HB 1388: ‘Simple’ tweak has big time implications

Mark Watne


Two years ago, 75 percent of North Dakotans voted in favor of family farms. Last year, a district court upheld the constitutionality of our law. Despite that, the North Dakota Legislature is yet again taking up a bill to weaken the Corporate Farming Law.

At first glance HB 1388, which was recently introduced in the North Dakota State Legislature, seems pro-family. It adds just two words – second cousin – to the list of kin that can legally form a corporation or a limited liability corporation in the state for farming and ranching. Some have even said this change will bring more new people back to the farm.

But the devil is in the details: A family already has multiple business structures to choose from if it wants to bring a second cousin into their operation. If the bill sponsors’ objective is to help a new producer succeed, a corporate business structure is no guarantee. Profitability, tied to good market prices, determines success. Value-added projects, tax incentives, loans with agreeable rates and terms, research, and technology are just some of the ways to ensure new and established farmers succeed.

It’s easy to make the two-word change on paper, but the reality on the ground, neighbor to neighbor, is much different. The point is that the further we stretch our corporate farming law, the weaker it becomes. Opening up our law to further erosion for the sake of a second cousin is not good public policy. It puts the whole at risk for the sake of just one.

Our members question this bill’s intentions, as they are more than willing to talk about proven and effective ways to help new family farmers. The people of North Dakota have spoken, and they believe that family farms are the backbone of North Dakota. It’s now the Legislature’s job to work with the Corporate Farming Law, not against it.

We urge a “no” vote on HB 1388.

Mark Watne in president of the North Dakota Farmers Union.