July 4, 2015

New drought research facility planned for Lincoln

DroughtThe University of Nebraska-Lincoln will become home to the new Drought Risk Management Research Center, as part of the National Drought Mitigation Center.

Program area leader Mark Svoboda says the upgrade will help the facility to better coordinate resources between state and federal agencies to improve drought response.

“Given the cross-cutting nature of drought and how it impacts so many sectors, just becoming more efficient in responding to drought, to researching the questions that people want answers to from the field, including the farmer community and the rancher community,” Svoboda says, “I think that’s a key thing moving forward and how we deal with droughts in this century.”

Svoboda says cutting-edge mitigation techniques and long-term planning data for droughts will benefit Nebraska, the region and the nation. He says the new center will enhance drought prediction, warning systems and preparation.

“Can we research better ways to predict them so we can give people a bit more time for a heads up, which is a difficult task here in the middle of the U.S. as compared to some other areas,” Svoboda says. “It gives our center some flexibility to research those key questions instead of always responding to droughts when you’re in a drought.”

The center has a $2.4-million dollar, three-year grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to set up the program. It should be operational later this summer.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Lawsuit looms over possible cuts to ethanol production mandate

Ethanol PlantCongressional delegations from the nation’s top two ethanol producing states — Nebraska and Iowa — are asking the federal Environmental Protection Agency to hold hearings on proposed changes to the Renewable Fuel Standard in each of their states.

Nebraska Ethanol Board Administrator Todd Sneller says while he would like to have a hearing in Nebraska, he doubts it’ll happen.

“It might be beneficial but it may be difficult to get an accommodation by EPA,” Sneller says. “I think EPA’s view is likely to be that they were in Kansas City, they spent two days there and that should have provided everybody in the Midwest the opportunity to present testimony in person if they were inclined to do that.”

Sneller says the EPA needs to bring its RFS volume levels up to statutory levels, and if officials choose not to do that, he says the issue will likely end up in court.

“There’s a legitimate argument to be made by the biofuels sector that EPA has gone too far in their interpretation, and in fact, there’s no legal basis for their interpretations, therefore, the numbers they derived really shouldn’t stand a test in the courts,” he says, “but the American Petroleum Institute has a completely different view on that.”

Last week, the EPA hearing in Kansas City drew testimony from nearly 300 people. Most supported an increase in the volume levels under the Renewable Fuel Standard, not the cutback the feds propose.

There are 24 ethanol plants in Nebraska that produce a total of more than two-billion gallons each year. Nebraska is the nation’s #2 producer of corn-based ethanol, behind only Iowa.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Gov. Ricketts praises passage of fast-track trade bill

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts praises Congress for passage of Trade Promotion Authority, otherwise known as fast-track trade authority.

“This is all very, very good news for Nebraska to be able to grow our markets, be able to expand our opportunities to create jobs and so I’m pleased that the Senate passed it,” Ricketts tells Kevin Thomas, host of Drive Time Lincoln on Nebraska Radio Network affiliate KLIN.

Ricketts says passage comes at a good time for the state, immediately after Ricketts’ trade mission to Europe.

“One of the reasons we were on the trade mission was to expand our markets overseas, the opportunity for us to be able to send more of our products here in Nebraska to other customers and thereby grow our economy and create more jobs,” Ricketts says. “And, some of the things we were in Europe to discuss were non-tariff trade barriers, some of the issues they have in the EU that block our products from coming in.”

Nebraska exports approximately $9 billion in goods and services annually, $7 billion from the agricultural sector.

Ricketts says increased trade is needed for Nebraska to grow its economy, especially the agricultural sector which relies on trade to foreign countries.

Fischer pleased fast-track trade authority heading to president (AUDIO)

Sen. Deb Fischer

Sen. Deb Fischer

Fast-track trade legislation has passed the Senate and been sent to the president.

It took a second try, but Trade Promotion Authority, better known as fast-track trade legislation, has passed.

The United States Senate voted 60-to-38 to approve TPA. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama for his signature. TPA is a key piece of the president’s economic development package.

TPA gives authority to a presidential administration to negotiate a trade deal with another country. The deal will be submitted to Congress for approval on an up-or-down vote without amendments.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer dismisses concerns fast-track gives a presidential administration too much power in trade deals with other countries.

“Because Congress does set the principles in the negotiation process and Congress will be a part of that process now, because both the House and the Senate have to vote on any trade agreement,” Fischer tells Nebraska Radio Network in a telephone interview.

TPA got hung up in the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago. The main bill squeezed to passage in the House, but failed to move forward when a companion piece went down to defeat, killing the trade legislation package.

House leadership pushed forward a stripped down version, which passed again by a narrow margin.

Fischer sees trade as vital to the Nebraska economy, which exports $9 billion in goods and services each year, $7 billion from the agricultural sector alone.

“I think Nebraskans are fully aware of the very, very positive impact trade has on the state,” Fischer says.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:45]

Gulf “dead zone” still growing due to farm field runoff

Runoff from Midwestern fields is blamed for growing Gulf dead zone.

Runoff from Midwestern fields is blamed for growing Gulf dead zone.

Chemical runoff from Midwestern farmland is still feeding an oxygen-deprived area in the Gulf of Mexico and the so-called “dead zone” isn’t shrinking, despite ongoing efforts.

Scientists and policy-makers have worked for more than a decade on a plan to reduce nutrient runoff from farm fields, which endangers marine life in the Gulf.

This year, researchers predict the dead zone will have grown to the size of Connecticut.

Louisiana State University professor Gene Turner says that means the voluntary guidelines established almost 15 years ago to clean up the Mississippi and Missouri rivers aren’t working.

Turner says, “Lurking in the background is, well, under what conditions would the nutrients be reduced and can we come up with better voluntary plans or are we going to have to come up with a punitive process?”

It took some 200 years of farming to create the dead zone situation and Turner says reversing the trend may also take decades.

“There’s no evidence that there’s been any reduction in the hypoxic zone size or the amount of nutrients coming down the river,” he says.

On the plus side, Turner says promising research does offer profitable ways for farmers to keep the nutrients they need on the land and out of the waterways.