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October, 26, 2016

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US farming suit 'about issues, not parties'

BISMARCK, North Dakota -- The North Dakota Farmers Union's potential intervention in a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the state's anti-corporate farming law isn't likely to affect the outcome, an attorney for North Dakota Farm Bureau says.

"The issues and the law remain the same regardless of which parties are involved in the lawsuit," attorney Claire Smith told The Associated Press.

The farmers union asked a federal judge last week for permission to help defend the law that aims to protect the state's family farming heritage, which the union says "is the envy of other states and the backbone of our economy." If U.S. District Judge Daniel Hovland agrees, it will set up a showdown between the state's two largest general farm groups, which together represent 72,000 farm families.

The lawsuit was filed by the farm bureau and other plaintiffs in June, arguing that the law passed by voters in 1932 hurts the agriculture industry by limiting farmers' business options and interferes with interstate commerce because it bars out-of-state corporations from owning farming operations.

The state is defending the law. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem maintains it is not discriminatory, and he's asked Hovland to dismiss the case.

The farmers union's motion says it led the fight to create the corporate farming law, and that "from the beginning, NDFU members knew such a statute must comply with the U.S. Constitution." The group also says it has records dealing with the law's creation that might "support judicial economy in the resolution of this action."

Smith believes the plaintiffs will prevail on the merits of their case, given that courts struck down similar laws in South Dakota and Nebraska in the early and mid-2000s. North Dakota is among only nine states that restrict corporate farming.

"All of the issues to be decided by the court are legal issues which have previously been addressed," Smith said.

Plaintiffs in the lawsuit in addition to Farm Bureau are: a Wisconsin dairy farmer and a Wisconsin dairy company seeking to expand into North Dakota; a North Dakota hog farmer who is a member of the North Dakota Sow Center, which owns and operates several hog facilities and has partners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa; the North Dakota Pork Council; a North Dakota cattle rancher who wants to expand; and Global Beef Consultants, which provides cattle consulting and export services and also owns two ranches in Kazakhstan.

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