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Farm Freedom can help animal ag and rural communities

Archaic North Dakota law prohibits anyone who is not related from pooling their resources to start an animal ag operation.

doug burgum
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum
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Recently a bill was introduced by several North Dakota farmer-legislators to help promote animal agriculture and reverse decades of decline which have caused our state to fall far behind neighboring states. Farm Freedom legislation will remove the handcuffs that have held back our farmers and ranchers for way too long.

The problem: Archaic North Dakota law prohibits anyone who is not related from pooling their resources to start an animal ag operation. For example, if two unrelated farmers who live next to each other want to join forces and launch a dairy, beef, hog or poultry operation because they want to add value to their crops, create employment for their community and diversify their operations, North Dakota law doesn’t allow it.

The solution: Do what South Dakota did and update our corporate farming law to allow unrelated parties to partner with each other and access external sources of capital for animal agriculture. Minnesota also has exemptions to its corporate farming law for poultry and livestock.

How has it worked out for them? South Dakota ranks 7th and Minnesota 8th in cattle and calves on feed; North Dakota is 23rd.

Minnesota ranks 2nd in hogs and pigs and South Dakota ranks 10th; North Dakota is 24th.

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Minnesota is the nation’s top turkey state, producing over 40 million turkeys in 2021; North Dakota produces about 1 million turkeys annually.

To put it bluntly, our neighbors are knocking the stuffing out of us.

The Farm Freedom legislation now pending before the Legislature supports family farming because it allows families to pool their resources and gain access to capital to establish the purchasing power and operating scale they need to be successful, just as our citizens can do in any other industry.

It also supports small towns and rural schools. In Clark County, S.D., which has seen a resurgence in animal ag in the past five years, the chairman of the county commission recently told Agweek that livestock is a lifesaver for small towns because crop farmers are getting bigger with fewer hands needed thanks to advances in equipment. “One person can (crop-)farm 10,000 acres by himself, but one person can’t take care of 10,000 animals by themselves,” Wally Knock said, noting it takes more people including truckers, feed businesses, maintenance services, veterinarians and construction crews, among others.

Critics of this legislation are already trying to confuse and distract citizens with scare tactics, despite the bill’s strict limits that would still ban large sales of farmland to corporations. Such tactics are meant to distract from the truth, which is this: North Dakota law allows everyone except farmers and ranchers to decide who their business partners should be.

Opponents also claim farmers can simply form a cooperative if they want to do business together. Yet state law requires a cooperative must be incorporated by at least five adults, which freezes out farmer-to-farmer partnerships.

We know our North Dakota farmers and ranchers can compete with anyone, anywhere, anytime, if they’re given a level playing field. We have the opportunity to level the field with Farm Freedom legislation, and we can do it wisely and with smart environmental stewardship.

Let’s take the handcuffs off our farmers and ranchers and allow animal agriculture, family farms and our rural communities to thrive in North Dakota once again.

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Burgum, a Republican, is governor of North Dakota.

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