Voters will have a big decision this November as the state considers an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution that would limit the ability of lawmakers to regulate farming practices.
According to the text of State Question 777, if passed the right to make use of agricultural technology, the right to make use of livestock procedures and the right to make use of ranching practices would be guaranteed under the Oklahoma Constitution.
A representative from the Oklahoma Farm Bureau recently visited eastern Oklahoma County on a mission to inform the community of why the OFB is in favor of SQ 777.
OFB Director of Field Operations for Public Policy Mark Yates was in Choctaw July 30 encouraging community members to support the proposed constitutional amendment that will be included on the November ballot.
Yates was officially representing OFB, and also a group known as Oklahoma Farmers Care, a coalition of many of the agriculture groups in Oklahoma.
“Farmers and ranchers are asking for a Constitutional guarantee to do what they do today. What we have in place today in Oklahoma – the farming and ranching practices that are employed today, the technologies that are being used today and all the regulations that go along with it – we are asking to keep it that way,” said Yates. “Allow us to operate how we operate today into the future.”
While regulations against current farm practices are not presently a major concern, many people are looking at other states and starting to think ahead, said Yates.
“This is a proactive approach – it is based on what we are seeing around the nation and what is happening in agriculture,” he said. “There are groups around our nation that are attacking agriculture and trying to pull production methods off the table.”
Yates gave an example of an egg production bill passed in California that was backed by the Humane Society of the United States, which opposes SQ 777.
“HSUS – which is not to be confused with your local Humane Society or animal shelter – Humane Society of the United States is a national organization for animal rights activism,” Yates said. “They are one of the major sources for funding in the fight to stop SQ 777.”
In 2008, a bill was passed in California changing the allowable size of chicken cages. Yates said when farmers could not pay for the upgrade in coop size, they were forced to reduce the number of egg producing chickens to comply with the limit on cage size.
“What we saw after this went into effect was that egg production dropped dramatically. About a 50 percent drop,” Yates said. “Not surprisingly, the price of eggs immediately shot up.”
Yates said bills like the California egg legislation, which hurts producers and consumers, is a growing trend of “feel good legislation” that simply creates laws to ease the concerns of a changing society.
“We call it ‘feel good legislation.’ It’s not based on research, science or fact, instead it’s just that people don’t feel good about a production method. People, who aren’t farmers, feel bad about how an animal is treated or how a crop is produced, and want laws passed so they feel better,” Yates explained. “The farming and ranching practices we use today in Oklahoma and across the nation are researched by The Noble Foundation, Oklahoma State University and other reputable universities and organizations. Until proven otherwise, let the research, science and facts help farmers. If the federal government finds a health issue or concern with a production process, that process will be changed.”
Many say SQ 777 empowers corporate farming, but Yates discredits this argument by noting the OFB has nearly 100,000 members.
“Oklahoma Farm Bureau membership is a little over 95,000. They’re not corporate farmers, they are family owned and operated,” he said. “This is Oklahoma’s farmers and ranchers supporting this. Your relatives, neighbors, and friends. They do not want more competition coming to our state, 98 percent of all the farms and ranches owned in Oklahoma are family owned and operated and we want to keep it that way. This does not empower or give corporations more power to come in and take over.”
Oklahoma Farmers Care has raised more than $1 million to support the state question, according to Oklahoma Ethics Commission.
The Pork Council, which represents pork producers in the state, has donated nearly $80,000 in support of the state question.
The Oklahoma Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. has donated $100,000 in support of SQ 777.
Yates added that the state question is not about the deregulation of agriculture, but simply a tool needed for preventing government overreach and “feel good legislation.”
“It is not a deregulation of agriculture and more regulation can be imposed in the future,” he said. “Future legislation and future regulation upon agriculture needs to be in the best interest of Oklahoma and not just based on emotion and feelings.”
In addition to groups concerned with the ethical treatment of animals, many city leaders across the state are concerned that the constitutional change would prevent city governments from establishing and enforcing ordinances concerning agricultural zoning.
SQ 777, coined as the “Right to Farm Act,” is a constitutional amendment that would prevent Oklahoma lawmakers from passing legislation to regulate agriculture unless it has a “compelling state interest.”
If passed a new section would be added to the state constitution that guarantees rights to engage in farming and ranching.
The state question would not reverse any state statutes or ordinances enacted before Dec. 31, 2014, but any law regulating agriculture passed after that date would be subject to repeal.
The state is set to vote on the ballot measure in November.