April 18, 2014

Pest spotted in Colorado may endanger Nebraska walnut trees

Walnut Twig Beetle

Walnut Twig Beetle

While Nebraskans are being warned about the emerald ash borer that destroys ash trees, yet another invading insect is causing a stir as it could threaten our walnut trees.

Entomologist Robin Pruisner says a pest called the walnut twig beetle is now confirmed in neighboring Colorado, but it hasn’t yet been spotted in Nebraska.

“Research is ongoing on how to protect walnut trees,” Pruisner says. “We just don’t have a lot of answers. This is even newer than the emerald ash borer at this point in time.”

The walnut twig beetle carries what’s known as “thousand canker disease,” which is deadly to black walnut trees. There’s been no way found to reverse the disease or to kill the beetle without also killing the trees.

“The geosmithia pathogen is actually very common in our environment and this is just kind of a new cousin of that,” Pruisner says. “The walnut twig beetle is native to the southwest United States and down into Mexico.”

For many years, the beetle was only found in states like Arizona, California and New Mexico. Now, the rice grain-sized pest is being found well beyond the southwest, in states as far away as Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Tennessee — and next-door to Nebraska in Colorado.

Iowa is one of the nation’s largest producers of black walnut, prized for its grain and color, and Pruisner suspects the insects are moving such great distances because people are enabling them to hitch long rides, perhaps right through Nebraska on Interstate 80.

“Aunt Sally out in Colorado has a walnut tree that dies in her backyard but Cousin Ed in Iowa would like to make a coffee table out of it,” Pruisner says. “This is the kind of thing that people throw in the back of their truck and they drive to Iowa and they could be inadvertently bringing along with it thousand canker of walnut.”

One way to stop the spread is to only use local firewood in campfires.



Nebraska Beef Council names winner in best burger contest

For a second time, Stella’s Bar & Grill in Bellevue takes top honors in the Nebraska Beef Council’s “Nebraska’s Best Burger” contest. Director of Marketing Adam Wegner says Stella’s Cheeseburger received the most on-line votes and rave reviews from the panel of judges. More than 200 restaurants were nominated this year and judges visited the top five.

Union Bar in Gering was the first runner-up followed by the Peppermill Restaurant in Valentine and the Cellar Bar & Grill in Kearney – who tied for third. Sin City Grill in Grand Island rounded out the top five.

Stella’s Bar & Grill also won the competition in 2012. They will receive a plaque and will be featured in May as part of Nebraska Beef Month.

Water sustainability bill signed into law by Gov. Heineman (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

A bill designed to maintain Nebraska’s greatest natural resource, its water, has been signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Heineman signed into law LB 1098, the water sustainability bill, which he says should insure that Nebraska has the water it needs both for agricultural and city uses for years to come.

“This is a difficult and challenging issue and this legislation is aimed at planning for better future water use in our state,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference. “We’ll also be expanding the Natural Resources Commission from 16 members to 27 members. The commission will include a diversity of water users in our state, including ground water and surface water irrigators, public power districts, and wildlife conservation groups as well as others involved in agriculture.”

The bill was an outgrowth of the work of the Water Sustainability Task Force which worked through the second half of last year.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, a Republican candidate for governor, sponsored the bill that created the task force a year ago and, this year, sponsored the legislation that grew from its work.

“And I believe that 1098 will be remembered as a bill that helped make water sustainability a possibility for generations to come,” Carlson says.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the bill will spur basin-wide planning for both groundwater and surface irrigation for the vast Republican River Basin.

“From the Colorado line all the way down to almost Superior, Nebraska; that’s a huge area in this state. And it will allow everybody to sit down at the same table and work out a solution,” Christensen says.

The law aims to address water management, water quality, and flood control issues. It also creates the Water Sustainability Fund.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds a news conference to sign LB 1098. [8 min.]

Southwestern Nebraska declared disaster area due to lingering drought (AUDIO)

Rain continues to come in short supply in portions of Nebraska, prompting the federal government to declare eight southwestern counties disaster areas due to the lingering drought.

Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger announces Keith, Perkins, Lincoln, Chase, Hayes, Frontier, Hitchcock, and Red Willow have been declared disaster areas.

“It reflects the on-going multi-year drought conditions that we have in that entire region,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network.

While much of Nebraska has received sufficient rainfall to official declare an end to the drought, drought conditions enter their third year in southwestern Nebraska.

The dry conditions affect not just grain producers, but also cattle grazing.

Until more rain falls in southwestern Nebraska, the USDA will offer emergency loans to producers.

“I think the question is, going forward, are we going to moderate and maybe decrease that drought area in Nebraska or are we going to continue right on into the summer months,” according to Steinkruger.

The Secretary of Agriculture declared the eight counties disaster areas based on the U.S. Drought Monitor drought intensity value, which registers the area as in extreme drought.

Producers in 10 counties contiguous to the eight in the declaration are eligible for certain disaster assistance.

Producers can contact the local FSA Service Center for more information on what assistance might be available.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]


Higher farmland valuations come on heels of disappointing legislative session

Assessment of agricultural land continues to rise, adding to the disappointment farm groups are expressing about the legislative session.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue’s Property Assessment Division reports the valuation of farmland for tax purposes rose nearly 30% between 2013 and 2014.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says the assessment report comes on the heels of a legislative session that talked a lot about reducing property taxes for farmers, but did little.

“We really thought this was going to be the year, because we had had the Tax Modernization Committee meetings throughout the state,” Nelson tells Brownfield Ag News. “They had heard the message loud and clear that property taxes are too high and, not only are they too high, but the balance between property tax, income tax, and sales tax was out of line.”

Legislators did add $25 million to the $115 million Property Tax Credit Fund. There were not enough votes to add another $20 million to the fund when an amendment to the state budget was proposed during floor debate.

A proposal to drop the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska from the current 75% of its market value to 65% of its market value failed to gain any traction in the legislative session.

Nelson says too much of the tax burden falls on the shoulders of Nebraska farm families.

“Three percent of Nebraskans, farmers and ranchers, pay 25% of the property tax in the state. So, there’s not a balance there and we need to address that issue. We believe that there was support to do that, a lot of talk about that, good support from the governor,” according to Nelson. “Part of the disappointment is that it seemed like things had lined up that we could get something done.”

Nelson says that with the latest increase, the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska has doubled since 2009. The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates statewide property taxes paid by farm families will near $1 billion next year, which would rank third highest in the United States.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue, Property Assessment Division reports that, overall, the assessed valuation of agricultural land statewide rose 29.12%. The increase varies significantly from county to county. The assessed valuation of farmland in Chase County, located along the Colorado border, grew 58.48%. In Clay County, farmland values jumped 49.95%; in Kearney County, farmland values rose 49.91%. Clay County is located toward the southeastern part of the state. Kearney County is located in south-central Nebraska, not far from the Kansas border.

Ken Anderson, Brownfield Ag News, contributed to this story.