Local farmers speak out against 'Right to Farm' amendment

Thursday, July 31, 2014 | 7:26 p.m. CDT; updated 8:10 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 31, 2014

COLUMBIA — Hogs, sheep and cattle populate Walker Claridge's farm in Callaway County, along with crops that include tomatoes, lettuce and other vegetables.

Farming or ranching practices that adversely affect his land could be afforded protections by Amendment 1 on Tuesday's ballot, he said. Regulations that proponents of Amendment 1 consider harmful or unnecessary can serve as measures of protection for smaller farmers like himself, Walker said.

"Every landowner should have rights to protect themselves from what their neighbors do," he said.

Claridge, who also co-owns Broadway Brewery, was one of three local farmers who spoke in opposition to Amendment 1 on Thursday afternoon at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center on Rangeline Road, which has long advocated on behalf of smaller producers.

He asked rhetorically whether Missouri residents really needed the amendment, which has been named "Right to Farm" by supporters: "No. The Missouri courts and legislature will always allow it. So who does need it? Corporate agriculture, so they won't be liable for their mistakes."

If approved by voters, Amendment 1 will "forever guarantee" the rights of ranchers and farmers to engage in practices related to farming and ranching. The amendment has sharply divided the state.

Claridge said the average family farmer has nothing to gain from the amendment and could instead lose land value thanks to the waste and smells created by confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs.

Proponents say CAFOs and other agricultural production methods need the amendment as protection from harmful and unnecessary regulations. Supporters include the Missouri Farm Bureau, Missouri Farmers Care and the Missouri Cattlemen's Association.

Opponents say the amendment does not benefit family farms. Instead, they said, it is designed to help large agribusiness corporations, such as Cargill, Monsanto and Smithfield Foods. Other opponents include the Osage chapter of the Sierra Club, the Humane Society of the United States and the Missouri Farmers Union.

Rhonda Perry, another local farmer and the program director for the rural crisis center, said that during the past year, the General Assembly opened the door to foreign ownership of Missouri land, which led to the purchase of Smithfield, a large hog corporation, by a Chinese investment group. The center opposed the sale and has been opposed to the construction of a CAFO in Callaway County.

"We can see the direction this is going," she said.

She also said that if the amendment passes, agricultural policy-making decisions will pass from the public onto the courts.

"The court system is a bad place to make policy," she said.

Supervising editor is John Schneller.

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