Farming ballot measure campaign in Missouri intensifies

Saturday, January 25, 2014 | 5:45 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — The campaign to enshrine a "right to farm" in the Missouri Constitution is starting to heat up, with fundraising kicking off and the recent launch of an opposition group, led by a former state senator.

Missouri voters will get to decide this year whether to place a guarantee in the state Constitution on the right to farm and ranch in the state. The measure passed the Republican-led Legislature last year and is scheduled to be on the ballot in November.

Agriculture groups and rural Republicans began pushing for the amendment after a high-profile showdown in 2010 over Proposition B, a voter-approved initiative petition that limited the number of breeding dogs that businesses could own and set new requirements for cage space, feeding and veterinary care.

But former Democratic Sen. Wes Shoemyer, a farmer from the northeastern Missouri town of Clarence, said that isn't a good reason to amend the state Constitution to include protection for one industry.

"To give that blanket protection where people don't have the right to petition and the Legislature doesn't have a right to change the laws to regulate is, to me, silly," he said.

Shoemyer started the political action committee Missouri Food for America to fight the measure. The proposed amendment could cause legislation regulating any farming or ranching activities to be declared unconstitutional by the courts. It could also prevent interest groups from using the initiative petition process to pass restrictions on agriculture.

To pass such measures, groups would need to seek a constitutional change, which requires them to spend more money collecting additional signatures so their proposal can appear on the ballot. The amendment, however, would not affect a local government's ability to regulate farming and ranching.

The constitutional amendment is being backed by Missouri Farmers Care, a coalition of several farming and livestock associations. Dan Kleinsorge, a spokesman for the group, said the proposal would stop efforts that "systematically attack agriculture" from reaching the ballot box.

"It won't give farmers a blank check to do whatever they want, but it will protect them from being legislated out of a living," he said.

Missouri Farmers Care enters the campaign with a sizeable cash advantage. It reported raising almost $200,000 last October to December and has $228,000 cash to spend. Shoemyer said he hasn't begun raising money for his group, but he expects many groups, including the animal rights associations that pushed Proposition B, to donate.

Shoemyer was elected to the Senate in 2006 and served until he lost his re-election bid in 2010. He previously served six years in the House.

If voters approve, Missouri would join North Dakota as the only states to amend their Constitution to include a "right to farm." Similar to Missouri's experience, North Dakota farm groups began pushing for the ballot measure after the Humane Society of the United States unsuccessfully pushed a proposal to abolish fenced hunting preserves in the state.

North Dakota's amendment was approved with 67 percent of the vote. Lawmakers in Virginia also tried to get a similar measure on the ballot, but it failed to pass a Senate committee.

Missouri voters will be asked, "Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to ensure that the right of Missouri citizens to engage in agricultural production and ranching practices shall not be infringed?"

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