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Plain Talk: 'If we want to be a food desert let's keep doing what we're doing'

State Rep. Paul Thomas joined this episode of the Plain Talk podcast to discuss his bill to ease North Dakota's ban on corporate farming for animal agriculture.

Dairy cows
File photo Peter Orr feeds dairy cows on his farm May 3, 2011.
File photo
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MINOT, N.D. — For about a century, North Dakota has had a ban on corporate farming. This is to say that if you want to run a farming or ranching business in our state, you can only do it with family members who are no more distant in relation to you than first cousins.

But there has been a push, in recent years, to ease up on the ban, particularly in the area of animal agriculture. The argument is that allowing business structures that aren't just between family members would open up new worlds of capital for investment in agriculture businesses here.

Rep. Paul Thomas, a Republican from Velva who is a fourth-generation farmer, is backing House Bill 1371 in the current legislative session in Bismarck, and it would corporate farming in animal agriculture such as swine, dairy, and poultry.

Yet in 2015, the legislature passed a similar bill. The North Dakota Farmer's Union successfully referred it to the ballot where it died with more than 75% of North Dakotans voting it down. What's changed between now and then to make Thomas think his bill has a chance?

"The biggest landscape change is the development of soybean crush plants," he said on this episode of Plain Talk. Thomas says. Soybean plants will be a big source of animal feed, which will increase interest in animal agriculture in our state.

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He also argues that the current corporate farming ban isn't doing much to protect farming in North Dakota. "If we want to be a food desert let's keep doing what we're doing," he said.

Responding to criticism of his bill coming from NDFU President Mark Watne, who argues HB 1371 would hurt family farms, Thomas says the decline in the number of dairy farms in North Dakota is "the only argument I need to make."

He notes that in 2009 there were 193 dairy farms operating in the state. Today, he claims, there are only 37.

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Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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