The North Dakota Farmers Union on Wednesday asked a federal judge for permission to enter the legal battle over the constitutionality of the state's Depression-era anti-corporate farming law.
If U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland agrees, it would enable Farmers Union to side with the state against the North Dakota Farm Bureau, a rival and more liberal group. The two organizations are the state's largest general farm groups, with Farmers Union representing about 45,000 farm families and Farm Bureau about 27,000.
Farm Bureau and other plaintiffs sued in federal court in June, saying the law passed by voters in 1932 to protect the state's family farming heritage actually hurts the agriculture industry by limiting farmers' business options. They also maintain that the law interferes with interstate commerce because it bars out-of-state corporations from owning farming operations.
Farmers Union maintains that family farming is the backbone of North Dakota agriculture. The group led the fight to create the corporate farming law in the 1930s, "and we've defended it, repeatedly, ever since," state President Mark Watne said in a statement.
The issue is divisive in North Dakota. The 2015 Legislature decided to allow non-family corporations to own hog and dairy operations to boost those dying industries in the state, but voters in the primary election in June overwhelmingly rejected those exemptions.
Farmers Union argues in its motion that it has a legal interest in defending the law it helped create.
"NDFU faces actual, imminent harm from nonfamily corporate farms that drive family farms out of business and negatively transform the social demographics of rural communities," the motion states.
Plaintiffs' attorneys Sarah Herman and Claire Smith did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
Hovland did not immediately rule on Farmers Union's request. He also did not immediately rule on a motion filed Tuesday by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem asking him to reject the plaintiffs' claims and dismiss the case. Stenehjem is defending the law on behalf of the state.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit in addition to Farm Bureau are: a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company seeking to expand into North Dakota; a North Dakota hog farmer who is a member of the North Dakota Sow Center, which owns and operates several hog facilities and has partners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa; the North Dakota Pork Council; a North Dakota cattle rancher who wants to expand; and Global Beef Consultants, which provides cattle consulting and export services and also owns two ranches in Kazakhstan.
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