Oklahomans voted on Tuesday on State Question 777, or the “Right to Farm” measure. The measure would have allowed courts to rule on state and local laws regulating agricultural activities passed after Dec. 31, 2014. It was intended to allow farmers to defend themselves in the face of unjust laws.
Though it received strong support from rural voters, the measure was ultimately struck down by 60.3% of the population. So what comes next for Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers?
“The short answer is nothing,” says Derrell Peel, professor of agribusiness at Oklahoma State University. “The immediate impact is that nothing changes. This was an attempt to be proactive to possible issues that the industry sees coming down the road. It was a little bit of a gamble and the gamble didn’t pay off.”
The Right to Farm measure was designed to protect farmers and ranchers from influence and interference of activist groups and legislation.
“I had mixed emotions the more I read about the bill,” says Watson Langford, an Oklahoma cattle rancher. “I feel like the opposition put enough money into our state to vote the bill down, and they had a really strong campaign to demonize the bill more than it probably should have been. But they also had some wording in that bill that could have overstepped the boundaries. No industry should be above the law and I can see how it may have looked like that to other people.”
The bill received strong support from the panhandle area and the western portion of the state. However, in more urban areas and the eastern portion of the state, the bill was more heavily voted against. Animal activist groups spoke out strongly against the measure.
Arguments on Both Sides
“[SQ777] would have raised the bar on issues of regulation that could be directed toward agriculture,” Peel says. “Like in any sort of political situation, there were a lot of different arguments. There were legitimate concerns on both sides, and there was misinformation spread by both sides.”
“It was an offensive move on our part,” says Mike Spradling, a former president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau and current director on the American Pecan Council board. “Agriculture has always been on the defense. We wanted to take an offensive move against measures that could threaten our way of life.”
The bill would not have removed regulations but would have made it more challenging to add additional regulations. Spradling says there were concerns about overregulation on agriculture and the concern that farmers would find their hands tied while trying to produce at a higher rate.
“The industry welcomes proper regulation, but it has to be based on sound science and preferably be written by people who understand the industry,” Spradling says, “This is the one industry that every person relies on every single day.”
“I think the people behind the bill were doing it for the right reasons, and it was written for the right reasons,” Langford says. “This was the first time in my life that I saw a bill that truly benefited agriculture, but they may have tried to push it too far. They tried to give it too much power. I can understand both sides of it. As long as the right people were in power in Oklahoma and they didn’t abuse the rights it would have provided, then it would have been great. If people would have overstepped the bounds of what is right, they would have abused what the measure was intended to do.”
For now, Oklahoma farmers can expect little to no change in how they do business. Without SQ777, however, there may be more fights down the road.
“Right to Farm was an attempt to win the war in one fell swoop, and now we’ll go into a lot of smaller battles instead,” Peel says.