Next week, voters in North Dakota are deciding Measure 3. And while it's not quite as high profile as Proposition 37 in California, it could have a huge impact on farming here in our state.
Measure 3 on the Nov. 6 general election ballot reads: “The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices.”
In the past week, I've had three of our customers email me and ask how this measure would affect our farm. The farm that directly feeds them. I wrote an email response and sent it to all of our customers. They encouraged me to write a blog and a letter to the editor to share the impact of this measure with others.
How does this measure affect us, Morning Joy Farm?
First, the term "modern farming and ranching practices" is of concern to us. What does this mean? Whose definition of "modern" will be used? Land grant university's definition? I found out how modern their techniques are. Agri-business? We will we use Monsanto's or Tyson's definition of "modern"? To state the obvious, we don't farm in accordance with a land grant university extension bulletin, or a Monsanto funded research study, or grow chickens under contract for Tyson. We have opted out of their definition of modern.
We grow chickens, turkeys and pigs on pasture, which is certainly not "modern". "Modern" poultry production requires a factory confinement house, waste management systems and technology. Having these animals out on fresh pasture every day, moving daily to new ground...well, that's just not modern.
Our ruminant animals, the goats, sheep and cow, are all exclusively grass-fed. No grain whatsoever. And that is not modern at all. They need to have specialized rations. And at times when corn prices are high, those specialized rations can include candy.
So while this measure appears to protect farming, it really only protects one type of farming.
Second, we farm using organic methods. What if an aerial applicator were to mistake our pastures for expiring CRP and spray them with herbicide? If it came to a dispute that required mediation, this law clearly states that "modern farming and ranching practices are forever guaranteed". Now, we know our neighbors and they know us and we certainly don't see this issue coming to a head. But what of other organic farmers in our state?
Third, agriculture is North Dakota's largest industry. Not even oil has more impact on our economy. This law makes it illegal to regulate our largest industry at the local, county and state level. Would we allow that same freedom to any other industry? Would we allow the oil industry to be unregulated? What about the medical, restaurant or insurance industry?
Fourth, in the past few years, a neighboring county successfully denied a request to put a 10,000 cow dairy just outside the city limits of their county seat. These mega-dairies, as they are called, are the "future of the dairy industry" and would most certainly be considered modern. If this law passes, our townships, cities, counties and our state would lose the right to make decisions for our communities.
And finally, I know many of the people who wrote this measure personally and I understand their rationale for proposing this measure. Measure 5, also on this ballot, is a perfect example of what the Measure 3 authors are trying to stop. (Measure 5 is an animal cruelty law that is solely the impetus of the Human Society of the United States. You should vote "no" on that one.) The HSUS is trying to lay the foundation for future animal agriculture regulation bills in our state and the authors of Measure 3 want to make sure that doesn't happen. And while I appreciate their effort and agree that we don't want regulation from outside interest groups, this measure is not the answer.
There will be unintended consequences from this law. It would be the basis for further regulation and litigation. It would be up to the courts to decide what the definition of "modern farming and ranching practices" would be. And if it comes to that, small farmers like us have already lost.
And because I don't believe in criticizing something without offering an alternative:
I would like ND to adopt a constitutional amendment similar to MN.
Minnesota’s Constitution, Article 13, section 7 provides:
“Any person may sell or peddle the products of the farm or garden occupied and cultivated by him without obtaining a license therefor”.
That means that in MN it is legal for a farmer to sell ANY product that he or she produces. This would include raw milk! In ND, it is illegal to sell raw milk. You may sell it as pet food, but pet food sales are regulated by the state government.
An amendment like that would do more protect farmers and ranchers than Measure 3, by protecting their production and markets. As well as allowing consumers the right to purchase any products directly from the farmer.