Kansas' top agriculture official called Tuesday for the repeal of state laws restricting corporations' involvement in agriculture, a move that would reverse a policy enacted more than 80 years ago.
Agriculture Secretary Dale Rodman said the state's anti-corporate farming laws hinder the growth of agriculture and recruitment of new agribusinesses to Kansas. Also, in a letter to Rodman earlier this month, Attorney General Derek Schmidt questioned the constitutionality of at least one provision of state law.
"Our corporate farming laws need to be repealed," Rodman said during an orientation session for freshman legislators.
Kansas law generally limits corporate ownership of agricultural land to family farm corporations, family partnerships or corporations with 15 or fewer stockholders, who must all be Kansas residents. The state also generally requires at least one partner or shareholder to live on the land or be actively engaged in supervising the work. There are exceptions for feedlots, poultry operations, dairies and hog farms.
Kansas has limited farm ownership since 1931, when it enacted a law barring in-state and out-of-state corporations from producing wheat, corn, barley, oats, rye or potatoes, or running dairy operations. Attempts to loosen restrictions in recent decades have met with fierce opposition from advocates for family farmers and some rural legislators.
But after meeting with lawmakers, Gov. Sam Brownback, a former Kansas agriculture secretary himself, told reporters the laws were of "questionable constitutionality."
"We're doing a lot of recruiting of businesses to come into rural areas, had quite a bit of success so far, but that is an issue for a number of them," he said.
Schmidt's letter to Rodman, dated Jan. 2, responded to the secretary's request for a formal legal opinion from the attorney general's office as to whether the state's anti-corporate farming laws are constitutional. The attorney general declined to issue such an opinion but said a provision allowing only corporations formed by Kansas residents to own land was "discriminatory."
"We cannot conceive a circumstance under which a court would find this provision to pass constitutional muster," Schmidt wrote.
Schmidt's letter also said "there are reasonable arguments" that other parts of the state's anti-corporate farming laws are unconstitutional and advised Rodman to approach legislators about potential changes.