North Dakota’s livestock industry has long lagged behind neighboring states. It’s far behind sister state South Dakota, which has 4 million cattle and 1.5 million pigs. North Dakota has 1.8 million cattle and 147,000 pigs.

The state’s lowly livestock numbers have long been a sore point for North Dakota agriculture officials. They’ve been working to give the industry a boost, an effort livestock groups and the feed grain industry have cheered on.

It’s understandable that the state would want to diversify and expand its critical agriculture sector by strengthening animal agriculture.

But those trying to entice big feedlot operators to set up shop are seeking to send township and county zoning authority to the slaughterhouse — and in doing so, aiming to trample on the property rights of rural neighbors who would find themselves living nearby.

Their means to do this is Senate Bill 2345, whose backers say is intended to provide greater regulatory certainty for those who want to spend millions of dollars to build a factory farm.

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That sounds OK until you dig into the details. In this case, the devil is in the amendments.

To provide “regulatory certainty,” the bill seeks to gut the primary zoning authority that townships and counties have to protect the rights of rural residents. It’s called the setback requirement — the minimum distance between thousands of smelly hogs and their human neighbors.

North Dakota law establishes the setback requirement at one mile, but gives townships and counties the ability to increase the setback up to 1½ miles.

The amended bill would take away the ability of local governments to provide better protection for rural residents who find themselves living near a feedlot. Counties and townships would have to follow the state’s one-mile setback requirement.

Let’s remember that these large factory farms come with serious health and environmental impacts. They produce foul odors that, in some cases, keep neighbors indoors. Fumes from manure, stored in large pits and spread on area fields, can cause respiratory and other health problems. Runoff can foul rivers and streams.

These problems can reduce the value of nearby homes, causing financial damage to neighbors.

We urge legislators to take a hard look at the amendments to this bill. Are we really prepared to decrease protections for our rural residents in an ill-advised attempt to beef up the livestock industry?

Here’s an interesting observation from the livestock trend numbers state ag officials are circulating to bolster their argument. It shows that North Dakota farmers have always had an aversion to livestock, keeping herds much, much smaller than neighboring states for many decades.

North Dakota producers just aren’t very interested in raising livestock. One of the reasons undoubtedly is cultural; it isn’t ingrained in our farming traditions in the way it is in other states.

That strongly suggests most of those who would start big feedlots would be from out of state. Meaning the profits mostly would flow out of state.

Yet we’re considering passing a law that would harm rural residents, many whose families have been on the land for generations?

That doesn’t pass the smell test. Let’s find better, fairer ways to boost livestock in the state.