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Farmers Union 'confident' in corporate farming vote

BISMARCK-With a month left to gather signatures, North Dakota Farmers Union is confident voters will get to weigh in on the state's corporate farming law.

BISMARCK - With a month left to gather signatures, North Dakota Farmers Union is confident voters will get to weigh in on the state's corporate farming law.

NDFU is petitioning to refer recently passed corporate farming law exemptions to a vote in 2016.

Mark Watne, president of the NDFU, would not reveal the exact number of signatures gathered but said he is confident the organization will gather more than enough. The group needs 13,000 signatures to refer the law.

"I think that will be achievable fairly easily," he said. "The rough numbers coming in are good ... I really do believe we will get these signatures."

The state legislature voted to allow limited exemptions to the state's anti-corporate farming statutes for dairy and pork producers. NDFU argues opening the door to any kind of corporate farming is detrimental to family-owned farms.


"We wrote that (legislation) very carefully just to provide an exempt for pork and dairy producers," said bill sponsor Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown. "I'm a family farmer, if I felt for one moment it posed a risk to family farms, I would never support it ... It's not going to open floodgates like they have everyone thinking."

Still, Watne said it is rare that volunteers find people unwilling to sign the petition. Even those that may be undecided may sign anyway because they think the public should get to vote on it, he said.

Volunteers have run into issues with signers not filling out all of their information. There are also 150 to 160 people gathering the signatures. He said the organization has an estimate but won't be sure about the exact number until all of the signatures can be counted and finalized. He expects to have that number in about two weeks.

"I think this referral is like poking a sleeping bear," Watne said.

Anti-corporate farming laws were challenged in court and overturned in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa. Wanzek said he has heard rumors North Dakota's could be challenged, too, and could be expanded beyond the dairy and pork exemptions.

"I don't think they realize how our dairy and pork industries are on the verge of extinction," said Wanzek, adding that, if the industries can't be turned around, North Dakotans will likely be buying their dairy products from outside the state where corporate farming is allowed.

Wanzek said there are nine states left with anti-corporate farming laws and those all make some exemptions for animal agriculture. Dairy production is growing in those states while it shrinks in North Dakota.

North Dakota's corn, soybean, ethanol, pork and dairy industry groups have voiced support for the recently passed exemptions, Wanzek said. The only farm group opposing it is Farmers Union, he said.


"While they see nothing but fear, I see nothing but opportunity," he said. "It's a sensitive issue for me as well, but I looked at the facts and did the best I could."

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