Addressing Activist Groups Coming onto Farms and Ranches

Brian German Agri-Business, Industry

Dealing with activist groups and protestors near agricultural operations can be a delicate situation, so it is important that farmers and ranchers know their rights if that type of scenario occurs. Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse explained that protestors are allowed to take pictures and protest around an agricultural operation; however, there they are not allowed to physically come onto someone’s property.

activist groups
Activists protesting in Petaluma in June 2019. COURTESY: SONOMA COUNTY FARM BUREAU

“If they do – for the crime of trespassing to occur – they have to be in some way, shape, or form told to leave,” Dirkse noted.  “It can be posted as ‘no trespassing,’ you can simply walk up to them and tell them to leave.  If they don’t, the crime of trespassing has now occurred in which case they can be arrested.”

If trespassing does occur and a law enforcement officer is called out to the operation, it can take some initiative on behalf of the farmer and rancher to ensure there are consequences.  Dirkse noted that in many cases farmers just want the protestors gone and if they comply by leaving the premises, protestors are not held accountable. “The farmer, he’s going to have to sign the citizen’s arrest, he’s going to have to go court ultimately, most likely and testify, so it’s going to take some time.  But ultimately that is how we’re going to put an end to this, or at least nip it in the bud,” Dirkse explained.

Animal activist groups can take a variety of approaches for protesting on or around agricultural operations.  Some groups attempt to infiltrate farms to take video or photos of production animals, while others will break in and steal animals.  While theft or property damage can be a felony in some cases, many other actions that are taken are misdemeanors that do not carry heavy penalties.   Dirkse noted that going on the offensive may help to curb some of the more aggressive activities.

“I would say the most effective way to stop a lot of this is for our ag communities or organizations to sue the animal rights groups,” Dirkse suggested.  “Basically, I think ag needs to go on the counterattack through the civil process and force these groups to get some huge payouts.”

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Brian German

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Ag News Director, AgNet West