Kansas lawmakers weigh repeal of corporate ag limits

Kansas lawmakers have begun weighing proposals by Gov. Sam Brownback's administration to roll back the state's decades-old limits on corporate involvement in farming.

The Senate Natural Resources Committee heard testimony Friday on legislation that would allow out-of-state ownership of corporate farms in Kansas and eliminate the authority of county commissions to block development of corporate swine and dairy operations.

Some of the state's biggest agricultural interests, including the Kansas Farm Bureau and the Kansas Livestock Association, are supporting the proposals from the Kansas Department of Agriculture. The proponents contend removing barriers to investment in large crop and livestock businesses would add fuel to the Kansas economy.

“Current restrictive corporate farming laws in Kansas have been identified as an impediment of growth, and the day has arrived to remove this unnecessary hurdle,” state Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman testified.

other groups, such as the Kansas Farmers Union and Kansas Rural Center, said repealing the restrictions that have been in place for more than 80 years would hurt family farmers and destroy local control. Other opponents said the local controls are critical to protecting the environment.

“I oppose Senate Bill 191 because it will encourage greater corporate control of Kansas agriculture and further erode independent agriculture, rural economies, air and water quality,” said Donald Stull, an anthropology professor at the University of Kansas, who has written extensively on industrial meat and poultry production.

The committee chairman, Republican Sen. Larry Powell of Garden City, plans to hold debate on the bill but has not yet scheduled it.

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.

The Brownback administration contends those restrictions are unfair.

“Currently, an individual farmer, family farm corporation, or authorized farm corporation can establish a dairy or swine farm without approval from the county commissioners, but a corporation, a limited company, or limited partnership cannot,” said Chad Bontrager, an economist with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

Bontrager said the bill has the potential to expand beef and hog operations by 10 percent, which would produce 1,500 jobs and add $183 million to the Kansas economy.

Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, said the legislation would harm local economies.

“Every time a 2,000-cow dairy goes in, it takes 20 dairy farmers out of a community. That is not economic development; that is rural depopulation,” Teske said.

Tim Stroda, president and CEO of the Kansas Pork Association, said many corporations bypass Kansas because of the ability of county commissions and voters to block large hog production facilities.

“These are large companies. These are professionals. They are not used to having to beg to do business,” Stroda said. When large corporations are told they need approval from local officials, he said, “Your meeting starts to go downhill in a heck of a hurry.“’