Topeka — Backed by powerful agricultural interests, Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on Friday pushed to repeal corporate farming restrictions, saying the repeal would grow the Kansas economy.
But other groups, such as the Kansas Farmers Union and Kansas Rural Center, said the repeal would hurt family farmers and destroy local control.
Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Larry Powell, R-Garden City, said he planned to have the committee work on the Senate Bill 191, but didn't know when.
One of the major provisions of the measure would eliminate the requirement that corporations get the approval of county commissioners to set up operations.
Tim Stroda, president and chief executive officer of the Kansas Pork Association, said that requirement is causing many corporate interests to locate elsewhere.
"These are large companies. These are professionals. They are not used to having to beg to do business," Stroda said. When large corporations are told they need approval from local officials, he said, "Your meeting starts to go downhill in a heck of a hurry.
"What this bill really does is take away the need for folks to come in and go to a county commission and say 'Please let me build a swine unit in your county,' " Stroda said.
But opponents of the bill said local control was crucial to maintaining family farm operations and as a check on environmental issues.
"I oppose Senate Bill 191 because it will encourage greater corporate control of Kansas agriculture and further erode independent agriculture, rural economies, air and water quality," said Donald Stull, an anthropology professor at Kansas University, who has written extensively on industrial meat and poultry production.
But the Brownback administration also says the current restrictions on corporate farming are unfair.
"Currently, an individual farmer, family farm corporation, or authorized farm corporation can establish a dairy or swine farm without approval from the county commissioners, but a corporation, a limited company, or limited partnership cannot," said Chad Bontrager, an economist with the Kansas Department of Agriculture.
Bontrager said the bill has the potential to expand beef and hog operations by 10 percent, which would produce 1,500 jobs and add $183 million to the Kansas economy.
But Stull claimed repeal of corporate agricultural restrictions would have the opposite effect by reducing the number of family farms. He also said corporate animal confinement facilities significantly increase the scale of production and waste disposal problems.
Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, told the committee the demand for milk basically stays level.
"You're deciding who is going to produce that milk and it's not going to be the family farmer," he said.
Teske added, "Every time a 2,000 cow dairy goes in, it takes 20 dairy farmers out of a community. That is not economic development; that is rural depopulation."
In general, Kansas limits corporate ownership of agricultural land to family farm corporations, family partnerships or corporations with 15 or fewer stockholders, who must all be Kansas residents. The state also requires at least one partner or shareholder to live on the land or be actively engaged in supervising the work.
There are exceptions for feedlots and poultry operations. Also, counties can allow corporate dairies and hog farms within their borders, and legislators last year made it easier for them to do so.
Kansas has had limited farm ownership since 1931, when it enacted a law barring corporations from producing wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye or potatoes, or running dairy operations.