Court sides with the people of North Dakota upholding ban on corporate farming

Judge upholds 86-year-old agriculture law as both functional and constitutional

Written by Dakota Resource Council.

Close to one hundred years ago, the people of North Dakota voted in favor of a referendum to ban corporate farming in North Dakota. Last week, Dakota Resource Council and North Dakota Farmers Union won the dispute when US District Judge Daniel Hovland upheld the people’s referendum in court in a suit brought by the North Dakota Farm Bureau.


cafo sewage
Raw sewage from factory farms ca contaminate both ground and surface water supplies, threatening the health and livelihoods people in rural places.

During the Great Depression, farmers throughout the midwest were going out of business in record numbers and corporations (esp. out of state corporations) were buying up their farmland cheap. In 1932, North Dakotans passed a popular referendum that made it illegal for corporations to own farmland or engage in farming operations. They felt that corporations were a threat to family farming, rural communities, and North Dakota’s culture.

Fast Forward To The Present

Fast forward eighty years. Half a century of research has proven what the farming and ranching community instinctively knew. When corporations take over agricultural land and operations nearby communities experience lower income, population decline and environmental pollution.

That hasn’t stopped disputes over the law. Over the years, corporate interests have whittled away at the anti-corporate farming laws in surrounding states. In 2015, the North Dakota legislature buckled under corporate lobbying and passed an amendment to the law which allowed dairies and pork farms to be corporate controlled.

Popular backlash to the law came swiftly. In June, 2016, 76% of voters who cast ballots voted to repeal the amendment.

Even before the 2016 referendum passed, the North Dakota Farm Bureau filed a lawsuit claiming the 1932 law is unconstitutional due to the interstate commerce clause in the US constitution. Judge Hovland’s ruling this week proves that the 1932 law is constitutional.

Farmer and longtime Dakota Resource Council member Gene Wirtz said the ruling is a victory for family farms.

“Farming is more than a business to me, and to a lot of North Dakotans,” he said. “It’s a way of life, and it seems like the Farm Bureau wants it to be all about business. And I think it’s way more than that.”

Though it is time to celebrate the recent win, Hovland’s ruling also allowed for the 1981 family corporation exemption to stand, possibly opening the door to some corporate ownership of agriculture operations, signalling that this fight isn’t over.

Dakota Resource Council is committed to fighting to remove the exemption, ensuring that North Dakota farms are owned by North Dakotans.

Read more stories about agriculture and food here.

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