April 18, 2014

FFA membership in Nebraska sets new record high

FFAFuture farmers from across the state are in Lincoln for the annual Nebraska State FFA Convention, which wraps up today.

Matt Kreifels, the state director of agricultural education, says a record number of FFA members are attending this year’s convention — around 38-hundred.

“We see the state FFA convention as a celebration of all our members across the state, their hard work and development back at home,” Kreifels says. “They’ve been working hard to prepare for the competitive events and the recognition they’ll be receiving.”

Not only is there a record number of students at this year’s event, he says membership in the FFA organization is also up this year, both nationwide and in Nebraska.

Kreifels says, “There’s a record number of FFA members across the state, 7,100-plus members in Nebraska, and we’ve never had numbers of that nature in this state.”

Activities are scheduled on the East Campus of UNL, at the Cornhusker Hotel and at Southeast Community College.

He says a highlight of the convention is the evening ceremonies held at Pershing Auditorium when individuals, organizations and chapters are recognized for their efforts during the past year.

By Dave Niedfeldt, KWBE, Beatrice

Livestock disaster assistance sign up starts Tuesday

A portion of the Farm Bill regarding livestock loss disaster assistance that expired of 2011 was reinstated in the latest bill. Nebraska U-S Senator Mike Johanns this long awaited disaster assistance has finally arrived for livestock producers who experienced losses during the long drought or severe weather. The U-S Department of Agriculture will start signing up producers in the disaster assistance program on Tuesday, April 15th.

Those who experienced losses during the lapse of time can reach out to their Farm Service Agency Office. The assistance is retroactive.

Feds promise to improve predictions of drought

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

As many Nebraska farmers are beginning the spring planting process, U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency and others in the federal government are looking to improve drought forecasts.

“There’s not a whole lot you can do about drought,” Vilsack says. “What you can do is forecast it more effectively and in a more timely way, so we put together a ‘Drought Resiliency Task Force’ at the federal level. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) and the USDA are combining and leading this effort and we are actually working on better forecasting models.”

The latest forecast from the federal government suggests the drought in California and the southwest United States will continue, while pockets of the Midwest, including parts of Nebraska, are predicted to emerge from drought this spring.

After the devastating drought of 2012 which lingered in many areas in 2013, Vilsack says his agency is financing research into how farmers can better use the water that is available.

“We’ve just recently announced a $30 million challenge grant to universities, five years of grant monies to take a look at water and how we might be able to utilize water more efficiently and effectively in agricultural production, so we’ll obviously get benefits from that,” Vilsack says. “We have a series of smaller grants under our Conservation Grant Program that’s really focused on looking at how forage can be improved, how irrigation systems can be improved.”

The USDA is also establishing “Climate Change Hubs” in seven locations around the country,  “which is going to evaluate the vulnerabilities, and create mitigation and adaption strategies, and then we have a series of smaller programs,” Vilsack says. The closest hub to Nebraska will be in Ames, Iowa.

Passage of the new Farm Bill in January also re-activated disaster programs for livestock producers that had lapsed last fall.

Ag expert: Boom years may be coming to an end for farmers

corn harvest 1An agricultural economist says Nebraska’s corn and soybean producers need to prepare for tougher economic times ahead.

Mike Boehlje, at Purdue University, says he does not expect the setback to be as severe as it was during the Farm Crisis of the 1980s, but he assures, a fall is coming from the flush years farmers have been enjoying.

“In contrast to the 1980s as well as the 1930s where we had busts after the booms, we think we’re going to have a soft landing off of this one,” Boehlje says. “It doesn’t mean that farmers aren’t going to have to adjust to a different kind of business climate. We’ve had record incomes set and now the USDA’s numbers are showing that we’re going to be down about 30% in terms of income.”

Boehlje says farmers tend to focus too much on the prices they get for their crops.

“What I tell farmers is, the first and most important marketing decision you make is what you pay for your inputs, it’s not what you sell your product for,” Boehlje says. “You’ve got control over what you pay for your inputs. You don’t have nearly as much control of what you sell your products for. Farmers ought to spend a lot of time thinking now about negotiating the right prices for their inputs.”

He says the toughest of those input prices to negotiate is likely the rental agreement.

Boehlje says farmers should begin the conversation now with landowners to adjust for lower rent for 2015. He describes the relationship between the farmer and his lender as “essential and critical.”

“The conversation with the lender the last four or five years has been more, ‘How’s the family, how’s the kids, how ’bout that football game, and oh, yeah, you want money? Here, just sign the papers,’” Boehlje says. “It’s not going to be that way this next four or five years. There’s going to be tougher conversations asking for more documentation.”

Boehlje says farmers can add to their bottom line by looking for ways to meet specific needs of some of the processors to whom they sell grain.

By Dan Skelton, KICD, Spencer


Effort to place historic horse racing on November ballot fails

An effort to have Nebraska voters decide the issue of historic horse races has fallen short.

The Unicameral initially voted 29-19-1 on LR 41, which would have placed the constitutional amendment on the November ballot. It would have asked voters to approve placing video machines at authorized horse racing tracks in the state. The machines would run past horse races on which bets could be placed. Enough of the races’ identity would be obscured so bettors wouldn’t know the outcome.

After seeing the initial outcome, Sen. Scott Lautenbaugh of Omaha, the sponsor of LR 41, changed his vote to “not voting” so he could move to reconsider the vote later. He needs 30 votes to place the issue on the ballot.

Lautenbaugh began debate on the resolution by stating historic horse racing could help the ailing live horse racing industry.

“What it’s designed to do is put on the ballot the question of authorizing historic horse racing machines at licensed tracks, and nowhere else,” Lautenbaugh stated. “And we’ve discussed this time and time again for years, literally.”

Lautenbaugh told colleagues the money historic horse racing could bring in would help finance a horse racing industry that has been struggling to remain profitable.

“Because that’s what this is all about; increasing purses, increasing racing days, providing increased revenue which would plow back into the industry,” according to Lautenbaugh. “And this is an industry worth keeping in Nebraska.”

Sen. Jerry Johnson of Wahoo said he opposed historic horse racing, but would not stand in the way of taking the issue to the ballot.

“I will support this from the standpoint of taking it out to the citizens to again vote on gambling,” Johnson said. “If people ask me about it, I will say that I’m not supportive of gambling and that’s going to be my position on that. So, again, I’m probably not going to pay any money to campaign against it, but I will not speak for gambling out in the public.”

Most of the debate supported historic horse racing, though one senator cast doubt on whether the video machines would generate enough money to save the horse racing industry.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala argued that the legislature should let the voters decide the issue.

“Because, quite honestly, they are voting everyday with their dollars going out of this state,” Schilz said. “There’s no two ways about it. They’re driving across the border, they’re driving to Colorado, they’re driving to South Dakota, they’re going to Kansas.”

In 2012, state lawmakers fell one vote short of overriding Gov. Dave Heineman’s veto of the historic horse racing bill.