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Corporate Farming Bill Shot Down

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BISMARCK - North Dakota senators Tuesday rejected a bill that would have expanded the ability for corporations to operate farms in the state.

Only 11 senators voted for House Bill 1396, while 36 voted no.

The bill passed the House Feb. 13.

"There didn't seem to be a lot of requests from the citizens of North Dakota for passing this bill," said Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, who carried the Agriculture Committee's unanimous do-not-pass recommendation to the floor.

Senators mind their constituents' wishes, he said.

"For whatever reason, they're not ready for this bill," he said of North Dakotans. "And I think we need to honor that. It's not my responsibility to stick it down their throats."

The state currently allows family corporations. Up to 15 people who are related to each other can form farming corporations. The bill would have removed the requirement that all owners be related.

Supporters said it could help infuse cash or capital into farms to help them and the state prosper.

That brought a rebuke from Sen. Elroy Lindaas, D-Mayville.

"It's not an infusion, it's an intrusion," he said.

Sen. Tim Flakoll, R-Fargo, voted against the bill, but seemed to speak in favor of it.

"We need to recognize farming is a business, not just a way of life," he said, adding the state is not ready for it.

Defenders of the bill said the fear of corporate farms doesn't make sense.

"I'm very disappointed that we can't support some kind of structure in which a handful of people can come together to have a really good agribusiness situation where they can continue to be actively engaged in farming," said Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo.

"I don't understand what we're afraid of with this bill," said Sen. Duane Mutch, R-Larimore, one of the 11 who voted for it.

Mutch and Sen. Bill Bowman, R-Bowman, were the only two of the 11 who aren't from the state's larger cities.

Others voting in favor were Sen. Dick Dever and Sen. Bob Stenehjem, both R-Bismarck; Sen. Duaine Espegard, R-Grand Forks, Sen. Karen Krebsbach, Sen. Randy Schobinger and Sen. Ben Tollefson, all R-Minot; and Sen. John Syverson and Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo.
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