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Derrick Braaten column: Friends in high places

There have been a number of articles and interviews in the news lately about the 9,000-hog facility near Buffalo, N.D. The proposed concentrated animal feeding operation has faced staunch resistance from the Buffalo community. Although none of this is new information to people keeping up with latest sound bytes in the debate over corporate farming in North Dakota, I would like to add my two cents.

First, I am amazed no one has commented on the name chosen for the facility. The name was presumably chosen by the principals of Pipestone Holdings, a Minnesota limited liability company.

According to the application, the gestation facility would be more than two football fields in size, and would be enclosed. I could be wrong, but I do not foresee any rolling greens inside that facility. As for being a family farm, it is a limited liability partnership, registered by the principals of Pipestone Holdings, Barry Kerkaert and Luke Minion. According to Kerkaert, who was interviewed on the Dan Hammer Show, the partnership is now also made of about 30 investors from Minnesota and Iowa. It must be a very large family.

Kerkaert also said on the show that “two or three bad characters” took the “local power into their own hands” and referred to the actions of the Howe’s Township as illegal. It is worth noting Howe’s Township is atypical in one peculiar way that surely was not lost on Kerkaert — before the surreptitious announcement that a large concentrated animal feeding operation was coming into the community, it did not have zoning regulations specific to CAFOs, as many other townships do.

Additionally, Cass County did not have any such regulations. So I disagree with Mr. Kerkaert that the Township did something wrong when it decided to pass regulations applicable to a CAFO that most residents just learned about in the past few months. Indeed, they “took the power into their own hands” because that is their job as the duly elected township supervisors.

And the facility is not the only entity that was quiet about the project before the past few months. In a recent story by Forum News Service reporter Patrick Springer, Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring responded to questions, saying, “I don’t think we were quiet about anything ... It’s not our place to get out in front of people’s projects.”

Commissioner Goehring and his staff chartered a private jet on Jan. 20 (on the taxpayer’s dime, I might add), and stated the purpose of the trip was to “visit with potential swine and dairy operations and their potential location of new facilities to North Dakota.” Pipestone was one of the operations visited, and this trip occurred about eight months before Rolling Green even submitted an application for its facility. If that’s not getting out in front of a project, I’m not sure what is.

Staff from the Department of Agriculture also made it clear they supported the company over any of the local community members. Daryl Lies, President of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, stated in an editorial that “it was wrong” for local community member Randy Coon, who happens to work at NDSU, to voice his opinion. One staff member from the Department sent an email to a colleague in response to the story, saying, “I love how he blasts Coon,” complete with a smiley face.

One starts to wonder if our Department of Agriculture is representing the family farmers who built the state, or companies from out-of-state that our local communities have already told to go home.