Lawmakers decided Friday that they need more information before making changes to the Kansas corporate farming law.
The House Committee on Agriculture and Natural Resources will have a judicial council review the corporate farming statute. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources, meanwhile, called for an interim committee to review the law before the 2014 legislative session.
Gov. Sam Brownback's administration has been pushing to roll back the state's eight-decades-old limits on corporate involvement in farming. Some of the state's biggest agricultural interests, including the Kansas Farm Bureau, are supporting the effort.
Proponents contend removing barriers to investment in large crop and livestock businesses would add fuel to the Kansas economy. But concerns also have been raised about allowing out-of-state ownership of corporate farms and eliminating counties' ability to block development of corporate swine and dairy operations.
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman said he often hears from people interested in moving their agricultural operations to Kansas but who had major concerns about the state's “outdated and onerous” corporate farming statute.
“The reality is 82 years of bad policy may take more than one 80-day session to repeal,” Rodman said in a statement. “Agriculture is the largest economic driver in Kansas and there is tremendous potential knocking on our door to grow even further. But every effort to grow agriculture and our rural communities must be done correctly and must have support from the agricultural community and Kansas citizens.
“We look forward to continuing to work with our partners in agriculture and in the Kansas legislature to ensure questions are answered and that we are ready to repeal the state's corporate farming laws in the 2014 Kansas legislative session.”
Rodman also noted in his statement that questions had been raised about the legality of the current law. Attorney General Derek Schmidt declined Rodman's request for a formal legal opinion as to whether the state's anti-corporate farming laws are constitutional. But Schmidt said in a letter to Rodman that a provision allowing only corporations formed by Kansas residents to own land was “discriminatory.” Schmidt's letter also said “there are reasonable arguments” that other parts of the state's anti-corporate farming laws are unconstitutional and advised Rodman to approach legislators about potential changes.
Resistance has come from the Kansas Farmers Union and Kansas Rural Center, saying repealing the restrictions would hurt family farmers and destroy local control. Other opponents said the local controls are critical to protecting the environment.
Kansas law now limits corporate ownership of agricultural land to family farm corporations, family partnerships or corporations with 15 or fewer stockholders, who must all be Kansas residents. The state also requires at least one partner or shareholder to live on the land or be actively engaged in supervising the work.
Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske said what kept the law from moving forward was a move to drop a so-called county option, which allows counties to determine whether non-family farm corporations may own agricultural land to operate pork or dairy production facilities.
“The proponents of the bill were not willing to allow the pro-corporate bill to pass without the inclusion of the elimination of the county option,” Teske said.
He said there were “enough socially responsible legislators” for their constituents “to hold out for county rights to their credit, so they were unwilling to move the bill forward.”
“I think if we can have a year of open public discussion about this, it will be real hard to move forward,” Teske said.