Status Update on ND HB 1371: the Trojan Horse Bill on Corporate Farming

On January 27, 2023, a good-sized crowd of farmers and folks showed up at the House Agriculture Committee of the North Dakota Legislative Assembly to tell committee members to vote NO on Governor Burgum’s corporate farm bill, HB 1371. This bill, that I call the “Trojan Horse bill” would roll out the red carpet to corporations to buy up North Dakota farm land and smash the state’s legacy of support of family farmers.  Many people  (including me) submitted testimony. My testimony is here.

HB 1371 testimony, image courtesy of North Dakota Farmers Union

HB 1371 testimony, image courtesy of North Dakota Farmers Union

If Governor Burgum thought his press conference, State of the State speech, exuberant public cheerleading and his personal testimony would create headwinds that would allow  HB 1371 to sail through the legislative process, he was wrong. Despite the top-down support from the Republican Governor and Republican Agriculture Commissioner (who submitted written testimony and also appeared in person as lead-off witnesses) to an almost entirely Republican committee, no action has yet been taken. I think the testimony against the bill by citizen witnesses who actually get their hands dirty living and working in North Dakota agriculture – not sitting behind polished desks at the state capitol – has had an impact.

As of noon, Monday, February 13, almost two weeks after the hearing, the committee hasn’t voted or taken action on the bill. I’m hoping that this bill  — which has been exposed as badly written and deceptively marketed —  has no chance of passage. But if I’m wrong, and it does pass, the record for a referral to the citizens of North Dakota is being laid.

One of the few positive legacies of the Covid pandemic is improved access to government information, including legislative hearings. You can watch a recording of the House Agriculture Commission’s hearing here. The good part starts at 10:52, with Mark Watne, ND Farmers Union President, presenting a devastatingly effective rebuttal to those testifying in favor of this awful bill. Every witness after Mark, mostly farmers, and ranchers, were also eloquent and well informed.  At the end of the hearing, others including my friend Nicole Donaghy who is with North Dakota Native Vote, were standing and asking to be heard but the microphone was removed and they weren’t allowed to speak.

You can read all of the written testimony for and against (including written testimony from those who weren’t allowed or able to speak in person) here. I also encourage you to read Dr. Curt Stofferahn’s excellent letter to the editor of the Fargo Forum here. Dr. Stofferahn is one of the nation’s preeminent rural sociologists. He has been an expert witness for the State of North Dakota in prior litigation involving challenges to North Dakota’s anti-corporate farming law. Here Dr. Stofferahn exposes Governor Burgum’s and Ag Commissioner Goehring’s claims that North Dakotans would experience greater wealth and economic wellbeing from passage of HB 1371 as nothing more than propaganda.

Let’s hope and pray that this Trojan Horse Bill and the corporate forces behind it are kept outside the borders of North Dakota. I’ll keep you posted when I hear more.