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Three States in a Row for Right to Farm?

Oklahomans will decide as part of the November general election whether to add a right-to-farm amendment to their state constitution. It’s the third time since 2012 the idea has been tested at the state level. North Dakota approved a right-to-farm amendment in a 2-to-1 landslide in 2012, and Missouri approved its amendment by a razor-thin margin in 2014.

Mainline farm groups, ranging from the state Farm Bureau and Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association to retailers and farm suppliers, support the amendment as a line of defense against “deep-pocketed animal rights groups” and other outsiders who would restrict farm and ranch operations.

In an appeal to urban voters (66% of the population), umbrella group Oklahoma’s Right to Farm says the amendment, Question 777, will hold down food prices by letting farmers and ranchers decide which production methods work best for them.

Jeff Jaronek of the Oklahoma Cattlemen’s Association says the amendment would provide “one more layer of protection for family farmers. It’s the small guys, the family farms that can’t survive overregulation.” The campaign hit the ground early, sending speakers to service club luncheons and other gatherings. In July, it began shipping 4×8-foot roadside signs saying Yes on 777.

Opponents, such as former state attorney general Drew Edmondson, say the amendment is so broadly written that it would legalize puppy mills and create a barrier to antipollution laws. “This constitutional amendment is a threat to public water-supply systems both from a quality and quantity perspective,” says Choctaw Mayor Randy Moss, speaking for the Oklahoma Municipal League.

Other opponents include animal welfare groups, the Sierra Club, and the Humane Society of the United States, which has pushed state referendums against sow crates, veal-calf stalls, and battery cages for laying hens. Massachusetts will decide a citizen initiative on farm animal confinement on November 8.

The Oklahoma proposal lauds agriculture as a vital industry and bars any law “which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices without a compelling state interest.”

Nebraska state senator John Kuehn shelved a right-to-farm constitutional amendment at the end of the session in Lincoln. He says he needed more time to educate urban lawmakers and will try again next year.

In June, North Dakotans voted to keep their constitutional ban of corporate farming, dating from the Depression. The referendum overturned a 2015 law allowing corporate hog and dairy farms of up to 640 acres.

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