North Dakota corporate farming bill changes 'at the finish line'

Under House Bill 1371, feedlots or dairies could partner with a corporation and no longer fall under the definition of farming and ranching.

Cattle feedlot operations, like this one in Barnes County near Spiritwood, North Dakota, could become more common in the state with changes to corporate farming laws involving livestock.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

BISMARCK — A bill to revamp North Dakota’s corporate farming law to stimulate livestock production is “at the finish line,” in the state Legislature.

The bill was amended in the Senate Agriculture and Veterans Affairs Committee, mostly to clear up some wording, and approved by the full Senate on April 3.

The bill returns to the House, where approval is expected.

“I believe that we are very near, essentially at the finish line, just waiting for the official motion to concur on the House floor,” said Matt Perdue, government relations director for the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Cooperation from Farmers Union was cited as being the difference in this session’s attempt to loosen corporate farming restrictions . In 2015, the Legislature passed a “ham and cheese” bill to help swine and dairy production. But Farmers Union led a statewide referendum, striking down that bill and returning North Dakota to rules that have banned corporate ownership of farms.


Much of the feed used at VanBedaf Dairy, shown here on June 2, 2019, near Carrington, North Dakota, comes from local farmers and byproducts from ag processing plants.
Jenny Schlecht / Agweek

The new bill allows livestock feeding operations, including cattle, to be established as a corporation as long as 75% of the corporate ownership is by operating farmers or ranchers. For a limited liability company, 51% of the ownership must be held by farmers or ranchers. It also limits the amount of farmland the livestock operation can own to 160 acres and limits ownership groups to 10 members.

The 2015 referendum was cited by some opponents on the House floor and the one dissenting vote by Democratic Sen. Kathy Hogan in the Senate committee.

But changes to the original House Bill 1371 won over most legislators. It passed the Senate on a 41-6 vote.

“When it was in the House, I was not happy with the original,” Sen. Janna Myrdal, a Republican from Edinburg, said in committee on March 31. “It just didn’t fit the culture of agriculture in my district, certainly. … But with all the work that’s gone into it and the limitations on it, and the fact that Farmers Union and Farm Bureau both compromised and came together is the reason I am going to vote for it.”

Farm Bureau’s Pete Hanebutt also praised the work of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture.

“God bless the department for all their work,” he told the committee.

North Dakota lags behind its neighbors in animal agriculture, most notably South Dakota, which has put an emphasis on promoting livestock in the last decade. South Dakota has seen its livestock sector rebound after decades of decline.

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum has called for changes to the corporate farming law to make it easier to generate the capital needed for modern livestock facilities.


Matt Perdue
Contributed photo

Perdue said with other legislation to help promote livestock and soybean crushing plants coming online as additional sources of feed, there is reason to be hopeful.

"For livestock we obviously have the space, we have a growing abundance of commodities and feedstuffs,” Perdue said. "There's just such incredible opportunities in agriculture right now. And that's what we're trying to do is, how do we make sure we capture those? How do we make sure we maximize those opportunities for family farmers and ranchers?”

Reach Agweek reporter Jeff Beach at or call 701-451-5651.
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