JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – The momentum of support behind the “Right to Farm” amendment has continued to grow since its passage at the end of session last year.
Before Memorial Day, Gov. Nixon announced that the amendment would appear on the primary ballot, surprising some due to the historically low turnouts of primaries in off-year elections being combined with the popularity of the issue.
A variety of groups have come forward in support of the amendment, ranging from the Missouri Farm Bureau and Missouri Farmers Care to Grow Missouri to Protect the Harvest and the Missouri Republican Party.
“The proposed constitutional amendment will protect the rights of farmers, giving them the confidence to continue their safe, legal practices on their farms, while saving Missouri jobs, and preserving consumer choice,” Protect the Harvest said in a statement.
In March, the Missouri Liberty Project released a poll showing almost 70% of Missourians in support of the amendment.
Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, is the chairman of the Agribusiness Committee and has championed many agriculture legislations during his terms in the House. Guernsey supports the amendment.
“I was very pleased with it coming in in August. I haven’t heard much from anyone who is really disappointed by that,” Guernsey said. “The main thing is that all the agriculture groups have to work very closely together and really try to put a unified message forward that this is very much about the largest industry in our state and over the course of the last few years has literally paid the bills with tax revenue for the state.”
Grow Missouri previously told The Missouri Times of their intention to work on the Right to Farm issue.
“This measure was put on the ballot by the legislature, so obviously it has broad support among our legislative representatives and that usually has a big effect on impacting the likelihood of it passing,” Aaron Willard, executive director for Grow Missouri, said.
Missouri Farm Bureau’s campaign started long before the governor’s office announced which date the measure would be on the ballot, even creating push pieces telling supporters to vote on November 4.
“The Right to Farm amendment, if passed, will make farming and ranching a right in Missouri, similar in scope and protection to the speech, religion and gun rights already in Missouri’s Constitution,” attorney Brent Haden said in the MFB piece which went on to plea the direness of voting in the election and encourage donations to the Farm Bureau.
MFB’s political action committee, FARM-PAC, touts a 90% success rate with endorsements on their PAC website.
“It’s been great for agriculture groups to come together and demonstrate that we can work together to achieve the goal of defeating these organizations,” Guernsey said. “I think we’re stronger now than we’ve ever been. I’m optimistic that our message will fall on receptive ears. Most Missourians are only a few generations from the farm.”
Livestock and related products account for over half of Missouri’s agricultural economy. Missouri is currently 9th in the country for beef cattle, 7th for hogs, and 3rd for turkey. Guernsey shared that Missouri is now the 2nd in the country for calves. There are more cattle living in Missouri than the human population of St. Louis and Kansas City combined.
Outside of livestock, Missouri is 7th in the nation for soybeans.
On necessity, supporters point to the need for the amendment in response to outside groups wanting to influence agriculture.
“We’ve seen very directly in the past few years how these activists groups with more money than they know what to do with targeted Missouri specifically,” Guernsey said. “They’re not going to stop. They’re not going to go away. By putting this in the constitution, we in agriculture believe that we will have an added protection that exists.
“There are some very specific successful campaigns by these groups that impacted animal agriculture and it is the reason why farmers are leaving those states in droves,” Guernsey continued. “They want to achieve a goal that is completely unrealistic and I believe that they know that. They want to put large sectors of agriculture out of business entirely. In terms of a rural district like mine, you’re talking thousands of jobs. They’re not grounded in any form of reality.”
MFB also pointed to “outside groups” as being influential in increased regulations for agriculture across the country.
“[The amendment] is a very necessary thing when combating these groups,” Guernsey said. “We require every tool that we can possibly have a resource to fight activist groups in the future when they regroup and target Missouri again.”
Willard relayed that not only does the amendment protect agriculture, but also industries reliant on it, such as research and manufacturing.
“I think that ultimately that we are going to win this one,” Guernsey said.
Rachael Herndon was the editor at The Missouri Times and also produced This Week in Missouri Politics, published Missouri Times Magazine, and co-hosted the #MoLeg podcast. She joined The Missouri Times in 2014, returning to political reporting after working as a campaign and legislative staffer.
Rachael studied at the University of Missouri – Columbia. She lives in Jefferson City with her husband, Brandon, and their two children.