BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - The North Dakota Farmers Union will be allowed to file legal documents defending the constitutionality of the state's Depression-era ban on corporate farming.
The decision filed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland means Farmers Union will side with the state against North Dakota Farm Bureau, which sued last summer to do away with the law that voters approved in 1932 to protect the state's family farming heritage. The two organizations are the state's largest general farm groups, together representing 72,000 farm families.
Farm Bureau contends the law limits farmers' business options and interferes with interstate commerce by barring out-of-state corporations from owning farming operations.
The farmers union maintains family farming is the backbone of North Dakota agriculture. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who is defending the law on behalf of the state, maintains it isn't discriminatory. He's asked Hovland to dismiss the lawsuit.
In its arguments to intervene, the farmers union said it led the fight to create the law, has supported it through the years and has records that could help resolve the case. Hovland agreed that the group has a legitimate interest and should be heard.
"This analysis will require considering information which Farmers Union and its members have a deep knowledge of and decades of experience defending," Hovland wrote.
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 last June overwhelmingly rejected those exemptions. Farmers Union President Mark Watne said Hovland's ruling will enable the group to help "make sure the will of the people is honored."
Farm Bureau attorney Claire Smith didn't immediately comment Thursday on the ruling. She told The Associated Press earlier that she didn't think intervention by Farmers Union would have any impact because she expects Farm Bureau to prevail on the merits of the case.
Hovland also is letting the Dakota Resource Council environmental group help defend the law. The group that works to protect rural areas and the land maintained it has an interest in part because its 1,000 members - more than half of whom are farmers and ranchers - could be harmed should large corporations become a part of the state's agricultural landscape.
"Like Farmers Union, the DRC has unique interests which arguably cannot be adequately represented by the state," Hovland said.