BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Doyle Johannes has worked land near the Missouri River in central North Dakota for 35 years, raising everything from corn to cattle. He's not about to let someone from outside the state's borders tell him how to go about his business.
Johannes and other farmers took notice last year when The Humane Society of the United States pushed a ballot proposal to abolish fenced hunting preserves. They've also followed efforts to pass animal welfare laws in other states, and they don't want any unreasonable rules in North Dakota.
Johannes, who farms with family members near Underwood, is one of the backers of an effort to enshrine the right to farm and ranch in the constitution of the state that leads the nation in the production of a dozen crops — from wheat and barley to navy beans and honey. Officials say if North Dakota farmers succeed, it could prompt similar actions in other states.
"It doesn't allow someone from the East Coast, the West Coast, to come in here and tell you what you can and can't do because of their idealistic notions," Johannes said of a proposed measure the North Dakota Farm Bureau is trying to bring before voters next year. "We want to be able to farm in North Dakota, the way we think we should be able to."
The proposal would add to the state constitution: "The right of farmers and ranchers to engage in modern farming and ranching practices shall be forever guaranteed in this state. No law shall be enacted which abridges the right of farmers and ranchers to employ agricultural technology, modern livestock production and ranching practices."
Many North Dakota residents consider activities such as farming and hunting — centerpieces of society in the rural state — to be basic rights and distrust outside groups they think might infringe on them.
But others say farmers and ranchers shouldn't have unlimited control over their operations, and some say the proposal's broad wording might actually hurt farmers by taking away their ability to protect their own property against everything from a neighbor's livestock odor to the unwanted spread of genetically engineered crops.
The farm bureau needs to collect just under 27,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot in June or November 2012. That's likely — the organization has that many members. And in North Dakota, where agriculture generates one-fourth of the money in the state economy, many people who don't work the land still rely on the industry for their livelihoods. Voters in 2000 overwhelmingly approved adding the right to hunt, fish and trap to the state constitution.