By Hutchinson News, Nov. 29
Debate on allowing foreign corporate ag ownership needs Kansans’ attention
A legislative advisory committee recently recommended the Legislature rewrite Kansas laws that restrict foreign corporate ownership of farms, saying that current laws are discriminatory against non-Kansas residents. Because if there’s one thing Kansas lawmakers and administration officials have proven in recent years, it’s that they’re keenly concerned about being fair and equitable to all people, or at least to all corporations.
During the 2013 legislative session, supporters of a change to Kansas’ 80-plus-year-old law against foreign corporate farm ownership met resistance from a wide variety of people across the state - and with good reason. The law would allow foreign ownership of Kansas farms and in the process strip county lawmakers and residents from restricting, regulating or prohibiting corporate agriculture operations within their home areas.
The Kansas Department of Agriculture, currently headed up by a former Cargill executive, and the Kansas Farm Bureau have been the biggest supporters of the change. Part of the push is based on concerns about the state’s legal ability to restrict corporate activities within its borders - despite no legal challenge to Kansas’ law. But in what is becoming a tired refrain of justification for efforts to alter longstanding Kansas laws and traditions, it’s also about jobs and the economy.
“We have a governor and secretary of agriculture doing everything they can do grow the Kansas economy,” Baccus told The News earlier this year. “It’s difficult when you have the kind of laws we have. This isn’t a business-friendly state.”
Additionally, both the KDA and the KFB have said that companies have expressed interest in Kansas, but have been discouraged by the state’s current laws. The details, however - the names of those companies, how many jobs they’d bring, what sort of operations they hope to set up and where - are never offered along with those blanket statements about all this growth potential knocking at Kansas’ door. Nor do we hear specifics about what companies looked at Kansas but decided to move on down the road.
The truth is that Kansas is a business-friendly state - something the Kansas Department of Commerce proudly proclaims on its website by highlighting business publications that have identified Kansas as a “premier” state for businesses.
It’s also true that doing away with Kansas longstanding laws against corporate agriculture ownership would require local elected officials to cede to the state their guaranteed home rule authority.
That means the case against Kansas’ laws on corporate farming are not as clear-cut as supporters would have us believe, and we do not know the full extent of what changing the law might mean to the family farmer in Kansas.
While the KFB and the KDA undoubtedly will push again this session the idea that the history of the state’s agriculture laws don’t matter and that it’s time for Kansas to welcome international corporate agribusiness, people who live and work in Kansas should watch this issue closely - and take steps now to protect their futures, just like those forward thinking Kansans did more than 80 years ago.