Earlier this week, Donn asked me to spend a couple of days at the Statehouse to “keep an eye and ear on the House Agriculture Committee.”
One of the main, and also hotly debated topics of discussion was legislation introduced last week that was designed to weaken obstacles to the establishment of corporate hog and dairy operations in Kansas.
When it comes to corporate farming, Kansas Farmers Union’s policy is very clear, “WE SUPPORT LEGISLATION WHICH WOULD PROHIBIT DIRECT INVESTMENT BY CORPORATIONS OR PRIVATE CORPORATION SIZE ENTITIES AND THEIR STOCKHOLDERS IN THE BUSINESS OF FARMING.”
Under House Bill 2502, the procedure for people to challenge a county commission’s decision to approve one of these large corporate entities would become identical for hog and dairy operators. Current law differentiates between dairy and hog facilities regarding the process of a public protest.
The law also states that corporate dairy operators acquiring a resolution by a county commission endorsing a new development must go through a 60-day waiting period for citizens to file a protest petition. If 5 percent of voters sign the petition, the resolution is put to a countywide vote in an upcoming election.
The process for potential corporate swine operators mandates an automatic public vote of county residents.
The reform bill, which was endorsed by the Kansas Department of Agriculture, would have raised the petition threshold to 10 percent of voters. The protest process for hog and dairy operations would be identical.
The agriculture department claims their reason behind these changes stems from businesses that have approached Kansas officials about expanding beef, dairy, pork, poultry and aquaculture production and that the existing law is a “barrier.”
One example they gave was that of a swine genetic firm that identified Kansas as a preferred location for expanding its sow production operation. The outfit, North American Pig Improvement Co., would build two units annually over a five-year period. Each unit would contain 5,000 sows and create an estimated 200 jobs in Kansas.
The Kansas Pork Association endorsed the House bill, while the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Livestock Association remained neutral.
KFU President Donn Teske said he opposed the bill because it would, “advance the demise of smaller animal production operations in Kansas.”
“This is a transfer of wealth,” he said. “You see a transfer of an industry into fewer hands. I see that as a direct threat to the Kansas farmer.”
Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, said the small-farm model was gone in Kansas. His comment was, “It makes sense to seek business expansion through corporate agriculture.”
This is just me thinking out loud, but I’m guessing Rep. Moxley would have a real problem with a corporate hog or dairy operation setting up shop next to his family’s ranch.
Julie Mettenburg, executive director of the Kansas Rural Center said, “It is not all inevitable that the corporate farm model is the only way.”
She also noted the proposed House bill set the bar higher for county residents to express their opinion about corporate agriculture in the hog and dairy arenas. “It removes some of the democratic nature of our rural communities,” she said.
At this past Tuesday morning’s committee meeting, Rep. Caryn Tyson, R-Parker, said people living close to these proposed facilities should be given wide opportunity to influence the process. She offered an amendment dropping the figure from 10 to 5 percent, and it was easily approved.
The committee also approved an amendment by Rep. Tom Moxley, R-Council Grove, that allowed calling of a special election in response to petition protests of corporate hog and dairy resolutions. The law now links these votes to county or state elections.
This outcome is a rare “win” for Kansas Farmers Union, something we don’t get out of Topeka very often. The next step, of course, is a vote on the House floor. We will continue to watch what is happening in both House and Senate agriculture committees, as well as in their respective chambers, and report back to our membership in a timely fashion.
If there are any other issues coming down the pipeline, you can guarantee KFU will be in the Statehouse, holding legislators accountable, and making sure the voices of our membership is heard. If you know of any issues you feel need to be addressed, please don’t hesitate to contact the office, and one of the staff members will direct it accordingly.