 400 North Dakotans by phone.
About 86 percent of respondents said they thought the state's agriculture economy is best left in the hands of farmers, while 75 percent said they'd vote against the specific bill if given a chance. The poll has a 5 percent margin of error.
More women than men opposed the bill in the poll. More 18- to 39-year-olds opposed it than older respondents. The highest geographic opposition (86 percent) was in the rural west of the state and the lowest (73 percent) was in the western cities.
Mark Watne, NDFU president, said the poll reflects his organization's "long-held belief that when it comes to production agriculture, family farmers and ranchers should be the ones who farm and own the land in North Dakota, not corporations."
Watne said the current system doesn't have a "broken wheel here that needs fixing" and said state legislators are "trying to make family farming a partisan issue."
Meanwhile, the poll identified respondents by political party -- 39 percent Republican, 26 percent Democrat and 34 percent Independent.
Bill proponents, including prime sponsor Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, have pushed for what they call a limited relaxation of the law to help stop the decline of dairy numbers. Republican North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring favors the bill, but the North Dakota Farm Bureau has been neutral, saying it couldn't support a bill that "picks winners and losers" among farming enterprises.
The North Dakota Stockmen's Association so far has been neutral, though some members testified in favor or against the bill.
From 90 to zero
Wanzek said he wasn't surprised about the poll results, but added the legislature is not fully repealing the law.
"We're down to 90 family farms actually running a dairy out of 30,000 farms in the state," Wanzek said. "If we don't do something, pretty soon that'll probably be down to zero. Family operations can't afford the huge costs it takes to build a modern, profitable, viable dairy farm these days. It's just too big."
He noted that South Dakota's law includes exemptions for certain operations, but it doesn't put a limit on acres.
"Something has to be tried," Wanzek said. "I haven't had one dairy farmer tell me we shouldn't do this.
"Change is hard," he said.