Why Not Just End North Dakota's Corporate Farming Law?

Today the state House will finally take up SB2351 which would ease the state’s restrictions on corporate farming for swine and dairy farms (Senator Joe Miller had a guest post here on SAB about the bill last week).

Currently North Dakota does not allow a corporation to own farm land unless it is a corporate organization among family members. This opposition to corporate farming runs deep in North Dakota’s history, back to the days when the state’s farmers were at war with the railroads and the bankers.

But does this sort of restriction have reason to exist in a modern economy when just about every business is incorporated? Who are we really helping when we prohibit a group of farmers not related by blood from organizing themselves into a corporation?

I understand that this is an emotional topic for our state, tied as our economy is to making a living from the land, but at this point arguing against corporate farming sounds suspiciously like arguing against the automobile to save the horse and buggy industry. In fact, some might argue that opposition to corporate farming has more to do with justifying the existence of the North Dakota Farmer’s Union than anything else.

Little good comes of opposing progress. Agriculture exists and thrives in many parts of the world – many parts of the United States, in fact – that lack bans on corporate farming.

Ending the corporate farming ban would not necessarily force North Dakota farmers to change anything. But it would allow innovative ways of organizing the business of farming in the state. If the old ways of doing business can’t keep up, well, so be it.

I hope that SB2351 passes in so far as it is a step in the right direction. And I hope the follow-up is a further move toward deregulating the agriculture industry.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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