Friday, March 22, 2013

Another push made to repeal limits on allowing corporate farming

By SCOTT ROTHSCHILD, The Lawrence Journal-World

Gov. Sam Brownback's administration on Thursday continued to try to push through legislation that would repeal limits on corporate farming.

Kansas Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said current restrictions are driving business to other states, and that is not good for the Kansas economy.

"The people I talk to will not look at Kansas for investment for some of these industries," Rodman told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

But Paul Johnson with the Kansas Rural Center said the decades-old limits on corporate farms should be studied carefully before changing.

"Kansans deserve better than a rushed, end of the session discussion that is happening today," Johnson said.

He urged legislators to appoint a committee to study the issue, hold meetings across the state during the summer and fall and come up with recommendations for the 2013 legislative session.

The committee took no immediate action on House Bill 2404, but scheduled another meeting for Friday.

Committee Chair Sharon Schwartz, R-Washington, said she wanted committee members to become familiar with the issue. Schwartz said she didn't want to rush into a decision but also said she wanted to make sure that Kansas was competitive with other states.

The house bill was introduced earlier this week. A similar bill, Senate Bill 191, was heard by a Senate committee, but that committee has not voted on it yet.

Much of the opposition to the proposal is because it would eliminate the requirement that corporations get approval of county commissioners to set up operations.

The Kansas Farm Bureau testified in support of the bill even though its bylaws state that it supports the ability of county residents to determine whether non-family farm corporations may own agricultural land to operate pork or dairy production facilities.

State Rep. John Wilson, D-Lawrence, questioned Kansas Farm Bureau President Steve Baccus on how the Farm Bureau could support the bill given its bylaws.

Baccus said the decision to support the bill was made by the organization's board of directors after many hours of debate.

Kansas law now 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.

The Brownback administration contends those restrictions are unfair.