Burgum highlights 'infinite opportunity' in annual address

The North Dakota governor called on lawmakers to kill a ban on corporate farming for animal agriculture and to invest millions of dollars in carbon capture.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum delivers his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — Gov. Doug Burgum painted a rosy picture of North Dakota's economic prospects in his annual State of the State address on Tuesday, Jan. 3.

The speech fell on the first day of the legislature's four-month session, and Burgum issued several calls to action for lawmakers in attendance.

The Republican governor said there is "infinite opportunity" in North Dakota to lead the world in agriculture and energy — the bread and butter of the state's economy. Burgum said lawmakers should kill a ban on corporate farming for animal agriculture and invest millions of dollars in carbon capture, a nascent technology that would bury carbon emissions deep underground.

State law restricts most corporations from owning farms and ranches, but Burgum said the rules that aim to protect family operations are handcuffing agricultural production in the state. The former tech mogul said ending the prohibition on corporate farming for animal agriculture would allow the state to put out more beef, pork and dairy.

"When it comes to making business decisions, in North Dakota, apparently that freedom applies to everyone, in every industry, except our farmers and ranchers. It’s time to change that," Burgum said.


House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said Burgum is taking the wrong approach to supporting agriculture producers. He noted that there is little support around the state for lifting the corporate agriculture restrictions.

In 2016, voters shot down a bill passed the legislature that would have eliminated the corporate farming ban on dairy and pig farms.

Senate Majority Leader David Hogue, R-Minot, said he supports the governor's plan and he believes reform would allow farmers to pool resources and establish hog and dairy operations.

Burgum railed against President Joe Biden's energy policy, saying the Democrat has stifled domestic oil and gas production. The governor repeatedly praised several energy executives in attendance Tuesday, including Harold Hamm, the billionaire founder of Continental Resources. Burgum also announced Hamm's $50 million donation to the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, a massive tourism project slated for Medora, North Dakota.

Boschee said the governor spent too much of his speech "cheerleading CEOs" and not enough time on "the real needs of North Dakotans" including housing and food insecurity, lack of access to health care and child care shortages.

Burgum said carbon capture is the state's ticket to continued prosperity in a world that has become more conscious of greenhouse gas emissions. The technology, a favorite of the oil and coal industry, is divisive among environmentalists due to its high cost and short track record.

The governor called on lawmakers to earmark $550 million for the “Clean Sustainable Energy Fund,” a program created in 2021 that offers loans and grants to private-sector energy projects. Policymakers who created the program said its primary purpose would be backing carbon capture ventures. Several energy companies have announced plans in the last two years to kick off expensive carbon capture projects in central and western North Dakota.

Burgum also said the legislature should invest in quality-of-life improvements and infrastructure while the state is in the midst of a prosperous period. Projections indicate North Dakota may end the current two-year budget cycle in June with a $3 billion surplus.


Last month, Burgum released an $18.4 billion state budget proposal for 2023-2025 that would raise spending by 3.4% over the current two-year budget.

The governor's budget suggests lawmakers should dedicate $2.4 billion on repairs to roads, bridges and other infrastructure while cutting income taxes to alleviate pressure on residents. The proposed budget also requests major funding for workforce development programs and increases in state salaries.

Burgum’s tax plan is slated to compete during the legislative session with a proposed property tax cut backed by several Republican lawmakers.

Hogue said he shared the governor's view that North Dakota's immense wealth can positively affect the prospects of its relatively few residents.

Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure delivers a speech in the North Dakota Capitol on Tuesday, Jan. 3.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

In an earlier speech delivered Tuesday, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Chairman Jamie Azure called on lawmakers to think of the younger generations when crafting legislation. Azure said American Indian tribes located in North Dakota still carry historical trauma from years of persecution, but the sovereign nations have become less reliant on the U.S. government.

North Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Jon Jensen asked lawmakers to set aside $55 million to move the judicial branch's offices to a different building on the Capitol grounds. He also requested $6.4 million to bump the salaries of judges across the state.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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