North Dakota bill aims to loosen corporate farm restrictions and boost animal agriculture
Under House Bill 1371, feedlots or dairies could partner with a corporation and no longer fall under the definition of farming and ranching.
BISMARCK — A bill in North Dakota’s legislature would provide a way around North Dakota’s corporate farming law, which supporters say would provide a needed boost to livestock production but detractors say opens the door to foreign and corporate ownership of farmland.
Rep. Paul Thomas, a Republican grain farmer at Velva, southeast of Minot, is the primary sponsor of a bill that would make it possible for farmers to operate a feedlot for cattle, hogs or poultry, by partnering with a corporate entity, such as a meat packer. It also would apply to a dairy.
Under House Bill 1371, such feedlots or dairies would no longer fall under the definition of farming and ranching, meaning North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law, which limits farms to family ownership, would not apply to those operations.
“My goal is to do everything to promote the development of animal ag in North Dakota,” Thomas said in an interview.
Developing animal ag and loosening corporate farm restrictions was listed as a priority by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum in his State of the State speech before the session.
The bill would allow a corporation to own up to 160 acres of farmland.
Opponents say it’s easy to form a corporation in North Dakota and a large corporation could create multiple small spinoff corporations.
“It will allow corporations who have no connection to the land, to the community, to own and operate farms here, livestock production facilities here, and that's a big concern for our members,” said Matt Perdue of the North Dakota Farmers Union.
Perdue also says the bill lacks monitoring and reporting requirements. He said there also are no limits on the number of shareholders in a corporation or any requirement that they must be farmers.
In 2016, a statewide vote rejected a weakening of the corporate farm law with 76% of the vote. That change would have exempted dairies and hog feeding operations.
Perdue said the 2023 bill does not include the monitoring reporting requirements that were part of those exemptions and adds cattle and poultry operations.
“Voters have said they don't want this and we're coming back with essentially the same proposal, functionally,” Perdue said.
Another staunch supporter of the corporate farm law is former North Dakota agriculture commission and attorney general Sarah Vogel, who noted the fee for creating a corporation in North Dakota is only $100.
“The legislators should know that; they do know that,” she said.
She said creating different corporations is similar to how Bill Gates uses different trusts to buy up farmland, with Gates’ foray into North Dakota creating an uproar in 2022. The state’s corporate farm law has gotten more attention after the Gates farmland purchase in Walsh County.
Vogel said the state should be focused more on expanding financing programs for farmers and helping locally owned processing plants, not helping supply giant meat packers.
Vogel said she would not be testifying when the bill was scheduled to get a hearing at 9:30 a.m. Friday, Jan. 27, but would submit written testimony.
Thomas said the bill also makes other clarifications of the corporate farm law, including specifying that a surviving spouse can remain as part of a farm partnership, but he said the heart of the bill is aimed at animal agriculture.
“The only way we reverse the outmigration of people involved in agriculture in North Dakota is going to be through animals; it's not going to be through grain farming,” Thomas said.
Other bills that could impact North Dakota animal agriculture industry include:
- HB 1148 Creates an ag infrastructure fund to assist local governments with costs related to value-added ag development.
- HB 1437 Creates regional livestock planning grants.
- HB 1423 To develop uniform zoning across counties and townships.
- HB 1276 To add $50 million to the ag diversification and development fund.
- SB 2373 Creates a livestock friendly county designation.