By Alec Gray
A Senate committee passed a proposed constitutional amendment Monday meant to protect the rights of farmers – but it was farmers who came out to oppose the legislation.
The right-to-farm and ranch amendment is meant to protect property rights for farmers and guarantee that Hoosiers can “engage in diverse farming and ranching practices.”
If ratified – which requires approval by two separately elected legislatures and a vote by the public – the amendment would also ban the General Assembly from passing a law that “unreasonably abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ or refuse to employ effective agricultural technology and livestock production and ranching practices.”
On Monday, the owners of several smaller Indiana farms testified against the bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee. Those farmers said the amendment is unnecessary because they already have the right to farm. They said the legislation would benefit larger concentrated animal feeding operation – often called CAFOs – over smaller, family farms. CAFOs often feed and house thousands of animals in one or a few buildings.
“It’s too late to give me the right to farm. We have already got the right to farm. I am farming. We have been farming,” said Pam Patrick, a farmer in Putnam and Morgan counties. “Let’s call it what it really is. This bill is aimed at giving the right to large corporations to take over control of all the food industry inputs, thus creating a dangerous monopoly of food supply.”
She said the bill puts small farms in “food-based slavery” to the larger, corporate farms and the CAFOs.
“I believe this is about big profits, not Pam Patrick’s right to farm,” Patrick said.
But Sen. Brent Steele, the Bedford Republican who authored the resolution, said the proposal is meant to protect small farms, not to benefit larger corporations.
“This bill doesn’t pick winners and losers,” Steele said.
Still, other farmers and opponents of the bill, including Eric Stickdorm, a farmer from Wayne County, said right to farm provisions can hurt farmers.
“We need protection from right to farm laws that have actually eroded our personal rights, property rights, and our ability to farm,” Stickdorm said.
He said that a CAFO near his farm has contaminated the air so much that his family had to abandon their property. Stickdorm said when he approached his neighbor about the problem, he said that he didn’t feel that fixing it was necessary.
Many of the farmers testifying against the bill talked about how CAFOs contaminated the air and made it hard or impossible to breath.
Steele questioned whether those testifying had farms that smelled bad and bothered their neighbors. But those who testified replied that their farms were much smaller operations containing far smaller numbers of animals.
Both Jackson and Bartholomew County have placed moratoriums on the construction of animal facilities due to the concern with air pollution. Lawmakers considered legislation to ban such moratoriums but will send the issue to a study committee instead.
One person – Craig Curry of Protect the Harvest – spoke in favor of the legislation. The group – founded by Forrest Lucas, owner an oil products company for which Lucas Oil Stadium is named – fights for the rights of farmers, ranchers, animal owners and hunters.
Curry told the committee that the constitutional amendment process ultimately leaves the decision to votes.
“We don’t take it, I personally don’t take it, as some willy-nilly thing to amend the constitution. You have to think about that,” Curry said. “That’s a two year process in this state and then you put it in front of the people. The people decide do they want it, do they not want it. To me it’s as simple as that.”
Alec Gray is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.