BISMARCK, ND – Supporters of a long-standing North Dakota law emphasizing family farms are celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, at a time of increased debate about the influence of corporate agriculture.
The state’s Anti-Corporate Farming Law came together through a citizens’ initiative in 1932 when Midwestern farmers were going bankrupt, and out-of-state financial institutions were handling those cases. The law was meant to protect the land from being swallowed up by larger operations.
Richard Schlosser, a farmer and former lobbyist for the North Dakota Farmers Union, said today, smaller independent producers are still dealing with outside forces.
“The threat is there, of the disadvantage of a young farmer beginning that has to go up against corporate money, so to speak,” Schlosser explained.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported roughly 40% of American farmland is owned by non-operators who lease it out.
With land prices soaring, observers say it makes it harder for younger farmers to compete, which Schlosser pointed out exemplifies why it is important to not allow North Dakota’s law to be gutted. Opponents, including the Farm Bureau, say it allows the state to choose sides in regulating agribusiness.
Those wanting the law dismantled argued it does not foster an environment for emerging technology in farming. There have been attempts to weaken the law in recent years, and its exemptions were called into question after American business magnate Bill Gates purchased some North Dakota farmland this year.
Schlosser hopes community interests are kept in mind moving forward.
“And the very survival of our schools and our churches becomes challenged when a lot of this farmland and ranch land is concentrated in the hands of a few large farmers,” Schlosser contended.
Schlosser added there are environmental issues to consider as well, noting other states seeing an abundance of factory farms are dealing with water contamination. The union noted not only did citizens initially approve implementing the law in 1932, but an overwhelming percentage of voters also later repealed an amendment for dairy and pork operations adopted in 2015.