Missouri Constitutional Amendment Pits Farmer Against Farmer : The Salt The most contentious issue in Tuesday's Missouri primary was the "right to farm" amendment. It is meant to protect farmers and ranchers from state laws that would change or outlaw current practices.

Missouri Constitutional Amendment Pits Farmer Against Farmer

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In Missouri yesterday, voters amended the state Constitution to include the right to farm. That doesn't sound controversial at all. But the measure passed by only 2,500 votes, out of nearly a million cast, and a recount appears likely. Kristofor Husted of member station KBIA has more.

JEFF JONES: Sook cow, sook, sook.

KRISTOFOR HUSTED, BYLINE: Jeff Jones, a fourth-generation family farmers, and his daughters drive a cart down the hill from their house to feed their cattle.

JONES: Drive them away there, Mackenlea. They'll come back here. (Imitates kissing).

HUSTED: About a dozen cows saunter out from a shady grove to greet the buckets of grain. Jones' farm could not be more different than the industrial hog farm slated to move in less than half a mile away. The 20-acre lot in rural Callaway County, Missouri would pack in more than 10,000 hogs. Jones worries the hogs' manure, which is used as fertilizer, will affect the health of his livestock and family.

JONES: Much of the fertilizer will be spread on the land, which will be uphill from us. So, you know, in large rains, there's going to be concerns about that coming down here and being in the water, and the creek, and the ditches and things like that.

HUSTED: It's a common story industrial ag and neighbors don't always mix. And Jones is worried that he won't be able to hold the hog operation accountable. That's because Missouri narrowly approved a right-to-farm amendment. It says, in part, the right of farmers and ranchers to engage in farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in the state. The measure is intended to protect farmers and ranchers from any new laws that would change or outlaw practices they currently use.

BLAKE HURST: Practices that are proven, that are safe, that are good for consumers, good for farmers and good for the environment.

HUSTED: Blake Hurst is president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, which supports the amendment. He says it will help farmers and ranchers stay one step ahead of the groups, like the Humane Society of the United States, that may try to change the way farmers do business.

HURST: So this amendment is a way for us to sort of push back a little bit.

HUSTED: The amendment is huge in Missouri and other Midwest states. On one side, commodity groups like the Missouri Cattlemen's Association and the Poultry Federation - on the other, animal rights groups and some small farmers - between the two sides, more than $1 million has been spent trying to sway voters. Under the amendment, farms still have to abide by existing laws and environmental regulations. But critics, like small farmer Jake Davis, say the amendment makes the state friendlier to industrial farms with deep pockets.

JAKE DAVIS: It'll be a major challenge for us to get any sort of repercussions or any sort of legal action on a big corporate farm, if they are able to move next door to us and decide to build a confined animal feeding operation. Or they were going to spray a bunch of Roundup.

HUSTED: Opponents complained of what they called the measure's vague language. Here's University of Missouri law professor Erin Morrow Hawley.

ERIN MORROW HAWLEY: It talks about farming and ranching practices, so that's a rather general term. It will be left to the courts to find what that encompasses.

HUSTED: Two years ago, North Dakota passed a similar right-to-farm amendment. North Dakota State University law professor David Saxowsky says he hasn't seen any resulting court cases.

DAVID SAXOWSKY: Maybe sometime in the next decades, there will be some technology that even producers are going to say, hey, wait, we really aren't sure if we want that within our industry. And at that point, this language will be tested.

HUSTED: In the meantime, farmer Jake Davis says regardless of the vote outcome, the public is paying attention now.

DAVIS: If nothing else, we're victors tonight, because we have brought the issue of sustainable agriculture vs. corporate agriculture to the forefront.

HUSTED: Ultimately, he says Missouri may have set the tone for how other ag-centric states tackle their own version of the right to farm. For NPR News, I'm Kristofor Husted in Columbia, Missouri.

GREENE: And that story comes to us from Harvest Public Media, a public radio reporting project that focuses agriculture and food production issues.

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