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Divided electorate narrowly approves 'Right to Farm'

Wednesday, August 6, 2014 | 12:47 a.m. CDT; updated 7:19 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Opponents of Amendment 1 discuss election results at Ninth Street Pub on Tuesday. Rhonda Perry, lower right, who works with the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, said she thought the amendment would give corporate agriculture and foreign companies easy access to farming in Missouri. Missouri residents narrowly approved the measure Tuesday.

As the minutes ticked late into the night, both supporters and opponents of Amendment 1 anxiously watched the gap between "no" and "yes" votes tighten. A 7 percent lead for the measure to "forever guarantee" constitutional protections for farmers at 9 p.m. dwindled to less than a single percent by 11:20 p.m.

When the final returns came in, the "Right to Farm" amendment passed by a scant 2,528 votes out of 994,974 cast. Advocates on each side of the issue said they expected a recount.

Boone County residents overwhelmingly opposed the amendment with 18,462 of voters, or 67 percent, opposed and 8,954, or 33 percent, in favor.

BALLOT: "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?"

REACTION: "We went in tonight thinking we already won this campaign," said Rhonda Perry, program director at the Missouri Rural Crisis Center in Columbia, which opposed the amendment. "This is just the beginning of a powerful voice to keep corporate agribusiness accountable."

She also said she expected there to be a recount. According to Missouri law, any person whose position on a question was defeated by less than one-half of 1 percent of the votes cast can request a recount.

Missouri Farmers Care spokesman Dan Kleinsorge said that supporters were happy with the win but that they, too, expected a recount and wished they had won by a larger margin.

"The opposition put a lot of money into it and tried to scare people away," he said. "But I want to thank all the farmers who put a lot of effort into passing this. It was a great night."

AT ISSUE: Amendment 1 is designed to protect agricultural practices, including confined animal feeding operations, or CAFOs. Supporters say the amendment is needed to guard against threats to agriculture from animal rights activists and environmental regulations; opponents pointed out that farmers already have nuisance protections under state law and portrayed the amendment as a way to protect corporate interests that would take power away from county and city governments. They said they believe local ordinances that regulate farmers and ranchers would most likely be declared unconstitutional. The amendment was also criticized for being vague and subject to interpretation by the courts.

IMPACT: Aside from a possible recount, the immediate impact of the amendment is not entirely clear. It could take years for courts to make rulings that would bring the proposal into focus. Some legal experts have said the courts could determine the legality of unforeseen or controversial agricultural practices in the future.

WHAT'S NEXT: Missouri will join North Dakota as the only other state with such protections for farming built into its constitution, but other states, such as Oklahoma, are considering adopting similar measures. Courts have yet to interpret North Dakota's 2-year-old amendment, and it could take years before its powers and limitations are defined.


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