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Farm Bureau files suit over corporate farming law

BISMARCK -- A lawsuit challenging the state's corporate farming law, which was described by the North Dakota Farm Bureau as unconstitutional as well as discriminatory, was filed in federal court Thursday. The lawsuit comes less than two weeks bef...

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Darly Lies, center, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, announces on Thursday in Bismarck the organization filing a federal lawsuit against North Dakota in relation to the state's anti-corporate farming law. Next to Lies is Wes Klein, left, district seven director, and Pete Hanebutt, director of public policy Mike McCleary/Bismarck Tribune

 

BISMARCK -- A lawsuit challenging the state's corporate farming law, which was described by the North Dakota Farm Bureau as unconstitutional as well as discriminatory, was filed in federal court Thursday.

The lawsuit comes less than two weeks before voters weigh in on a ballot measure to determine whether or not to uphold exceptions to corporate farming law passed by lawmakers last session.

North Dakota Farm Bureau President Daryl Lies told reporters Thursday the state’s farmers should have the same opportunities as other businesses in the state to craft a corporate structure from which to operate.

“At the heart of the issue is the simple question of whether the state of North Dakota should be able to pick winners and losers,” Lies said. “Our court system is the only appropriate place to settle this question without the issue being derailed by emotion.”

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Senate Bill 2351 passed last session following a lengthy debate. It provided exemptions to allow for corporate dairy and swine operations numbering at least 50 cows or 500 swine on a farm of up to 640 acres.

Nine states have corporate farming laws and most have some form of exemptions; North Dakota’s corporate farming law has been in place since 1932.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said late Thursday afternoon the lawsuit hadn’t yet been served to his office. Once his office is served, there will be 30 days to respond in federal court.

“We have defended the corporate farming legislation before,” Stenehjem said of the original law.

Stenehjem said his office will review the Farm Bureau’s arguments and his office will respond soon.

Following the passage of SB2351, North Dakota Farmers Union worked to get Measure 1 on the June 14 ballot to ask voters whether they agree with the Legislature’s decision. The group North Dakotans for Family Farms was formed to push for a “no” vote, which would overturn SB2351.

“We weren’t surprised. There were some rumors over the past few months,” North Dakotans for Family Farms spokeswoman Kayla Pulvermacher said of the lawsuit.

Lies said the group has been working on the lawsuit for more than a year and that was part of the reason why the Farm Bureau didn’t get involved in the SB2351 debate.

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“It’s been contemplated; it’s not a last-minute thing,” Lies said of the lawsuit.

Lies referred to corporate farming laws in South Dakota and Nebraska being overturned as examples of why he believes their case is strong.

“While other states around us have vibrant livestock industries as a result of having access to the tools associated with a corporate business model, why should North Dakotans be forced to operate at a disadvantage?” Lies said.

Pulvermacher called the timing of the lawsuit’s unveiling suspect but vowed that efforts for a “no” vote on Measure 1 won’t be impacted.

The lawsuit, however, will need to be watched following June 14.

“It’s going to be a long waiting game. We’re not going to be done with this issue for a while,” Pulvermacher said.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said he felt the Legislature had used a pragmatic approach in crafting SB2351 by listening to all sides in order to avoid a lawsuit.

“Why now?” Goehring said of the lawsuit. “This will be interesting to see how this plays out.”

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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