Thursday, January 17, 2013
Kansas lawmakers are being asked to look at changing laws that limit who can own farms in Kansas.
Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman told legislators this week that the state's laws limiting corporate farms need to be repealed because they hinder the recruitment of new agribusiness to Kansas. The issue has grabbed farmers' attention.
"The first thought that kind of comes to mind is a little apprehension," said Sedgwick County farmer Mark Bergkamp.
He said it is hard for families not to get nervous when they hear about the possibility of relaxing laws that restrict corporate agriculture.
"They're thinking, 'So, we're going to be competing with corporations coming out here and trying to buy our ground," Bergkamp said.
However, Rodman has said the law needs to be changed to help the growth of Kansas' agricultural industry.
That's where farmers like Bergkamp can see a silver lining to potential changes.
"A lot of crops we grow, we'll ship out three, four hours away to an end user; mostly cattle or hog (producers)," he said. "If we can get something an hour away, that seems like a better thing to me."
Right now, Kansas law restricts farm ownership to family-held corporations, family partnerships or corporations with 15 or fewer shareholders, all of whom must live in Kansas. A few exceptions have been made to the 1931 law to for feed lots, poultry operations, hog farms and dairies.
Farm groups are open to carefully discussing changes to the law. However, they want to ensure those changes do not hurt the state's family farmers and ranchers.
"I don't know that we necessarily want to just delete the darn thing and go without one," said Steve Baccus, president of the Kansas Farm Bureau. "But I think there ought to be a way that we can grow agriculture in Kansas."
Others worry opening Kansas up to more corporate agriculture could cause more people to leave rural parts of the state due to fewer opportunities.
"Farms have been getting larger and concentration has been happening," said Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union. "It's probably going to keep happening whether this law is passed or not."
Bergkamp said a lot of family farms have deep enough roots, it would be hard to run them out of business.
"If the farm economy tanks and you no longer have the farmers buying it (land) up, maybe then you might have to worry about corporations coming in and buying up all the land," he said.
Governor Sam Brownback's administration is also concerned at least some provisions of the law may be unconstitutional. The biggest concern is with the part of the law that requires all shareholders of a Kansas farm corporation to be Kansas residents.