With the presidential election headlining this year, it can be easy to overlook other issues on the ballot. For farmers in Oklahoma, the election is about far more than who sits in the Oval Office.
Up for a vote in Oklahoma is State Question 777 aka the “Right to Farm” measure. The measure would add farmer’s rights to Article II of the Oklahoma Constitution including the right to make use of agricultural technology, livestock procedures and ranching practices.
“The thing I find most important is the protection 777 would offer to ALL farmers and ranchers, regardless of size or method of production, from outside animal rights groups,” said Susan Gebhart, a fourth-generation Oklahoma cattle rancher. “If you fall in line with the "vote no" folks you'll be leaving farmers and ranchers, from the smallest backyard chicken coop to the largest cattle herd unprotected… A friend who is an attorney recently remarked that 777 is a shield for agriculture not a sword for change and I think that's true.”
The bill would protect farmers’ right to participate in agriculture without interference from the state government.
“If SQ777 does not pass, I feel there will be major changes in the near future that will be a change for the worse,” said Reighly Blakley, a sixth-generation Oklahoma farmer.
While puppy mills and cock fighting have been referenced by opposition to the bill, puppies are not a part of this bill due to the fact that they aren’t classified as “livestock” in Oklahoma law. The Commercial Pet Breeders program is responsible to licensing and regulating dogs and cats used for breeding in the state of Oklahoma.
There are also combatants who reference the potential negative impact on the environment. However, the clean water act and Waters of the United States preempt state law, as well as the fact that farmers are committed to the sustainability of their land and water.
“Those of us involved in agriculture have a long-standing vested interest in being good stewards of the land which involves protection of natural resources which are integral to our business and represent family responsibilities handed down from one generation to the next,” Gebhart said.
Both North Dakota and Missouri have enacted state constitutional provisions to protect agricultural practices in recent years. Read more about SQ777 here.