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What Oklahoma Farmers Think About The Right-to-Farm Issue In Oklahoma

Dustin Green, owner of 10 Acre Woods farm near Norman, feeds a few of his 400 or so chickens.
Dustin Green, owner of 10 Acre Woods farm near Norman, feeds a few of his 400 or so chickens.
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Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Dustin Green, owner of 10 Acre Woods farm near Norman, feeds a few of his 400 or so chickens.

The right-to-farm bill survived Oklahoma’s legislative process last week. That means voters will have a chance to decide next year whether to give farmers and ranchers broad protections against future state laws that might interfere with their operations.

But opponents say right-to-farm is a license that allows big ag to harm animals and the environment. But where do actual Oklahoma farmers and ranchers stand on the issue?

StateImpact randomly knocked on current and former farmers’ and ranchers’ doors east of Norman to find out.

“I don’t have an opinion. I don’t know anything about it. Do you know anything about it?” Debbie Downey asked her son, Dustin. “I know absolutely nothing about it,” Dustin replied.

The people we met with unannounced didn’t know much about right-to-farm. At the Norman Farmers Market there was more awareness of the issue, but few strong opinions about it.

“I’ve heard a little of the opposition, but I haven’t actually read the bill myself,” says Justin Reed, owner of JR Farms and one of the market’s vendors.  “And so, a lot of times I notice with these bills it will say one thing, but mean something else.”

StateImpact has reported about how right-to-farm is really a fight between the Humane Society of the United States, which pushes for stronger animal welfare laws, and Farm Bureaus, which push against those kinds of laws. Some small farmers passionately oppose it, like Dustin Green, who owns a 10-acre farm near Norman with about 400 chickens.

“See, this is the difference between big ag and real farmers,” Green says. “Farming in the ’50s was farmers who went and they sold their stuff at the co-op, their grains, their animals. But now everything’s mass-produced. And when you start mass-producing, you lose accountability.

Green says he has no affiliation with the Human Society at all, but said it’s important to have organizations that hold farmers accountable for animal welfare and ethical farming practices.

“They shouldn’t be locked in cages. They shouldn’t be locked in barns,” he says.

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Logan Layden / StateImpact Oklahoma

Coleen Thornton with "Arnie" on her farm near Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Sheep, ducks, llamas, hogs and cattle all mingle on Coleen Thornton’s 60-acre farm down a maze of gravel roads near Tahlequah. Thornton sees both sides of right-to-farm.

“Personally, I’m not sure we need an amendment to our constitution, but I do understand the question of: Do we want someone from out of state telling us how we do business?” Thornton says.

Travis Schnaithman, whose family’s owns a 5,000-acre farm near Garber adamantly endorses right-to-farm, and points to a Humane Society-backed law in California.

“Basically, they put rules and regulations on how animals are housed. They’ve got to be in enriched crates, enriched pens,” Schnaithman says. “What it’s done is decrease that production. Those farmers out there can’t compete on a national scale with other states that don’t have those rules and regulations.”

There seems to be a trend in the sampling of farmers StateImpact interviewed: The bigger the farm, the more likely the farmer is to be a right-to-farm supporter.

Copyright 2021 StateImpact Oklahoma. To see more, visit StateImpact Oklahoma.

Coleen Thornton with "Arnie" on her farm near Tahlequah, Oklahoma.
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Coleen Thornton with "Arnie" on her farm near Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Logan Layden