Urban sprawl has caused problems for the people who make their living working off the land – the farmers. As urban areas continue to grow, more and more people are looking to move out of the cities in search of a better life in the suburbs or even as a part of the rural countryside. As they do so, they oftentimes find themselves in the middle or very near operating farms.
When these two worlds collide, problems can occur. People looking for “good country living” are all of a sudden faced with the realities of modern agriculture – the existence of livestock and machinery and the sounds and smells that go along with it. Some residents feel their rights are being violated and turn to the courts for a solution to their problems, claiming the operating farms are being negligent and nuisances.
According to the National Agricultural Law Center, Right to Farm laws are found in every state and are on the books to protect “farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits filed by individuals who move into a rural area where normal farming operations exist, and who later use nuisance actions to attempt to stop those ongoing operations.”
Attorney Gary Baise, featured in a previous National Hog Farmer Weekly Wrap-up article said “State legislatures have done their job saying that agriculture is important and it must be protected.” Baise recently successfully defended four Maxwell Farms against nuisance claims in Randolph County, IN.
Even more recent, Aug. 5 as a matter of fact, Missouri voters took to the primary election to add Right to Farm to that state’s constitution.
The Voters Have Spoken, or Have They?
According to the Missouri Secretary of State website, an unofficial total of 994,974 voters cast their ballots on what was called Amendment 1. The narrowest of margins separated the yes votes (those in favor of the Right to Farm) at 498,751 and no votes at 496,223. Yes votes got 50.127% of the vote to 49.873% for no votes.
A statement on the Missouri Farmers Union website, says:
“… of 4 million Missouri voters, only 1 million showed up at the polls. Of those about 500,000 voted yes on Amendment 1. That means that roughly one-eighth of the total voting population have changed our state Constitution ‑ for all of us.”
Learn more at the Missouri Farmers Union website.
Missouri Farmers Union President, Richard R. Oswald, wrote in a column in the Feb. 3 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, that the right to farm amendment was protecting more than a farmer’s right to farm:
“Supposedly designed to assure the right to farm for Missouri citizens, its vague wording is bound to favor corporations, even Chinese corporations, over Missouri family farms. That’s because Supreme Court rulings that a corporation is a person play into the hands of Amendment 1 supporters of corporate food control. Amendment 1 in Missouri could grant even the worst corporations the right to do whatever they want when they claim to be ‘farmer’ or ‘rancher.’”
Read Oswald's full commentary here.
Preserving a Way of Life
Agriculture is big business in Missouri, as the state agriculture overview shows there are just shy of 100,000 farm operations, and in context of value of commodity sales, Missouri ranks seventh in hogs and pigs, and ninth in each poultry and eggs, cattle and calves, and cotton and cottonseed.
Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst, in a statement on the Farm Bureau website says:
“We will, of course, have to see how a recount holds up, but whatever the outcome, we as farmers will continue to work to be worthy of the trust placed in us by Missourians by caring for our land, our animals, and our neighbors. We have to continue to improve, because Missourians expect and deserve the very best.”
Read more on the Missouri Farm Bureau website.
Will the Count Stand?
Missouri law allows for a recount if a margin is 0.5% or less (it is 0.254% in this case), but the results need to be certified by Aug. 26. A recount can be called for within seven days after certification.
A loss is not necessarily a loss in the eyes of all Amendment 1 opponents. Joe Maxwell, a former Democratic lieutenant governor and a member of the opposition group Missouri's Food for America, as well as being a farmer and an executive with the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) , said in an Aug. 6 Associated Press story:
"We're encouraged by the vote. A few weeks ago, a poll showed a 49-point gap. Obviously you want to carry the day but at the same time we're very encouraged by that momentum we were able to build among our coalition partners."
Read the complete story.
Even the close vote, chance of a recount and opposition to farming by animal rights groups, Missouri farmers feel good about their way of life. Dan Kleinsorge, executive director of Missouri Farmers Care, expects a recount, and he blames the HSUS advertising campaign for making the vote so close. In the Aug. 6 Associated Press story he said:
"I think a big part of the HSUS strategy was to confuse voters and get a 'no' vote that way. The amendment is pretty straightforward and it's a very positive thing."