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Farmers Union gets enough signatures to put corporate farming law to voters

BISMARCK - North Dakota Farmers Union officials submitted more than 21,000 signatures Tuesday in their effort to ask voters to reject a bill signed in March that would relax the state's anti-corporate farming law for dairy and swine operations.

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BISMARCK – North Dakota Farmers Union officials submitted more than 21,000 signatures Tuesday in their effort to ask voters to reject a bill signed in March that would relax the state's anti-corporate farming law for dairy and swine operations.

More than 250 volunteers and Farmers Union staff and members collected the signatures in just 75 days, President Mark Watne said during a news conference at the Capitol, calling it "truly a grass-roots effort" that validated the group's position.

"North Dakotans believe farming in our state is best left in the hands of family farmers and ranchers, not corporations," he said.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office has 35 days to validate the 13,452 signatures necessary to get the measure on the statewide ballot on June 14, 2016.

Farmers Union leaders voted March 27 to seek a referendum on Senate Bill 2351 and delay its Aug. 1 effective date until after the vote.

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Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the bill into law on March 20. It would lift the current anti-corporate farming law approved by North Dakota voters in 1932 to allow a nonfamily corporation or limited liability company to own a dairy or swine facility with at least 50 cows or 500 swine on up to 640 acres.

The current law allows for family corporations and LLCs with up to 15 related shareholders.

Among those who signed the petition was Wes Niederman, who runs a 400-head cow-calf operation near Elgin with his 30-year-old son, Matt.

"I am concerned about the ramifications of corporations coming in and bidding up land and making it unavailable for him to acquire or rent," said Niederman, an NDFU board member representing south-central North Dakota.

Supporters say the law will boost investment in the state's dwindling dairy and swine industries. State Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring also has said he fears that without the exemptions for dairy and swine, livestock producers may be more tempted to mount a legal challenge to the anti-corporate farming law. Farmers Union officials say that's a scare tactic and that the law has withstood past legal challenges.

North Dakota is one of nine states with anti-corporate farming laws and the only one with no livestock exemptions.

Farmers Union officials will start planning their campaign in the next month and hope to have a strategy within 30 to 40 days, Watne said.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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