Agriculture industry seeks to create right to farm

Official thinks protection vital

By Jessica RodrigoJRODRIGO@VICAD.COMChanges in technology and economic development constantly affect the ebbs and flows of the agriculture industry.

While there are no current legal protections for farmers in Texas, George Hood, president of the Victoria County Farm Bureau, said the idea of a right to farm could add some much needed protection for area farmers and ranchers who produce food and other commodities.

"Sooner or later, there won't be any food if they're not protected," Hood said.

He owns and runs a ranch in Victoria County and has been president for the association for three years.

When weather is tough on farmers and ranchers, the government offers aid to those who apply and meet certain guidelines. Other than that, he said, there is very little support from the government.

Thankfully, he said, this year's rains have helped the agriculture industries.

"The government gives very little otherwise," Hood said. "Farmers and ranchers have to scratch out a living with what they have."

Aside from the weather and lobbyist groups, Hood believes one of the biggest opponents of farmers and ranchers is development.

While growth is a good thing for cities and businesses, the loss of farmland could have a big impact on the food supplies.

Hood said he's noticed more people moving into the country and surrounding farmland, forcing the farmers out.

"No field, no food," he said.

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - In the nation's agricultural heartland, farming is more than a multibillion-dollar industry that feeds the world. It could be on track to become a right, written into law alongside the freedom of speech and religion.

Some powerful agriculture interests want to declare farming a right at the state level as part of a wider campaign to fortify the ag industry against crusades by animal-welfare activists and opponents of genetically modified crops.

The emerging battle could have lasting repercussions for the nation's food supply and for the millions of people worldwide who depend on U.S. agricultural exports. It's also possible that the right-to-farm idea could sputter as a merely symbolic gesture that carries little practical effect beyond driving up voter turnout in local elections.

"A couple of years from now, we might say this was the beginning of the trend," said Rusty Rumley, a senior staff attorney at the National Agricultural Law Center in Fayetteville, Ark. But "we really don't even know what they're going to mean."

Animal advocates and other groups are increasingly urging consumers, grocers and restaurants to pay as much attention to how their food is raised as to how it tastes. Their goals include trying to curtail what they consider cruel methods of raising livestock and unsafe ways of growing food.

Those efforts are helping to fuel the right-to-farm movement in the Midwest, where the right has already won approval in North Dakota and Indiana. It goes next to Missouri voters in an Aug. 5 election. Similar measures passed both chambers of the Oklahoma Legislature earlier this year before dying in a conference committee. And they could soon spread elsewhere.

The uncertainty surrounding the proposals stems from the vague wording of the measures, which have yet to be tested in court.

Missouri's proposed constitutional amendment asks voters whether the right "to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed."

Indiana's new measure - which was written into state law but not enshrined in the constitution - protects the rights of farmers to use "generally accepted" practices, including "the use of ever-changing technology." The North Dakota measure prohibits any law that "abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices."

Supporters hope the wording provides a legal shield against initiatives that would restrict particular farming methods, such as those modeled after a California law setting minimum cage space for hens or policies in Florida and Ohio that bar tight pens for pregnant pigs. Others hope to pre-empt any proposals to ban genetically modified crops similar to ones recently passed in southern Oregon.