Rights are causing a lot of controversy today: the right to own a gun, the right to marry your same sex partner, the right to end the life of an unborn child or terminally ill adult. These and many other rights are making headlines, sparking passionate debate and even causing violence in our society. Our nation’s founding fathers also were concerned about rights. They were so worried about certain rights being taken away from citizens by their government, that they created the Bill of Rights. Unfortunately, our founders never imagined in their wildest dreams some of the rights being challenged today. For example, it would have been inconceivable to them that someone would question the right to farm or hunt. Yet those two activities are being challenged in court and at the ballot box.
The Obert family has been farming in Gibson County since 1830. It wasn’t until 2006 that they decided to expand their dairy operation for estate planning and tax purposes. They increased the number of cows and added new facilities and equipment on farm field right next door to their historical farm, much to their longtime neighbors’ displeasure. As Hoosier Ag Today reported last week, Todd Janzen from Plews Shadley Racher & Braun, the lead attorney in the case for Obert’s Legacy Dairy, said, “What happened was that some neighbors, who were okay with living next to a 100 cow farm, were not okay with living next to a 760 cow farm. So they filed suit alleging nuisance, saying they could smell the new, modern farm. They could smell the odor from both the silage and the manure.” Janzen said the farm used Indiana’s Right to Farm law as a defense, “The Obert’s dairy was in a proper agricultural location and had been in existence for more than one year in that locale, so the nuisance claim didn’t hold up in court.” The Gibson County court ruled in favor of the dairy farm, but the case was appealed. Janzen reported that, “We were fortunate enough to get a ruling from the Indiana Court of Appeals affirming the Trial Court’s judgment in favor of Obert’s Legacy Dairy.” Indiana’s Right to farm Law withstood another challenge.
Many in agriculture feel these Right to Farm laws, common in many states, are not strong enough. Given the kind of bizarre rulings handed down by some courts, trusting the right to farm to the court system is worrisome. As a result, efforts are underway in Indiana and several other states to place the right to farm into state constitutions. Such an effort is underway in Indiana and should be on the ballot in 2014. Other states have already adopted these amendments to their constitutions or are in the process of adopting them. In addition, the Indiana proposal also includes the right to hunt.
Just to the north of the Hoosier State, the battle has been joined on whether hunting is a right. Michigan has a state agency that regulates hunting in the state. But the radical animal activist group HSUS wants to change that. Protect the Harvest reports that HSUS has spent $240,000 trying to stop the proposed management of the gray wolf population in the Upper Peninsula with hunting. Hunters and conservationists have responded with legislation, SB289, which reads, “The legislature declares that hunting, fishing, and the taking of game are a valued part of the cultural heritage of this state and should be forever preserved. The legislature further declares that these activities play an important part in the state’s economy and in the conservation, preservation, and management of the state’s natural resources.” So far, the legislation looks to be on track to be adopted.
HSUS is also at work in Ohio. Recently it formed the Ohio Agriculture Council in an effort to “advance humane and sustainable agricultural practices in Ohio.” The group will also showcase those farmers who are good stewards of their animals and the land. It says the council members will advise HSUS on issues affecting Ohio’s family farmers. The Ohio Farm Bureau says this tactic is just another ploy to make HSUS look farmer-friendly, “It appears HSUS’s plan intentionally excludes the majority of farmers and consumers who have differing views on food and farming. Both producers and consumers should have multiple choices in how food is grown and raised.”
So, as you can see, defending the rights to farm and hunt is a continuous effort. Our laws must be strong and clear, and there must be united support to repel the well-funded and well-organized attacks on farming and hunting. We must be vigilant in our efforts and strong in our convictions. Otherwise we could wake up one morning and find it is against the law to go to the field or to pick up a gun and head to the woods.
By Gary Truitt