NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) — North Dakota has anti-corporate farming laws which restrict corporations from owning, operating, and leasing farms and ranches.

The goal of these laws is to protect the economic viability of family farms from the competition of major corporations.

But, that may change now that Governor Doug Burgum is calling on the legislature to lift North Dakota’s 90-year-old anti-corporate farming law, arguing certain rules make it harder to boost livestock production.

Burgum’s proposal would allow industrial-sized corporate-owned livestock operations in North Dakota.

“Let’s take the handcuffs off our ranchers and livestock producers. Let’s allow animal agriculture to flourish in North Dakota once again. We need farm freedom legislation, and we need it now,” said Governor Doug Burgum during his January 3 State of the State address to both legislative chambers.

Burgum points to statistics that show North Dakota is way down in animal agriculture production compared to our surrounding states.

“Let’s take a look at just right next door like South Dakota. In their family farming laws, they’ve got carve-outs that smartly allow non-related parties to pool capital for animal agriculture operations like feeding livestock and poultry operations,” said Burgum.

But, this question has been raised before.

In 2016 the legislature passed a law that lifted anti-corporate farming rules to allow for Hog CAFOS. A CAFO, or Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation, is industrial-sized.

However, Dakota Resource Council and North Dakota Farmers Union ran a referendum to reverse the legislature’s decisions.

And, by a 76% margin, they won. North Dakotans rejected Hog CAFOS.

“The governor is forgetting that the voters did that in 2016. And I think it’s a misnomer that we need to take the handcuffs off, because essentially what we’d be inviting into our state is large, big agriculture that in a lot of ways has worn out its welcome in other states like Minnesota, Iowa, and elsewhere,” explained Dakota Resource Council Executive Director Scott Skokos.

Burgum argues that North Dakota farmers and ranchers can’t get the capital to compete with our neighboring states, but Skokus contends that farmers can obtain more land for livestock production by coming together to form cooperatives.

“Oh, if we don’t do this, poor mom and pop is never going to get enough capital to have a hog farm, but the truth is its out-of-state interests that they are really looking to get to come to North Dakota, and that’s who he has been courting. There’s obviously other sources of capital where people don’t need a corporate structure to raise capital,” said Skokos.

Skokos points to Smithfield Farms in Sioux Falls, South Dakota as an example of the type of corporate structure the Governor is courting that would enter the state.

Smithfield Farms dictates the rules for pig farmers who are vertically integrated into its system. It is also owned by the Chinese company WH Group.

Sarah Vogel, the state’s former agriculture commissioner, is an advocate for the anti-corporate farming law.

Vogel’s current push to is bring forward transparency to the Bill Gates’ Red River Trust purchase of 2,100 acres of land in northeastern North Dakota.

“There are certain types of corporate farming that are allowed, for example, a family farm corporation can farm. However, a straight-up corporation that does not fit within any of the exemptions cannot. And in this case, Bill Gates has used the vehicle of a trust. But the question is, is the trust and asset of a corporation,” explained farm advocate and former ND Agriculture Commissioner Sarah Vogel.

Vogel is calling on Attorney General Drew Wrigley to pull back the veil on the Bill Gates Red River trust in order to determine if it is an asset of a corporation.

So far, Vogel says the Attorney General’s investigation has not been enough.

KX News will continue to follow the developments on this in the legislative assembly, which is in session.