Accommodating corporate farming in Kansas may be a tough row to hoe.
Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman has poked the hornets’ nest by suggesting that the state’s restrictions on corporate involvement in agriculture is hindering the recruitment of new agribusiness, and that the statutes need to be repealed.
The state’s laws, some enacted 80 years ago, specify limits on corporate ownership of agricultural land. With some restrictions, they are intended to keep ownership in the hands of families who are actually Kansas residents and who live on the land or who are actively participating in or supervising the farming.
The restriction that favors Kansas residents has been questioned as unconstitutional by Atty. Gen. Derek Schmidt, responding to an inquiry by Rodman. Schmidt also indicated other parts of the state’s law might be unconstitutional.
It’s a murky situation, because Rodman, a former Cargill executive, hasn’t really specified what agribusinesses are waiting at the state line to rush in once the laws are changed.
It does seem clear that in farming, as in other businesses and industries, scale and financial backing create possible efficiencies that independent, family-owned operations cannot achieve. Although that may be sad, it’s reality, and wishing for a different scenario won’t change the facts.
On the other hand, just because Rodman views Kansas as “an under-utilized asset” doesn’t mean our natural resources, and especially our water, should be available to the highest bidder, the biggest organization. Would corporate farms, beholden only to mainly out-of-state stockholders, provide the same stewardship of resources as a family that’s intending to pass its farmland to the next generation? Are there similar concerns about the quality of the produce and livestock sent into the marketplace from such farms? It stands to reason that the popularity of local farmers’ markets and the buy-local movement suggest a concern and reflect a value placed on family operations.
As the president of the Kansas Farm Bureau said, “A lot more discussion needs to take place, more give and take, more understanding from all parties about where we are going to go and how we are going to get there.”
That’s probably good advice, especially with numerous other important issues on the legislature’s agenda.