In 2015, the legislature’s Republican Supermajority passed a repeal of North Dakota’s ban on corporate ownership of dairy and swine production – the so-called “ham and cheese bill.”

North Dakota voters petitioned to refer this bill to the ballot, and during the June 2016 primary elections, it was overwhelmingly rejected. 76-percent of North Dakotans, including a majority of voters in all 53 of the state’s counties, voted to uphold the state’s longstanding ban on corporate owned farms.

One would think such a resounding rejection by North Dakotans would be the final word on the matter. Sadly, that is not the case. The Republican Supermajority is once again pushing a repeal to the state’s corporate farming ban. This version – HB 1371 – is even more aggressive than its predecessor.

HB 1371 would remove production and feeding of dairy, swine, poultry, and cattle from the list activities that fall under the definition of a farm or ranch in the North Dakota Century Code. A repeal would pave the way for the corporate ownership of livestock operations in North Dakota.

State law already permits the formation of LLCs and other business entities, allowing greater accumulation of capital and shared ownership amongst North Dakota farm families. HB 1371 would further allow out-of-state multinational corporations to have sole ownership of hog, dairy and poultry farms, and cattle feedlots. The bill doesn’t even require corporate shareholders to be farmers or require these corporations to partner with in-state farmers and ranchers.

At the same time many North Dakota Republicans are breathlessly spreading conspiracy theories about Bill Gates buying farmland, they are intentionally paving the way for foreign corporate ownership of North Dakota farmland. We do not have to look too far to see the impact Chinese corporate ownership has on local communities.

In a rare act of bipartisan unity, Senators John Tester of Montana and Mike Rounds of South Dakota have introduced the Promoting Agriculture Safeguards and Security Act of 2023. The PASS Act would amend the Defense Production Act to add the Secretary of Agriculture to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States and trigger a review of foreign purchases of farmland and other agricultural transactions with foreign entities.

The North Dakota Republican push to repeal the ban on corporate farming follows closely on the heels of another agricultural ownership kerfuffle that has been in the news recently. In this instance it was a proposed corn-milling plant near Grand Forks – and the Grand Forks Air Force Base. Construction of that plant has been blocked over national security concerns related to the plant’s Chinese-based ownership group.

While they breathlessly cheer that outcome, North Dakota Republicans are at the same time paving the way for foreign owned corporate farming all over the state. Smithfield Foods is owned by the Chinese corporation WH Group and controls over 20-percent of the hog and swine business in America.

It makes one wonder where the Republican Supermajority draws the line over corporate foreign ownership. Is it when they stand to personally benefit?

No matter the motive of those pushing the repeal of North Dakota’s corporate farming ban, it’s just plain wrong. And there can be no room for compromise on this matter.

North Dakota Republicans pushed for years to lower the state’s oil extraction tax but were continually rebuffed by the overwhelming public antipathy to that push. In 2015 the North Dakota Republicans finally succeeded in pushing that oil extraction tax cut through, claiming it would be a one-time thing and not part of an ongoing push to continually give away North Dakota’s resources without proper compensation. That one-time thing has now been revisited and expanded just eight years later, as the North Dakota Republicans have just passed a further cut to the state’s oil extraction tax.

Now we are told that the changes to the ban on corporate farming are limited and will only apply to certain small sectors of the state’s agricultural economy. Hogwash. This is just the first step for this Republican supermajority. If HB 1371 passes it might take as many as two or three more legislative sessions before the entirety of the state’s corporate farming ban is completely erased. Again, there can be no room for compromise on this matter.

Ask any North Dakota farmer or rancher and they will tell you the biggest problems they face are not production related. The big issue is processing. Specifically, the lack of market access and the lack of competition among processors, trapping farmers in a system where processors set the market and farmers are left to squeeze out a living.

Flooding our state with more corporate ownership will do nothing to solve those problems. It will just accelerate the decline of small towns and shutter even more family farms. North Dakota’s corporate farming ban has served us well for over 90 years. There’s no reason to change course now.

Tell your legislator to reject corporate farming and vote “NO” on HB 1371.

Tessa Gould
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