Have you ever looked at an apple? What color or variety did you choose? Yellow, red, green?  Was it a Pink Lady? Gala? Granny Smith? Was it sweet, tart, perhaps sour? How did you choose?
So you are probably wondering why in the world I am talking about apples when I titled this post “corporate farming”. Well think about it. An apple comes in many different kinds. Some are larger, some are smaller, some have many seeds and others very few. Some make us pucker and others smile at their sweetness. Some are better suited for cooking and others are perfect to toss in a lunch pail. Regardless of the apple variety, its core parts are still the same- core, seeds, flesh, skin. Each apple is like a farm or ranch, all core parts are present. It’s just some of the details that vary and are available for selection based on personal preference, need, and use. A farm business should be no different. The essential parts are in place- land, farmer/ employees, crop or livestock, equipment, supplies are available and the way that they are used to have the best outcome should be a choice. In essence, the farmer should decide how to use the core parts in order to run his farm to its highest potential and this includes the right to choose the business structure that meets his/ her needs. At this time in North Dakota, the business structures available are limited.
Corporate farming… definitely a hot topic in North Dakota and one to pay close attention to… especially, because it is your duty as a citizen to vote and it’s on the ballot!
Measure 1 depends on you knowing what you are voting on!
Corporate farming… It definitely gets played as an emotional issue and one that many want people to see as impacting the “family” aspect of farming. Many people have the image of the small mom and pop 1 field, a cow, and a few chickens farm. They don’t want the nostalgia of what farming was 50 years ago to go away. They hear the word “corporate” and think suits and ties and 100’s of employees. Most people are three generations removed from farming or ranching; thus leading to the lack of or misunderstanding of the business aspect of farming and the sad reality of the significantly smaller number of children returning to the farm after graduation.
Keeping Farming Business Options Open for the Future
Simply put what I see as best is all possible options for business within agriculture. I would like to see all crop and animal agriculture farms be open to or able to choose the business structure that is right for them, of course this would include a corporation. The corporate farming option allows for non- blood relatives to enter into a business. The northwest part of North Dakota is one area in the state that is seeing a huge reduction in farmers and people who want to come back to the farm. They are struggling in some places to convince people to rent the land.The economic times are such that the option for investors in farms or partnerships of the corporate nature assist in the ability to persevere and possibly grow in the business sense. Corporations are generally allowable for all other business sectors and should be for agriculture too.
Currently, as passed in the legislative session in 2015, hog and dairy, within the confines of the legislation, can use the corporate business structure, but no other crop or livestock farm can.  Corporate farm structure does not nor has it been shown to in other states mean large companies like Hormel, CHS, Golden plump etc coming in and buying land and family farms- in actuality they do not want the headaches of the day to day farm business.
If farms can be a corporation, then there is a chance that more families will be able to be directly involved in farming and will not have to walk away from farms that have been in their families for generation. It can also mean opportunity for more families to become involved and start to farm. We know that it is very difficult, if not impossible, simply due to initial capital investments, to be a first generation farmer or rancher and the ability to use the corporate structure is one way to bring upcoming generations back into production agriculture and ranching instead of pushing them away.
Some basic information as of fall 2015:
There are 2.1million farms in US, 5 %are Incorporated. Of that 5%, 4.5 % are family, .5% non-family. 98% of family corporations have less than 10 shareholders, 90% of non-family farms have less than 10 shareholders. The average size of family farm corporation is 1249 acres and 1078 acres for a non family farm.
Voting… Yes, voting on this issue is something North Dakotans will be doing very soon. Do you know what you need to know? What questions do you still have? ASK AWAY!
When you fill in your bubble on the nifty ballot paper keep this in mind:
A YES VOTE means approval of what was passed ( swine and dairy) and a no vote means it should not stand as passed ( no corporate structure at all).
In hopes that over time other crop and livestock farms will be included.
I recommend, a YES VOTE.
Help keep farms and ranches in North Dakota up and running. Help them bring new farmers in, maximizing the potential, and building a stronger economy.
Farming is in our blood, it is our heritage, at the root of our culture and economy, and our future. VOTE YES on Measure 1 because “Farming is as American as Apple Pie!”.