With little fanfare today the Senate concurred to and then passed the House version of a rollback to the state’s corporate farming ban. Dairy and swine farms, both in heavy decline in the state, will now be able to incorporate and enjoy capital from investors who aren’t necessarily related by blood (the state’s current ban only allows corporate farming among blood relatives).
It’s a big change for a state where “prairie populism” has, historically, run deep. That the only state in the nation with a state-owned bank and a state-owned grain mill would creak open the door to corporate farming is a big deal. All the more so because the Farmer’s Union, something of a political juggernaut in years gone by, got beat on this issue despite investing heavily in opposing it.
SB2351, sponsored by Senator Terry Wanzek (R-Jamestown), originally passed the Senate on a 27-18 vote. The bill then passed the House, in amended form, on a 56-37 vote before going back to the Senate where the final bill passed by an even wider margin than the first time around, a 29-16 vote with only one Democrat rising to give a short speech in opposition. It would likely have been 30-17 but Senators David Hogue (R-Minot) and Richard Marcellais (D-Rolla) were absent.
The bill now goes to Governor Jack Dalrymple for signature, and the word is that the Farmer’s Union is going to try and mount a campaign to pull off a veto, but that seems an unlikely outcome giving the thrashing the group has already taken on this issue in the Legislature.
“This is an important bill,” Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Joe Miller (R-Park River) said during a floor speech before final passage. “We are going to usher in a new era of agriculture.”
I think he’s right. What was originally intended to protect North Dakota farmers has instead become a liability. A de facto prohibition on business innovation that was was hurting those it was supposed to be helping.
Let’s hope there are more of these reforms in the future.
UPDATE: Originally this post named Senator Joe Miller as the sponsor of the bill. That was my mistake, it was Senator Terry Wanzek.