The deadline has passed and the signatures are in. That means this November, Arizona voters will consider whether or not to ban sow-gestation and veal crates from the state.

Last month, animal-welfare groups submitted more than 218,000 signatures to the Arizona Secretary of State to put the measure on this fall’s ballot. The secretary has to confirm that enough signatures are from registered voters in the state, a legitimate issue especially since a finance report shows the activists paid about $42,000 to a California firm for signatures. Still, there’s an excess of nearly 100,000 signatures on the petition, only 122,612 valid names are required.

The Arizona agriculture industry—specifically, the Campaign for Arizona Farmers and Ranchers—with the support of some national groups, fought hard to head off the ballot initiative. CAFR represents about 3,000 farmers and ranchers, and is largely directed by the Arizona Farm Bureau Federation, Arizona Pork Council, Arizona Cattlemen’s Association and United Dairymen of Arizona.

While the issue isn’t over, it is a bit sobering. CAFR was smart and diligent in its efforts to head off a successful petition drive. Members planned thoroughly and well in advance. They received decent, but not over-abundant, funding for the project. They performed admirably and still couldn’t keep the issue off the ballot. That’s not criticism, that’s a chilling reality.

Certainly there is still time to educate voters and come out with a commonsense result, but election-based battles rarely get easier the closer they get to voting day.

It’s easy to point to the fact that the ballot initiative was orchestrated by two out-of-state activist groups — Farm Sanctuary and the Humane Society of the United States—that the funding generally came from non-Arizona sources. It’s easy for animal agriculture to point to husbandry practices and science that supports humane and responsible use of sow-gestation crates. It’s easy to want to expose activists’ true conviction—to burden modern livestock production to the point of elimination. It’s even easy to point to Arizona as being a “minor pork production state”, which is why it fell prey. “Such a thing would never happen to Iowa or Minnesota or Illinois or….”

But all that matters little today. What does matter is what voters think — and decide.

Arizona’s Proposition 204, is also called the Humane Treatment of Farm Animals Act. So on Nov. 7, CAFR wants Arizonans to vote “No” to that act. Given the limited knowledge that an average voter takes into the voting booth, what are the chances that “No” will win out?

A similar tactic paid off in 2002 in Florida. In the end, the activists faced 50 campaign violations and paid $50,000 in fines, but sow-gestation stalls are still banned. 

Shortly after the Florida vote, a Farm Sanctuary spokesperson said: “The Florida victory will lead to similar reforms across the nation.” If Arizona voters approve the sow-gestation- and veal-crate ban, it would take effect at the end of 2012, making Arizona the second state to meet this fate.

In general, animal activists are focusing more tactics on legislative activities and ballot initiatives. They’ve had a bit more luck with state voters than with state legislatures. But the legislative arena and the legal system, is where precedence carries weight. With each state that bans sow-gestation crates, the activists’ next effort gets easier.

So, agriculture’s call to arms remains, but with a bit more urgency. It’s important that U.S. agriculture—and that means farmers, ranchers, packers, allied industry, lenders and more— support CAFR, and other such efforts. Each day it becomes more critical that the entire U.S. agriculture sector communicates with customers, legislators and other food-chain stakeholders about on-farm programs and practices that ensure animal well-being.

The challenge in Arizona is not over. You can still support the cause. For more information about CAFR and its efforts, go to http://www.azfarmersranchers.com/.

The signatures may be in for this issue, but agriculture can’t let up.