Does American agriculture need ‘right to farm’ laws?

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Farm Family, family, farming There’s a new “freedom” that could soon be added to Missouri’s Constitution – the right to farm.

According to the Associated Press, many in the state want to declare farming a “right” at the state level in Missouri as part of a wider campaign to fortify the industry against animal right activists and opponents of genetically modified crops.  

"A couple of years from now, we might say this was the beginning of the trend," Rusty Rumley, a senior staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center in Fayetteville, Ark., told the Associated Press. “But we really don't even know what they're going to mean."

In Missouri, that means protecting the state’s $11 billion per year industry from attacks made by out-of-state interest groups, such as the HSUS-backed Proposition B in 2010, which sought to change some of the rules for operating “puppy mills” in the state; however, many within the industry feared it was a foot-in-the-door “domestic animal” regulation, which could also include livestock.

“If out-of-state interests can limit a dog breeder to 50 dogs, why not limit a hog farm to 50 hogs? Or a cattle ranch to 50 cattle? Or an accounting firm to 50 accountants?” Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster said in an article from the Fulton (Mo.) Sun.

The right-to-farm movement has been successful in many other states across the Corn Belt, including North Dakota and Indiana. A similar measure passed through both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature earlier this year before dying in a conference committee.

Some within the industry, such as Missouri farmer Neal Bredehoeft, stands behind Amendment One, better known as the “Right to Farm."

"Agriculture's had a lot folks that's been trying to come down on our farms and tell us what we can and cannot do," said Bredehoeft.  "This gives us a little bit of protection."

Read, “Agriculture industry seeks to create right to farm.”

Not everyone within the industry supports the move. Wes Shoemyer, a Missouri farmer, former state senator, and founder of the group Missouri’s Food for America, believes the potential for lawsuits is one reason to vote against the amendment.

“All these regulations that are in statute today will be subject to a court challenge,” Shoemyer said. “When someone is given a constitutional right, it’s their right to do what they want on their land, subject to definition by the courts,” he said.

Groups outside of the state have chimed in as well. The Iowa Pork Producers Association points that Iowa doesn’t need a similar measure.

"We're aware of the right-to-farm amendment in Missouri … but we're getting along just fine without an amendment," Ron Birkenholz, a spokesman for the IPPA, told the Des Moines Register. "Iowa is an agricultural state, and we've been farming for centuries without problems."

Politicians are also divided on the measure. Missouri Gov. Gay Nixon broke his silence on the subject last week, announcing he was leaning toward opposing the measure.  Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster, however, supports the amendment.

Amendment One goes to Missouri voters in an Aug. 5 election.  

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Robert Pedersen    
Tillamook, Oregon  |  July, 12, 2014 at 12:10 PM

Please remember that many states have many small farms adjacent to city and town urban growth boundaries. Our dairy enterprizes are being higly regulated.A right to farm bill is needed to allow farming to continue in many areas.

New Jersey  |  July, 12, 2014 at 12:30 PM

NJ, the Garden State that once fed nyc, has a long standing right to farm statute. Much of the Garden State has today been gobbled up by pseudo-suburbia and the irrationality that comes with NIMBY. Right to farm is a protection against municipal laws naming farms a nuisance. However, there is a dark side to right to farm. In NJ the statute has led to "agricultural management practices" codified in overreaching and stifling state regulations that define what farming is and is not,, limiting agriculture's creativity, profitability and growth. These regulations are written by the clueless bureacrats in Trenton, the bully state capital, who typically lean toward the green extremist against whom right to farm was meant to protect. Imagine if Steve Jobs had to abide by "technology management practices" written by our government! Right to farm statutes must not provide bureacrats with regulatory authority. Farmers are better protected when the courts decide.

Janet Martin    
NC  |  July, 14, 2014 at 09:11 AM

Truly bizarre that legislation is needed to protect the single occupation that created this county. I am a descendant of folks who came to North America starting in 1621, and I am the first of those generations to be only a farm owner and not an active farmer. I know that many of us are disappointed with the contemporary directions of agriculture, but I thank God daily that so many are still working so hard to feed the world. What do these folks really want? Clean air, clean water, etc sound pretty good, but do they understand that their regulations will leave millions of people in our very own country hungry?

Dennis Halladay    
Idaho  |  July, 14, 2014 at 10:13 AM

It's disturbing how short-sighted the opinions of well-fed people can be. Restricting how U.S. farmers operate not only reduces food output here, but since the U.S. is the world's largest food exporter it ultimately causes people elsewhere in the world to DIE of starvation and nutrition-related causes. People writing the impact pros and cons for voter guides on such ballot items should be sure to include that little nugget of perspective.

Aurora, MO  |  July, 14, 2014 at 10:54 AM

Anything Wes Shoemeyer opposes should be what normal, rational people support. He is a detriment to Missouri agriculture and certainly not what the MO agricultural community thinks is a normal farmer, much less a rational human being who uses logic in his arguments. One only has to see who is keeping him on the payroll to determine what his position will be. As for the arrogant Iowa pig farmer who says Iowa has farmed for centuries without a problem, just see what has happened in California, New Jersey, and other states whose citizens have also farmed for centuries without problems. They are now handcuffed with burdensome regulations preventing them from raising safe, nutritious food at a profit. This is the short sightedness that left the door open to HSUS and other organizations who have misrepresented their mission to the gullible voters out there. I suppose Mr. Birkenholz also supported the ethanol mandate which is also an economical and environmental disaster. However, as long as his mailbox is full of government checks, why should he care? After all, every thing is always better in Iowa.

DAYTON,MD  |  July, 14, 2014 at 01:39 PM

Howard County,Md just down zoned Ag.We have right to farm laws. Alot of good they do.The county council changed the zonning to what the voters want in thier backyard.

iowa  |  July, 14, 2014 at 08:28 PM

I agree. Especially about the ignorant head in the sand Iowa pig farmer. In our county this woman moved into an acreage who was a representative of a vegetarian movement. She & the organization bombard people with gross misinformation about farming and brag about stopping "factory farms". There was a supervisor meeting where she got up and yelled about people from outside the area bringing huge factory farms into the county. Someone else pointed out the permit was for a local boy who had lived in the area all his life except the last 2 years to take care of his widowed grandfather who lived a mile outside the county line. He helped his grandfather farm and now the grandfather was helping to get the kid started on his own farm. It sounds like a no brainer to approve but this woman was just railing against it because "we have enough factory farms already!" Beware these idiots are buying property just to try and curtail farming in our communities. I have seen it first hand.

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