Iowa Public Television


Nebraska Mulls New Ban on Corporate Farming

posted on January 25, 2008

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — An effort is under way in the state Legislature to resurrect Nebraska's ban on non-family corporate farming, which was struck down by a federal appeals court in 2006.

Sen. Cap Dierks has introduced a bill that supporters say would essentially reinstate all the components of the original ban while removing legal flaws cited by the courts when it was quashed.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, helped push for the ban known as Initiative 300 in the 1960s and 1970s up until it was approved by voters in 1982. He said although the new proposal bans non-family corporate farming, it allows corporate family farms from outside Nebraska to operate in the state.

"We're making it clear that if you're a family farm corporation, you don't need to be from Nebraska if you're going to operate in Nebraska," he said.

Until it was thrown out by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld an earlier federal court decision, Initiative 300 was considered the strongest corporate farming ban in the country.

But the appeals court ruled that the ban violated the federal commerce clause and unfairly burdens out-of-state interests.

Hansen and others argued that the court's decision was based on a faulty reading of Initiative 300 because it only banned farm ownership by non-family corporations, not out-of-state corporations. That component of I-300, which supporters say was always part of the initiative, is made more clear in the proposed law.

If debated this year, which seems likely, decades-old divisions over whether such a ban is good for the state will resurface. At issue are disagreements about how best to embrace an increasingly corporate-controlled, globalized agricultural economy.

Opponents of the ban have argued that it stymied in-state farmers — namely young people trying to get a foothold in an era of high land prices and often depressed markets — by prohibiting them from partnering with non-family members to begin farming operations.

Supporters of the ban said it keeps farms central to the state's economy and culture from being swamped by corporations that have an upper hand, such as protections from liability not offered to individual farmers.

While I-300 may have kept non-family corporations from the Nebraska farm scene, statistics suggest it did not help sustain the number of family farms in the state.

There were 400 fewer farms in Nebraska in 2006 than in 2005, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and 20 percent less than in 1985.

Tags: activism agriculture farmers Nebraska news