Environmental group wants say in corporate farming lawsuit

Farm Forum

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — The farm group challenging the constitutionality of North Dakota’s ban on corporate farming and the state official charged with defending the law both are objecting to an environmental group’s request to join in.

The nonprofit Dakota Resource Council is seeking permission from a federal judge to help defend the 84-year-old law that aims to protect the state’s family farming heritage. The group works to protect rural areas and the land and says it has an interest in the case in part because its 1,000 members – more than half of whom are farmers and ranchers – could be harmed should large corporations become a part of the state’s agricultural landscape.

“Land would be snapped up by nonprofits and large corporations, resulting in increased land prices and rental rates that would squeeze out family farmers, lead to increased land sales and make rental farmland less accessible,” the group’s attorneys say in court documents.

The North Dakota Farm Bureau, which along with other plaintiffs sued in June to have the law declared unconstitutional, said DRC’s stance as irrelevant and asked the court to reject the group’s request.

“This case is not about whether individuals, or corporations created, operated and managed by individuals, are the better or more responsible owners of North Dakota farmland,” Farm Bureau’s attorneys responded in court documents.

The lawsuit argues that the law passed by voters in 1932 hurts the agriculture industry by limiting farmers’ business options and interferes with interstate commerce because it bars out-of-state corporations from owning farming operations.

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is defending the law on behalf of the state, also has objected to DRC involvement in the case, though he added he wouldn’t oppose the group submitting its position in a legal brief.

The North Dakota Farmers Union, like DRC, has asked a judge for permission to intervene and help defend the lawsuit that it says it helped create. Stenehjem is not opposing that group’s request, saying Farmers Union “was highly instrumental” in creating the law and has “substantial organizational interests.”

Farm Bureau attorney Claire Smith told The Associated Press last month that regardless of whether Farmers Union is allowed to help defend the law, she believes the plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of the case. Courts struck down similar laws in South Dakota and Nebraska in the early and mid-2000s.

However, Smith in recently filed court documents asked the court to reject Farm Bureau’s motion, saying there is no special reason for the group to intervene.

“Their interests are already more than adequately represented by the North Dakota attorney general,” Smith wrote.