North Dakota Stockmen’s Association members set policy at annual convention

Farm Forum

Private property rights took center stage at the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association’s (NDSA) policy-development sessions at the organization’s recent convention in Minot, N.D., just like they had at its founding meeting 87 years before.

This year, the disruptive and sometimes violent protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline generated much of the conversation throughout the three-day convention, as well as a policy resolution denouncing both the illegal activities accompanying many of the protest activities and the federal government’s unprecedented intervention that brought a 20-mile area west of Lake Oahe – much of which is on private land – to a halt.

The issue is close to home for many NDSA members who own the land or live near where the pipeline is being laid, said newly elected NDSA President Warren Zenker of Gackle, N.D. “Their ranches and their lives are being upset,” he explained. “For months now, they have had to contend with trespassers, fences being cut, hay and supplies being stolen and roads being blocked.”

Zenker said that the road situation has impaired ranchers’ ability to harvest, haul cattle and hay, receive necessary supplies like feed, vaccine and cement, or even send their children to school, because school buses have been stopped or been unable to run because of dangerous circumstances. “Fall is an incredibly busy time on the ranch, as producers work to finish their harvest, wean and market their calves and haul hay in for the winter. The protest activity has stood in the way and impeded their ability to do their work as the clock ticks closer to winter every day,” Zenker said.

Producers have also been dismayed over the damage left behind by some protesters. “While they have used ‘protecting water’ as a rallying cause, the protesters vandalized dozens of pieces of equipment by cutting the fuel lines and draining gallons of diesel fuel, oil and hydraulic fluid onto the land – land that farmers and ranchers nurture and strive to leave in better condition for the next generation,” Zenker said.

What’s worse, he continued, is how farm and ranch families have been threatened and even terrorized by protesters who are sometimes masked, carrying weapons, accompanied by dogs and videoing and photographing the families’ homes and businesses. “These quiet rural neighborhoods have been turned on their heads,” he said.

Besides the immediate situation at hand, the NDSA’s policy resolution also speaks to the dangerous precedent that the federal government’s intervention and usurping of a federal judge’s decision in the matter sets. “If the administration is allowed to interfere with natural resource projects that have followed applicable laws in this case, what’s to say that, next time, the same thing doesn’t happen to an agricultural project, like a feedlot, for instance?” Zenker asked. “The federal government has created confusion and uncertainty and has acted anything but like a democracy in this situation.”

The resulting delays have not only prolonged the timeline of the pipeline project, but it have left work unfinished, land disturbed and vulnerable to erosion and weeds, and families and their property in a compromised and, in some cases, dangerous position, he concluded.

In its policy statement, NDSA members called for a peaceful and lawful resolution to the pipeline construction process and for the federal government and others to recognize the legal process so the ranching community and law enforcement can return to their normal duties.

In a separate policy resolution passed at the convention, NDSA members called for stricter requirements for non-law-enforcement and non-military unmanned aircraft, helicopter, airplane or camera operators flying over private property. “Some parties are known to be unfriendly to agriculture and want to obtain images to use against farmers and ranchers,” Zenker said. “NDSA members believe parties should have written permission from the property owner or be subject to fines and civil penalties,” he explained.

Private property rights protection is at the heart of two other resolutions passed at the convention, too. The Brand Law Enforcement resolution describes the NDSA’s role in protecting livestock producers against loss and theft and working cooperatively with law enforcement, state’s attorneys and others to bring forth justice in livestock-related cases. It also resolves that the NDSA work to strengthen the enforcement of North Dakota’s livestock laws, which sometimes are inappropriately minimized, said NDSA Brand Board Chairman Jeff Schafer, a rancher from New Rockford, N.D. NDSA members also called for strict enforcement of federal statute prohibiting the interstate shipment of stolen cattle and prescribing a penalty for the larceny of the cattle. “Even one head of cattle has substantial value and is significant to a producer’s bottomline,” Schafer said. “That’s why it is critically important that livestock laws are taken seriously and that livestock criminals are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The volatile cattle market was another major topic at the NDSA convention. In a special educational Cattlemen’s College that kicked off the convention, members and guests heard from CattleFax market analyst Marcus Brix about trends driving the market, CME Group Managing Director Tim Andriesen about recent and proposed revisions to cattle futures contracts and Martinson Ag Risk Management’s Randy Martinson and Amy Ryan about various risk protection tools before policy discussions in the NDSA’s Feeding & Marketing Committee meeting took place. There, members identified the importance of the CME’s live cattle contract as a risk management tool for the cattle industry and the physical delivery on the live cattle contract as a necessary function to facilitate convergence of the futures market and the cash market and opposed any changes to the contracts that would adversely affect cattle producers’ and feeders’ ability to deliver on live cattle contracts, including the discounting of deliveries to any delivery point. The policy comes on the heels of the CME Group’s announcement that it will discount live October deliveries to Worthing, S.D., beginning next year. “We believe this puts our feeders at a competitive disadvantage and negatively influences all cattle prices in our region,” Zenker explained.

The NDSA appointed Larry Schnell of Dickinson, N.D., to serve on a national working group focused on market volatility, price discovery and contract specification issues and getting a handle on the effect that automated trading has on cattle futures. The working group met with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and other decision-makers in a face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C., last week.

Washington is also where there has continued to be conversations about capital gains and estate tax reform. At the convention, NDSA members renewed policies calling for a major reduction in capital gains tax and the permanent elimination of the estate tax because of the challenges they cause in allowing properties to be equitably transferred from one generation to another.

Members also underscored the challenges that poor cell phone coverage can pose to rural businesses in a policy entitled Cell Phone Coverage. It describes a strong communication system as a necessary component for economic development and maintaining a strong business climate and the problems associated with poor coverage in rural areas. Members encouraged the development of better and more reliable cell service to support the communication needs of rural businesses in their resolution.

A complete list of the policies passed at the NDSA Annual Convention & Trade Show are listed at