By Ashley Jost
A Senate substitute for a constitutional amendment that seeks to affirm the “right of farmers and ranchers to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices” passed last week, sending the bill back to the House, where some members have already voiced concerns about the current legislation’s language.
The substitute, sponsored by Sen. Mike Parson, R-Bolivar, changed the initial language of the House Joint Resolution, which said only legislators could make changes to state law regarding agriculture practices. The substitute removed that language, allowing for agriculture groups to pursue petition initiative processes, something that miffed rural lawmakers, but Parson said was a necessary compromise.
“Truth of the matter is, sometimes it’s better to get something done rather than nothing,” he added. “And this really is such an important issue to the state, so we have to do something.”
Rep. Jason Smith, R-Salem, a cosponsor for the bill, has been a strong advocate for what the bill seeks to accomplish for years, he said, and this is the furthest in the process the legislation has made it.
“We are [part] of continuing negotiations over what our next steps may be, whether we truly agree the bill, or go to conference, there are five weeks of session left,” Smith said. “I am confident we will put something on the ballot to protect Missouri’s family farmers.”
Parson said he has always been interested in the prospect of this legislation, coming from a strong farming background himself, but after Proposition B a few years ago, he said he thought the need for “right to farm” has grown because the “attack on agriculture is going to continue.”
“Agriculture in the state of Missouri is the number one industry,” he continued. “It’s more than an industry, it’s a way of life. A life that’s been handed down from generation to generation, and I want to preserve that. I think the people of Missouri will agree.”
Proposition B, an initiative petition that passed during 2010, dealt with dog breeding regulations. During the latter part of the campaign, there was a high influx of out-of-state money from organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, which campaigned for the passage of the initiative. Ultimately, it was the out-of-state money that legislators like Parson attribute to Proposition B’s passing.
“It’s not the people in Missouri that attack what we do with agriculture,” Parson said. “It’s the people outside of the state that have a lot of money. I think it’s time for us to put this in front of the people of Missouri and let them decide.
Parson said there are several types of attack on agriculture, and possible ways in which initiative petitions could seek to regulate processes farmers and ranchers across the state use. Parson provided a few examples of what these “attacks” would include, such as limiting the number of animals on a farm or in a pen.
“I don’t want someone to tell me or my colleagues or friends at home how to farm,” Parson said. “I think the farming industry as a whole has done everything to improve their operations during the last decade with technology, research and genetics. Those agriculture people, the farmers and ranchers, understand the importance of the land, the importance of the crops and the importance of the livestock.”
Blake Hurst, President of the Missouri Farm Bureau, said the “right to farm” legislation has been a big priority of the Bureau this session, however, he said the organization doesn’t think the current language is adequate.
“We think agriculture has become a target of interest groups who would like to control what we can and can’t do as far as production practices,” Hurst added.
He shared Parson’s concern about out-of-state money potentially “swinging the vote like it did with Prop. B,” but said the Bureau will continue to do what they’ve been doing all along: lobbying and reaching out to their members.
Hurst said Bureau members will continue to examine the language of the current bill, but hope that the conference committee will produce “much stronger” legislation.
To contact Ashley Jost, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter at @ajost.