Ballot Briefing: Amendment 1 and the ‘right to farm’

Missouri Ballot Briefing - With Banner

Leading up to Missouri’s Aug. 5 primary election, Missouri Business Alert is examining the ballot measures that will be put to voters. Today’s focus is Amendment 1, which would expand constitutional protections for farmers and ranchers in the state. 

Missouri Business Alert’s complete coverage of the ballot measures is available here.

Since 1975, Missouri family farmers have had explicit legal protection of their right to farm, outlined by the Missouri Family Farm Act.

Now, supporters of a measure on Missouri’s Aug. 5 ballot want to expand those agricultural protections by including an amendment in the state constitution enshrining the right to farm and ranch.

Amendment 1, or the so-called “right to farm” amendment, has attracted the attention of many organizations in the state, with two opposing PACs drawing money from the amendment’s proponents and opponents.

John Ikerd, University of Missouri professor emeritus of agricultural economics | Courtesy of John Ikerd
John Ikerd | Courtesy of John Ikerd

“We feel the amendment gives farmers legal certainty against legal and political battles,” said Dan Kleinsorge, executive director of the Missouri Farmers Care PAC, which supports the amendment.

However, Missouri family farms have already had the legal right to farm for several decades. They’re currently protected from legal battles like nuisance suits, according to former University of Missouri agriculture Professor Emeritus John Ikerd.

The official ballot language for Amendment 1 asks voters:

“Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?”

Though the ballot language addresses the rights of “citizens” to farm and ranch, the language of the amendment itself does not specifically mention citizens, referring instead to the rights of “farmers and ranchers.” With that wording, the amendment would make room for corporate interests in the state constitution, Ikerd said.

“If this passes, (voters) are turning the future of the food system over to corporations,” he said.

Leaders of a PAC opposing the amendment, Missouri’s Food for America, echo the concern that it would provide excessive protection for agricultural corporations.

Opponents fear loss of local control

Joe Maxwell, a former lieutenant governor of Missouri who now works for the Humane Society of the United States, is an active opponent of the amendment and has been traveling the state to spread awareness about its potential impact. Maxwell is concerned that the amendment would override local farming regulations currently in place throughout the state. At a July meeting with Columbia’s chapter of the Sierra Club, he shared a story about a local government at odds with a corporate farm.

Maxwell lives near Mark Twain Lake in northeastern Missouri, and several years ago, a large swine farm planned to open near the lake. The farm would have dumped nearly 10 million gallons of manure only 670 feet from the water’s edge, Maxwell said, creating a serious contamination threat to the area’s drinking water.

Joe Maxwell, former Lt. Gov. of Missouri and current Humane Society of the United States vice president for outreach
Joe Maxwell | Courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States

Several concerned citizens approached the county government, citing reasons that the hog facility would be unsafe for the area’s residents. The county intervened, preventing the farm from dumping manure that close to the lake.

Maxwell says with Amendment 1 on the books, the hog farm in that scenario could have challenged the county ruling, because the state constitution trumps local ordinances.

That prospect has opponents of Amendment 1 concerned about the impact it could have on not only Missouri residents, but also small family farms in the state. The Missouri Farmers Union has urged citizens to vote “No” on the amendment and says Missouri legislators, by approving the measure for the ballot, “have put Rural Missouri and Family Farms up for grabs.”

When asked if this amendment would grant agricultural corporations more freedoms in the state, Kleinsorge of Missouri Farmers Care said, “I’m not sure how people are deriving that. I think it’s a scare tactic used by the other side.”

Maxwell doesn’t buy that argument.

“If their only reason (to support the amendment) is that Joe Maxwell is the enemy, odds are they don’t have a good reason,” Maxwell said.

The PACs and their backers

Missouri Farmers Care has been the main proponent of the proposed amendment, with 37 statewide organizations supporting the measure. A majority of the supporters are agricultural organizations and corporations, including: the Missouri Farm Bureau, Monsanto, the Missouri Soybean Association and the Missouri Pork Association. Other supporters include MFA Oil and the Missouri Veterinary Medical Association.

Started in 2010, the PAC has been raising funds from nearly every agricultural corporation in the state.

As of Thursday afternoon, Missouri Farmers Care has raised $1.15 million since the resolution that became Amendment 1 was introduced in 2013. The group has spent $1.02 million. Since July 25, Missouri Farmers Care has raised $335,810 and spent $220,534, with the entire expenditure going toward TV and radio advertising.

Missouri’s Food for America, started early this year, has raised $435, 129. The PAC has spent $81,000 to buy a media campaign and advertisements. A majority of its funding has come from the Humane Society.

An Iowa-based national non-profit organization, Protect the Harvest, created a Missouri chapter in June. The Missouri chapter has raised $219,231 since then, with all of that coming from the national organization. The group has spent more than $200,000 on advertisements, with most of it going to the same advertising agency that Missouri Farmers Care recently hired.

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