Fact And Fiction: Are The North Dakota Grain Growers In A “sinister” Effort To Promote Corn, Undermine Conservation?


I was fascinated to read Frank Carroll, a Rapid City Journal columnist, who this week took aim at the North Dakota Grain Growers. Carroll talks about a “sinister fight” where “360 million tons of corn contend for center stage.”

“In our rush to make fuel from our food, we inadvertently caused farmers to drain the famous prairie potholes where ducks and other birds have landed for millennia on their way here and there. Farmers are draining the water to make way for corn,” Carroll writes.

Carroll, a Forestry consultant, says the Ducks Unlimited Inc. organization is buying conservation easements on private farmland in South Dakota, and  they can’t get easements, they’re buying the land outright.” DU has $7 million for the purpose in South Dakota this year, Carroll says.

In his column, Carroll reports that “organizations like the North Dakota Grain Growers Association are working hard down low, behind the scenes to make conservation easements illegal,” and are attacking the Natural Resources Conservation Service, criticizing the agency for using “DU funding to pay for three NRCS positions.” Attacks on the NRCS are “way out of line” and “willing sellers and buyers should be able to establish conservation easements without interference.” And Carroll adds: “If there’s anything wrong here, it’s the corn lobby going after property rights in state legislatures and in the press.”

I don’t know what else in the Carroll column might be wrong, but I checked with the Grain Growers and Brad Thykeson, a recent past president and farmer from Portland, N.D., and he confirmed my recollection that  the group  has never pushed for the elimination of conservation easements.

Perhaps Carroll refers to the Grain Growers being against DU employees working in NRCS offices. The Grain Growers say DU workers are a political action group and don’t have any place in a federal office that has sensitive farm information.

The Grain Growers also are against Measure 5, a proposal promoted by DU and others that would constitutionally mandate the “allocation” of an estimated  $150 million a year on not-yet-approved programs. The Grain Growers says that kind of required spending or allocation of money into a trust fund is excessive, compared to the size of the Conservation Reserve Program, a federal program that has spent up to $188 million annually in the state and now spends $70 million. Thykeson say smaller state programs with the same purpose have struggled to spend even a fraction of the amount that would come into this proposed program.

The North Dakota Grain Growers are “not all about corn” — or even anything about corn, as Mr. Carroll might be surprised to learn. The group is about “small grains” — wheat and barley.

I don’t know about DU’s land purchase possibilities in South Dakota, but I know that a North Dakota state law dating to 1932 prevents corporations (even well-meaning non-profit organizations advocating for conservation) from owning and controlling farmland. South Dakota exempts nonprofit corporations from anti-corporate farming restrictions.  North Dakota makes no such exemption.