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To: House Agriculture Committee
From: Christopher T. Dodson, Executive Director
Subject: SB 2351 - Investor-Owned Farms
Date: March 5, 2015

The North Dakota Catholic Conference, representing Bishop John Folda of Fargo and Bishop David Kagan of Bismarck, opposes SB 2351. This position is not new. North Dakota’s Catholic bishops, like faith leaders here and around the country, have for decades appealed for laws that preserve and maintain farm ownership and control in the hands of local family farmers. In fact, seventy-six years ago Catholic bishops of the United States, led by Fargo Bishop Aloisius Muench — the only bishop from North Dakota to be named a Cardinal — warned that investor ownership of farms would threaten families, communities, and our obligations as stewards of creation. (1)

Some could argue that agriculture has changed since 1939, and they would be right. But who we are as human persons and what farming means to us as humans have not changed. That is why this is a religious issue. It is a religious issue because it is a moral issue. It is a moral issue because it is a human issue. It is a human issue because, as Pope Francis stated just a few weeks ago, farming is “characteristically and fundamentally human.”(2)

Indeed, Pope Francis’ recent address on the vocation of agriculture is enlightening in that it illustrates precisely why investor ownership of farms is so risky. Pope Francis explains that the relationship a farmer has with the land is “familiar.” The Italian word he used was “familiare,” which means not “familiar” as in “well known,” but “of family.” This is important to understand. Outside investors cannot be like family. Only human persons can relate “like family.” Only human persons are capable of entering into a covenant with creation. The further we remove the owner/steward from the land, the more we threaten that covenantal relationship intended by our creator.

That is why how we engage in agriculture affects who we are as humanity. Indeed, the position of the bishops is not based not just on church doctrine. It also stems from what they and other bishops have witnessed in states that have repealed or weakened corporate farming laws.

Senate Bill 2351 is not just about a small segment of the agricultural community. It is a radical upending of the foundation of our state’s most widespread and permeating activity. Disrespecting the “familiar” relationship that should exist between the human farmer and farming will affect us all. If we truly believe that North Dakota is such a great place to live, why would we take that risk?

We realize that some segments of agriculture are facing difficult times and we need to respond. Indeed, responding is a moral imperative. We have heard about the appeal of allowing neighbors, fellow farmers, and more family members to invest in dairy and swine operations. But that is not the bill before you. The bill before you does not contain any limits on who or what can own farmland or really how much can be owned by these outside entities.

North Dakota farmers have always faced difficult challenges. Nevertheless, we have always found creative solutions without sacrificing our way of life and without succumbing to the temptation to reduce agriculture to a mere economic activity. In North Dakota, we have done -- and can do -- better.

North Dakota’s corporate farming law is premised on the recognition that people are more important than profits, communities are more important than corporations, and that just because some things can be done does not mean that they should be done. Changing the law is ultimately a spiritual question. Just as Jesus asked, “What does it profit a man if he gains the world and loses his soul?” we must ask, “What does it profit our state if we gain some agribusiness investors but lose the soul of agriculture?” We respectfully ask for a Do Not Pass recommendation on Senate Bill 2351.

1. National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Manifesto on Rural Life (Milwaukee, WI: Bruce Publishing Company, 1939).

What We Do

The North Dakota Catholic Conference acts on behalf of the Roman Catholic bishops of North Dakota to respond to public policy issues of concern to the Catholic Church and to educate Catholics and the general public about Catholic social doctrine.
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