December 21, 2014

Nebraska students return from long-distance exchange program

thERS4MHV5Now, this is an exchange program.

Three Nebraska high school students have returned after traveling to Taiwan.

York High School Senior Grant Suddarth says they experienced lots of differences between the United States and Taiwan.

“The biggest take away I got was how welcoming and sincere and hospitable the citizens of Taiwan were,” Suddarth tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX. “You’d think that we’d be coming into a foreign country and we wouldn’t be quite accepted or looked at a little strangely and stuff, but it was like I was a celebrity while we were there.”

The students participated in an exchange program between the Nebraska Department of Agriculture and the National Taichung Agricultural Senior High School.

Suddarth, along with Collin Thompson from Eustis and Jacob Wilkins from Ainsworth, toured local farms, toured research facilities, and enjoyed sightseeing.

Suddarth says the agriculture practiced in Taiwan surprised him.

“They grow different crops, such as ginger, pineapples, tea. And, also, their culture is a little different,” according to Suddarth. “The food, not much the same. They do have American food like McDonalds over in Taiwan, but the food that they gave us most of the time was a lot different; rice at most every meal.”

The three will make a presentation on their trip during the 2015 Nebraska Agricultural Youth Institute in Lincoln, where they first learned of the exchange program.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this story.

Ethanol worries rise as gas prices fall

th3WIAPNIGTwo years ago the price at the pump hit $5 in some areas of the country.  This week there are 13 states that sell gas for under $2 a gallon.

The only ones not pleased with the drop right now are ethanol producers.

U-S Department of Agriculture Chief Economist Joe Glauber says ethanol competes with gasoline and is a big trader in world markets.

Glauber says, “Ethanol has been very competitive in world markets.  Last month we actually had a little bit there when ethanol was trading higher than gasoline.  We haven’t seen that in several years.”

Glauber is worried producers may have a difficult time finding buyers.  This could also cause a snowball effect.  According to the Nebraska Ethanol Board, there are 24 ethanol plants in Nebraska that produce over two billion gallons of product each year.  They use more than 700 million bushels of grain to produce that ethanol and farmers rely on that business.

 

Comment period on conservation program changes nears

The U-S Department of Agriculture is proposing changes to their Conservation Stewardship Program and Nebraska farmers have a chance to comment on those suggestions. Mark Rose is with the Natural Resources Conservation Service and a Farm Bill team leader and says more will be offered to producers.

Rose says, “Other lands that can be enrolled include lands that are protected by an easement under the former Farm and Ranch Land Easement protection program which is now called the Agland Easement Program.”

Rose says the public comments will be used to finalize the interim final rule. Those wanting to comment can log on to regulations.gov or mail a response to Public Comments Processing, Attn: Docket No. NRCS-2014-0008, Regulatory and Agency Policy Team, Strategic Planning and Accountability, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Building 1-1112D, Beltsville, MD 20705.

The deadline to comment is January 5, 2015.

Nebraska Farmers Union backs ACA, Medicaid expansion

logo[1]A Nebraska farm group insists the federal health insurance law greatly benefits rural Nebraska and backs expansion of Medicaid as a benefit to farm families.

Nebraska Farmers Union president John Hansen says the law met a need in agricultural communities.

“We have to remember where we started here,” Hansen tells Ken Anderson with Brownfield Ag News, “The economic impact of major medical events for folks in rural Nebraska who either couldn’t afford health insurance or, in a lot of cases, were not eligible for health insurance by virtue of a pre-existing condition was the number one reason for farm bankruptcies.”

Hansen does say the Affordable Care Act remains a work in progress.

He says he wishes the focus of the state’s politicians would be how to improve the law, rather than partisan opposition to it.

“I wish that the focus of our elected public officials was on how to make it work better rather than just take hard political lines and polarize it and politicize it,” Hansen says.

On the state level, Nebraska Farmers Union supports the expansion of Medicaid, which opponents have successfully prevented from moving forward in the Unicameral.

Hansen says rural Nebraska would benefit the most from Medicaid expansion, which he says is fiscally sound for the state.

“If we want to lower our property taxes, we need to look at where we can tighten our belt at the state level and when you can come up with a 90% federal cost share and reduce our total expenditures as well as doing right by our neighbors, it looks like Medicaid expansion is not only the right thing to do, but it’s the fiscally sound thing to do,” according to Hansen.

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

Nebraska Farm Bureau declares state tax system broken

HarvestThe Nebraska Farm Bureau has issued a challenge for the new governor and the new legislature: reform the state tax system.

Farm Bureau Vice President Mark McHargue of Central City says the property tax is becoming an increasingly heavy burden for farmers.

“The effect on the bottom line for our members is growing, it’s substantial,” McHargue tells Ken Anderson with Brownfield Ag News. “For some of our ranchers, it’s the biggest check that they write in their operation in a given year.”

The Farm Bureau has declared the state tax structure and school funding system broken. It says a fix is needed.

McHargue says the time for change is right, because a new governor and a new legislature take office next month.

“We are optimistic that we really have a chance here maybe that we haven’t had for a lot of years to actually get some meaningful reform done,” McHargue says. “It’s not going to happen in one year. It’s still going to be a long-term process. But I think the initial steps that we need to take are real positive that we can get that done this year.”

According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau, though farmers and ranchers make up only about three percent of the state population, they pay about a quarter of the property tax collected by the state.

The Farm Bureau says the state must restructure its tax system to find a better balance to fund local obligations, including schools.

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