Farmers seem to be a conflicted group. On one hand, we like the image of the farmer as a steward of the land, a noble yeoman, the salt of the earth, a caretaker of his or her God-given piece of soil. We like the idea that farming is a lifestyle. We like feeling like our calling is greater than any other. We want the others to view us with respect and to give us special treatment for our part in feeding the rest of the world. This image fits many of my fellow farmers.
We also like to think of ourselves as astute business executives, making well-informed, objective decisions just like any other CEO.
So which is it? Are farmers working in a God-given call or are we part of the agricultural industry and are like any other business?
The proponents of Initiated Measure number 3 like to use the first image to promote passage of the so-called “Right to Farm” amendment. All farmers are good stewards. Farmers are never guilty of trespassing on others rights, committing cruelty to animals or making decisions based solely on economics without regard to good stewardship. According to the ads in favor of Measure 3, we are more noble and important than other kinds of business, and, therefore, we should be protected from the unreasonable sensitivities of crazy consumers, non-farmers and animal rights groups. No one should be able to tell us what to do on our farms.
On other issues, however, the same groups promote the image of farming as a business like any other.
The proposed constitutional amendment is so vague that it may create more problems than it solves. Will this amendment affect how the Department of Agriculture regulates pesticides, seeds and animal health? Will it affect licensing of agriculture related industries? Will it affect local zoning ordinances? How will this language affect disagreements between farmers? What will happen when one farmer’s “modern” farming practices destroy his neighbor’s crop? What is a “modern” agricultural practice? Are all modern practices good? Does “modern” always mean environmentally sound, neighborly, kind and ethical? Who gets to decide what practices fit that definition? The legislature? The courts? Farmers? Multinational corporations? Scientists? Economists? Consumers? Proponents claim that state regulations and local zoning won’t be affected, but I have yet to read an explanation of why these kinds of regulations would not be declared unconstitutional if this amendment is passed.
Why should agriculture be singled out for protection from regulation? If agriculture is just a business, what will keep other groups from seeking the same kinds of protections for the oil and coal industry, the insurance industry, the medical industry? How will we justify laws that regulate that a coal mine be reclaimed to it’s original level of agricultural productivity? Why should there be rules about disposal of fracking fluids? Should factories be required to control pollutants coming out of their smokestacks? How does this amendment allow for reasonable regulation of agriculture which protects the common good?
The proponents of this measure raise the specter of animal rights organizations like the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) forcing through legislation that will end animal agriculture in the state. It would seem that the North Dakota Farm Bureau and other supporters do not trust North Dakota’s legislators, governor, and local bodies to protect the best interest of farmers. There is no instance in our state’s history where PETA or HSUS has been successful in accomplishing any of the things proponents of Measure 3 predict. Is there another reason for this amendment that is not being disclosed? Who will really benefit from the lack of regulation of so-called “modern” farming?
Changing our constitution should not be taken lightly. Measure 3 is not only an unnecessary alteration of our state’s governing document, it may turn out to be one of those things farmers wish they hadn’t asked for.