Verbal Showdown Proves How Heated Oklahoma’s Right-to-Farm Campaign Could Get

Apr 26, 2016

Budget cuts and the death of the Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission were the thrust of mid-April’s regular meeting of the OSRC. But the real fireworks were around State Question 777, which you’ve probably heard referred to as ‘right-to-farm. What you probably haven’t heard it called yet is “State Question 666.”

Oklahoma Farm Bureau President Tom Buchanan asked if he could address the Commission about right-to-farm early in the day April 19. The Farm Bureau is pushing for the constitutional amendment giving broad protections to the agriculture industry from future laws backed by environmental and animal rights groups.

Right-to-farm opponents say the amendment would allow Big Ag to mistreat livestock and pollute at will. And one of those opponents is a water advocacy group called Save the Illinois River. The Illinois River is classified as a scenic river, and with the Scenic Rivers Commission on the verge of disbanding, several Save the Illinois River members were at the meeting.

Buchanan was about to run into a buzzsaw.

He addressed the Commission and crowd of about 50 people, telling them Oklahoma’s ag industry needs the help the right-to-farm amendment would provide.

“While agriculture will benefit by having the consistency and confidence moving forward that we’ll be able to continue to operate the way we have, in reality the ultimate winners will be the consumers,” Buchanan said. “The American consumer today enjoys the most abundant, highest quality, cheapest food source in history, and that’s a result of the production methods American agriculture is using today.”

An audience member asked how Oklahoma can ever put any future restrictions on farmers and ranchers if right-to-farm bans the state legislature from passing such regulations.

“Under this extra protection, no law can interfere with these rights unless the law is justified by a compelling state interest,” Buchanan answered. “We intentionally put ‘compelling state interest’ in there so that Oklahomans into the future can have the ability to regulate, to pass new legislation that calls agriculture’s actions into question if it meets that interest.”

It was an interesting back and forth, then the commission tried to move on. That’s when Save the Illinois River member Ed Brocksmith objected from the audience.

“I can’t believe the Scenic Rivers Commission has opened this meeting up to a presentation on right-to-farm,” Brocksmith said. “You can’t adjourn this meeting without hearing other sides of this issue.”

Ed Brocksmith, co-founder of the advocacy group Save the Illinois River.
Credit Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Commissioner George Stubblefield reluctantly agreed to let Save the Illinois River make its case against right-to-farm, with President Denise Deason-Toyne railing against the idea that including the ‘compelling state interest’ language in any way softens the amendment, and saying Oklahomans already have a right to farm.

“Oklahoma currently has legislation on its books to protect farmers and ranchers from nuisance lawsuits, from outside entities and the boogeyman Mr. Buchanan has indicated is coming to Oklahoma,” Deason-Toyne told the crowd. “And this ‘compelling state interest’ … that is an extremely difficult burden to overcome.”

Ed Brocksmith then took to the mic to excoriate right-to-farm in front of the Farm Bureau’s president.

“The Oklahoma Farm Bureau and the Farm Bureau Federation are the biggest enemies of water quality in America. Do you remember when we were fighting to pass a phosphorous standard for the scenic rivers? Do you remember that the Farm Bureau opposed it tooth and nail?” Brocksmith asked the Commission. “This is not State Question 777. It’s State Question 666! The devil’s in the details.”

Oklahoma voters will decide on the right-to-farm issue in November, and if last week’s meeting was any indication, both sides are ready for a long, mean fight.

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