February 8, 2016

Last packer hog ownership ban falls; Nebraska joins other states

Sen. Schilz (seated) talks with Sen. Johnson during legislative debate on LB 176.

Sen. Schilz (seated) talks with Sen. Johnson during legislative debate on LB 176.

A last-minute filibuster cannot stop a measure that lifts the ban on meatpackers owning hogs in Nebraska from passing in the legislature.

LB 176 clears the Unicameral easily on a 34-to-14 vote.

But, not until supporters overcame a rare, final-reading filibuster against the bill. Opponents of the measure held up the vote for two hours until supporters called for a cloture vote and, by the same 34-14 margin, ended the filibuster.

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo told colleagues during legislative floor debate packer ownership will not lead to the end of the independent hog producer.

“In Iowa, a state without a ban, an average of 60%, depending on the plants, of the hogs slaughtered are purchased from independent pork producers,” Johnson stated. “It’s still alive in Iowa even though that’s the one we’ve been compared to.”

The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, insisted that the state’s ban on packer ownership, the last in the country, keeps Nebraska hog production from growing.

“Last one of 49, folks. Things don’t usually move the other way,” Schilz said. “Quit worrying about trying to legislate nostalgia and let’s understand what 21st agriculture is and how we can adapt and be successful in the new world.”

A few rural lawmakers in the Unicameral were not convinced.

Sen. Lydia Brasch of Bancroft urged colleagues to consider their vote carefully.

“Because this is a game changer and this is not a game. This is very serious,” Brasch said, alluding to other comments by opponents that it would end independent hog production in Nebraska, shifting to corporate hog production.

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids dismissed claims that lifting the ban will help young farmers and improve the rural economy.

“What I do know for sure in LB 176 is that preference and the emphasis totally is given for the benefit of the packer,” Sullivan said. “That’s who wants this legislation. That’s who wants to control more of the market and, thereby, controlling the profit.”

The filibuster failed, clearing the way for the approval of the bill.

Governor’s first property tax relief bill reaches legislature

Sen. Kate Sullivan

Sen. Kate Sullivan

The first of two bills targeting property tax relief is scheduled to be heard today in the Unicameral.

Governor Pete Ricketts’ proposals are being carried by Senators Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids and Mike Gloor of Grand Island.

Senator Sullivan says the measure, LB 958, has a few primary areas of focus.

“It controls growth in local spending, just like we’re doing at the state level,” Sullivan says. “It also gives taxpayers a greater voice in how local government levies their taxes and budgets their tax dollars. In many cases, if they want to go beyond the limitations that we’re setting, take it to a vote of the people.”

Sen. Mike Gloor

Sen. Mike Gloor

Senator Gloor says the legislation will help with limiting spending and cap ag land valuations at three-percent per year.

“This tax package is an effort to tighten up spending limits on local government,” Gloor says. “It’s important to note, it doesn’t remove funding mechanism for local governments but does tighten up spending limits, removing exemptions and placing them under the levy lid, as an example.”

Both the Nebraska Farm Bureau and Cattlemen’s Association support the bills. Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says the property tax relief is badly needed.

“There’s a huge imbalance out there that has been partially created by increased land values,” Nelson says, “and now today, we’re faced with significant declines in farm prices across the board, in the grains and in the livestock as well.”

The senators say neither of the property tax bills will reduce education spending.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


USDA to grant millions for wetlands mitigation banks

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

US Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is announcing that $9-million is available for farmers in Nebraska and elsewhere to set up agriculture-only Wetlands Mitigation Banks.

Vilsack says the mitigation banks that exist now give an advantage to big developers over individual farmers.

“Several states have begun the process of establishing agriculture-only mitigation banks that are available only to producers. Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota are good examples,” Vilsack said.

The mitigation banks can be a “helpful tool” for farmers, according to the ag secretary.

“Producers can purchase credits generated from previously drained wetlands, which are restored and approved for wetland mitigation, to offset the loss of benefits where a producer is installing new drainage in a wetland,” Vilsack said.

The wetland mitigation banks program is funded through money authorized by Congress through the 2014 Farm Bill.

“There are a number of states that need to be targeted; Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Georgia, Nebraska, Michigan, Virginia and Missouri are areas where there is a great need for the mitigation banks,” Vilsack said.

The banks can be set up by states, tribes, local governments or other interested third-parties and will be overseen by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Cattlemen want to put “right to farm” law into Nebraska’s constitution

Cattle - HerefordThere’s now a state law that spells out the right to farm and ranch in Nebraska but an effort is underway to include that law in the state constitution.

Laura Field, legislative director for the Nebraska Cattlemen, says that’s one of four bills the association is making a priority this legislative session.

“In the November general election, the voters would vote on that question,” Field says. “It would say that the legislature could not pass any legislation that would prohibit someone’s right to farm and ranch in the state. Other states have done it recently, Missouri and North Dakota, and Oklahoma voters will be facing that question this fall.”

Field says the measure will be heard in the Unicameral’s Agriculture Committee next month. It will then need at least 30 votes before the full legislature to put the measure to a vote of the people. She says the idea came about due to pressure from activist groups.

“We’ve heard a lot of discussion around genetically-modified organism issues,” Field says, “and a whole lot of the different movements that have really started to hinder the activities that go on on farms and ranches as people try to do the best they can to feed the world.”

She says another legislative priority is the clarification of provisions related to farm implements on state highways.

“It more clearly defines which vehicles fall under this category,” Field says, “and for those vehicles that meet the definition in the rules of the road statute, they would be exempt from weight restrictions on Nebraska roads and highways, other than bridges or interstates, which are regulated in other parts of our statute.”

The goal is to make it very clear to people who drive those farm vehicles — and to law enforcement — who can and can’t be on the road and with what kind of load.

The association’s final two legislative priorities deal with property tax relief and support for the governor’s plan to cap the increase on ag valuations to 3% per year.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


How to grow high-tech jobs a focus of Governor’s Ag Conference

Irrigation(Farm_Bureau)Nebraska farmers, ranchers and anyone interested in the state’s agriculture industry are invited to this year’s Governor’s Ag Conference.

“I think Nebraska agriculture loves the opportunity to gather together and learn about cutting edge issues and some of the policy considerations that affect their daily lives,” State Ag Director Greg Ibach says about the event in its 28th year. “This will prove a great opportunity to do that.”

The conference includes discussions on strategic planning, sustainability and new consumer trends.

Ibach says a key theme will be “grow Nebraska.”

“We’ll really focus on how we can look at biotechnology and bioscience opportunities here in Nebraska to maybe bring in the next round of jobs and job growth in Nebraska,” he says.

The Governor’s Ag Conference is March 2nd and 3rd in Kearney.

More information and registration is available here.