RALEIGH — Just hours before Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the Farm Act of 2018, Raleigh’s Bicentennial Mall outside his office was filled with farm families calling for him to sign it.
“We are here to bring awareness about what we see as a tax on the farming community in general,” said David Knight, who traveled from Beulaville with his wife, Celeste, and their four small children.
The Farm Act passed the legislature on June 14, giving Cooper until midnight Monday to take action. He vetoed it, along with six others bills, Monday night. Among other elements, it contains protections for family farmers from nuisance lawsuits, requiring that a farm have a code violation in order for a plaintiff to be awarded monetary damages for smells and other noxious emissions. It also sets a deadline for lawsuits of one year from the time a farm starts operations or makes a major change in operations.
“While agriculture is vital to North Carolina’s economy, so property rights are vital to people’s homes and other businesses,” explained Cooper in a press release posted on his website. “North Carolina’s nuisance laws can help allow generations of families to enjoy their homes and land without fear for their health and safety. … Our laws must balance the needs of businesses versus property rights. Giving one industry special treatment at the expense of its neighbors is unfair.”
Before the veto, lawmakers, Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest joined farm families in 90-degree heat for an Ag Rally with music, prayer and calls for the governor’s signature.
“Here in N.C., we don’t need outside interests coming to our state, big-time lawyers from California, New York and other states, telling us how to grow our crops and raise our animals in our state,” Forest said. “We can do that just fine for ourselves, like we’ve been doing for a number of years.”
“No one is saying you can’t sue if we break the law, they’re just saying you can’t sue for stupid stuff,” said Hank Vond of Duplin County, who was holding a sign that read, “Farmers can feed stupid, but they can’t fix stupid.”
“Nobody wants to take rights away, but I think it’s all a money racket,” Vond continued. “These people have lived there their whole lives, why now? Because some lawyer came along and said, ‘Sign here, you could get some money.’ It’s nonsense.”
The votes on the Farm Bill gave a slim veto-proof majority in the House (65-42). In the Senate, several Democrats from rural areas joined Republicans with a “yay” vote (32-9). The legislature is expected to override all seven vetoes by next week.
“I want to thank the legislators who had the guts to stand up for the future of agriculture in this state,” said Troxler. “This is just the beginning of what we’ve got to do. We’ve got a public out there that has forgotten us. They believe that the food comes from the grocery store, but we know different. We know that we can feed not only N.C. and the nation, but the world if given the opportunity.”
N.C.’s agriculture industry accounts for more than $87 billion in economic impact and employees a fifth of the state workforce, with 730,000 workers.
“Any time you can get this many farmers off the farm on a Monday in June — there’s just a lot going on the farms these days — to come to Raleigh, I just think it’s tremendous that they came here to show they care,” said Andy Curliss.
“Of course, this is all of agriculture here. I’ve seen all crops, all livestock, I’ve seen turkey guys and ladies, forestry, timber. It’s an interesting time for agriculture to be under constant, unrelenting attacks on what you do.”
The importance of the farm industry on the state’s economy was highlighted by the number of legislative leaders that turned out for the rally. In addition to Troxler and Forest, House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Kings Mountain), Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham), Sens. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) and Brent Jackson (R-Sampson), and Reps. John Bell (R-Wayne) and Dixon all addressed the crowd.
“We know there is no farm in this state that cannot be sued out of business, whether they break the law or not,” said Troxler. “We have done nothing wrong. We are feeding the world.”