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Inspirations from beyond the field: States pioneering new farming policies

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This article comes from the NOFA/Massachusetts 2016 July Issue Newsletter

By Dan Bensonoff

Photo by beauconsidine, available under a Creative Commons license.

While we sit and wait for our legislators to move forward with the agricultural omnibus bill, the GMO labeling bill, and much else, let’s take a moment to zoom out, scan the horizons, and find inspiration in some unexpected places.    

Massachusetts tends to pride itself on being first in the nation on a number of landmark pieces of legislation. First on health care reform, first on gay marriage, etc. But there is much we can learn from the efforts of other states too.

Pollinator Protection

Last year U.S. beekeepers lost roughly 40% of all their hives according to the University of Maryland. And yet, even after years of tragic losses to honeybees and native pollinator populations, few states had taken any action to mitigate or address this loss until this year.

That changed on April 7 of this year when the Maryland general assembly passed a first in the country law that bans homeowners from using neonicotinoids, a class of pesticide that has been implicated in pollinator loss by numerous studies, including a recent study by the EPA. Farmers, landscape professionals, and veterinarians would still be allowed to use neonics if they are licensed. Even so, the bill remains a major victory for pollinators, as much of the misuse of neonics is attributed to homeowners who spray far more than is suggested, and often during the day when pollinators are most busy with pollination.

Connecticut followed suit shortly afterwards with another bill that takes neonics out of homeowners’ hands. The Connecticut bill went even further by addressing the need for pollinator forage. With this law, the department of transportation would be required to plant forage “in deforested areas along state highway rights-of-way.” Farm conservation plans would also now require model pollinator habitats.

Click here if you would like to learn more about pollinator legislation in Massachusetts and what you can do to help.

Siding with Family Farms

On Tuesday, June 14, North Dakotans went to the polls to vote on one question: should the state allow for corporate ownership of farms or maintain its 85 year old law that explicitly outlaws any farms that are not family-owned.

The bill would have allowed corporations to own dairy and swine operations up to 640 acres (considered an mid-size farm in ND). Many big ag groups believe that by opening up the state’s farms to corporate ownership it would make it easier for farms to raise capital and remain competitive. North Dakota Farm Bureau, which lobbied for the bill, argued that “The laws of our state, as they stand today, are forcing North Dakota’s farm families to make business management decisions that other businesses are not being forced to make.” 

After Governor Dalrymple had already signed the new bill he was met with a fierce backlash from the state farmer’s union and other groups that opposed the bill. They collected enough signatures to put the bill up as a ballot question.

The economic arguments of the politicians and big ag groups ultimately did little to sway North Dakota, a state with roughly 30,000 family farms. The measure was defeated by a 3 to 1 margin. And so, for now, North Dakota remains one of the only states truly dedicated to family farming.

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