The Agriculture Committee heard testimony Feb. 23 on a proposed amendment to the state constitution guaranteeing the rights of Nebraska citizens to farm and ranch.
Sponsored by Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, LR378CA offers a constitutional amendment that would prohibit the Legislature from passing laws that restrict the rights of Nebraskans to use agricultural technology and ranching practices without a compelling state interest. If passed, the resolution would place the amendment on the November 2016 general election ballot.
Kuehn said North Dakota and Missouri have amended their constitutions to protect farming and ranching practices and Oklahoma voters will decide on a similar measure in November.
The amendment would protect Nebraska farmers and ranchers by preventing animal and environmental advocacy groups from exerting undue influence on the legislative process, Kuehn said.
“Activist groups can promote increasingly restrictive legislation and regulation that impairs the rights of family farmers and livestock producers to use accepted, safe and approved practices on their farms and ranches,” he said.
Kuehn said farming and ranching merit protection in the state constitution because of their importance to Nebraska’s economy and culture. No other industries are as dependent on property rights and require a multigenerational capital investment, he said.
Al Juhnke, executive director of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association, spoke in support of the resolution. He said the amendment would protect Nebraska farmers who use accepted practices to raise their crops and livestock. The amendment would preclude laws that may be driven by emotion rather than science on issues such as animal welfare, the use of chemical spraying and the planting of genetically modified seeds, Juhnke said.
Larry Mussack, president of the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, also testified in support of the resolution. He said the amendment would make it more difficult for national advocacy groups to influence policy that determines how Nebraska farmers and ranchers care for their land and livestock.
Kevin Fulton, a farmer and rancher from Sherman County, spoke against the resolution, saying that it would provide special treatment for agriculture and erode consumers’ trust.
Farmers and ranchers should be accountable for how their actions affect others, he said, and safe and sustainable agricultural practices do not need the protection of a constitutional amendment.
“Most people want to trust farmers as long as they demonstrate accountability and transparency,” Fulton said. “This bill undermines that premise and will cause more consumers to question our integrity and create even more dissension and disconnect between rural and urban America.”
John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, also testified in opposition to the resolution. He called the proposed amendment a “heavy-handed” response to perceived problems and said it would have unintended consequences for existing laws regulating agriculture.
“We do not believe family farm and ranch agriculture faces enough risk from society as a whole or from special interest groups to begin to justify putting such an enormously radical proposed constitutional amendment before the voters,” Hansen said.
The committee took no immediate action on the resolution.