ND House Ag Committee gets anti-corporate bill this week

This week, the North Dakota House Agriculture Committee will take the bull by the horns in the contentious proposed changes to the state's anti-corporate farming law.

This week, the North Dakota House Agriculture Committee will take the bull by the horns in the contentious proposed changes to the state's anti-corporate farming law.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Dennis Johnson, R-Devils Lake, says he has scheduled SB 2351 to be heard at 8 a.m. March 5 in the Brynhild Haugland Room. Johnson expects the committee to work toward a vote on March 6. Regardless of the recommendation by the committee, he expects it go to the floor as early as March 9 or 10.

Johnson says the bill is likely the most contentious of any ag bills remaining and he expects both sides to "double down" in the House debate.

A farmer who has been in the Legislature for 23 years, Johnson says he's seen several attempts to change the 1932 anti-corporate farming laws and all previous efforts have failed. This is the first time he's seen an attempt to partially change the law.

"The ones we've voted on in the past have been wide open, and they've gone by the wayside," Johnson says.


Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Joe Miller, R-Park River, predicts the bill will pass and will be signed by the governor. The prime sponsor is Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown.

Miller notes the bill needed 24 votes to pass the Senate and got 27. The chairman says the change is one effort to bring more dairy and swine to the state.

"It's logical to make this move because it's the only notable barrier, in the law anyway," Miller says. "I don't look at it as discriminatory legally because these two operations are similar in how they care for animals, in enclosed situations, where a (cattle) feedlot is much more open."

Miller says he tends to favor repealing the whole law, but "we've got to work with what's sensible at the time.

"There are people in this state that really believe the corporate farming ban is important," Johnson says. "I think it's proper to take steps -- slow steps. You don't want to kick the door wide open."

No general ag support

Any changes to the anti-corporate farming legislation would be historic, but they don't have support from either two major farm groups.

Pete Hanebutt, public policy director for the North Dakota Farm Bureau, says his organization did not take a position on the bill in the Senate. The NDFB historically has been in favor of eliminating the anti-corporate farming limits, but Hanebutt says the half measure allows it only for dairy and swine proved a problem.


"Our board decided just to stay out of it," he says. "We're supposed to be a general farmers' organization, so generally you would think we would look out for all of our members, rather than certain commodities."

NDFU President Mark Watne says his organization is "always going to side on keeping the land in the hands of family farms and ranchers, and we're not going to budge from that."

Watne says if the state wants to boost dairy, it should launch a study, bringing in North Dakota State University, to help determine what kinds of products are feasible to target.

"We've done none of that," Watne says. "We (proponents) sell this (change) as a way to save the current dairies, but that is not true."

Watne says he expected the bill to get more votes than it did in the Senate.

"It was preplanned to pass this way," he says, repeating earlier complaints that farm organizations weren't consulted on the bill prior to its introduction. "We'll fight it hard on the House side."

Other ag bills in play

Johnson and Miller say there are several other ag-specific bills that survived the crossover for consideration in the opposite houses:


• HB 1238 would increase the beef check-off from $1 per head to $2 per head.The Senate Agriculture Committee hearing will be March 6 at 8 a.m. in the Brynhild Haugland Room.

• SB 2119 grants confidentiality to financial records if the North Dakota Public Service Commission collects them. PSC Commissioner Randal Christmann adds that SB 2301 would allow grain dealer licenses to cover two years instead of one.

• SB 2186 would change some honeybee regulations. It would allow the North Dakota Agriculture commissioner to take away licenses of honeybee operators who locate hive yards too close to farms or other human activities.

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