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ND House OKs relaxation of corporate farm regs, now goes to Senate

(Friday, Feb. 14, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Mikkel Pates, Grand Forks Herald: BISMARCK - The North Dakota House on Thursday passed a bill 53-40 that would change North Dakota's anti-corporate farming laws.

The bill would allow nonfamily members to own shares in farm corporations.

The bill must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. John Hoeven to become law.

In an evening session Thursday, the House passed HB1396, which was sponsored by Reps. Tom Brusegaard, R-Gilby; Gil Herbel, R-Grafton; and Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield.

The vote went against the 9-3 "Do Not Pass" recommendation from the House Agriculture Committee.

Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, argued against it, saying the bill encourages corporate farm ownership, which will be bad for small towns and runs counter to efforts to keep people on the land.

In testimony before the vote, Brusegaard chided members about how many told him they agreed with the bill but could not vote for it for political reasons. He said that if he had a nickel for every conversation like that, "I wouldn't need any corporate capital on my farm, because I'd be rich."

Weisz said it is time the state makes some changes. "We've had anti-corporate farming laws since the 1930s. Look around you. Obviously, it's not working," he said.

Rep. Phil Mueller, D-Wimbledon, said the state didn't need corporate money to capitalize farmers because of all of the state programs already in place. "If we go down this road, we no longer are a state of family farms," Mueller said, adding it would be a problem to lobby Congress for corporate farms in North Dakota.

Brusegaard said the bill is only a slight shift and keeps North Dakota's "strong protections" against corporate farm takeovers.

North Dakota imposed anti-corporate farming legislation in 1932 and amended it in the 1980s to allow 15 family members to own shares in a farm.

The change would require the "principal shareholder" to be "actively engaged" in operating a farm or ranch, but not necessarily residing on the farm.

Brusegaard said he was surprised at the vote and expected only 36 or 37 yes votes.

He said the last time a change to the anti-corporate farming law was successful in either house was in 1995, when Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, got a change passed in the Senate but was defeated in the House.