February 10, 2016

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.

Farm Bureau wants schools to rely less on property taxes

th[9]Nebraska Farm Bureau officials want state lawmakers to work toward reducing school funding’s reliance on the property tax.

Farm Bureau senior economist Jay Rempe says the only way to truly reduce property taxes in Nebraska is to reduce how much school district budgets rely on property taxes. The Farm Bureau proposes capping the amount of property taxes school districts collect at 40% of their general fund expenditures.

“Right now, as a state, we’re somewhere around 55-57%,” Rempe tells Brownfield Ag News. “So, a long-term goal would be in each school district to cap property taxes at 40% of school spending.”

Rempe says the Farm Bureau hopes to begin a discussion with state lawmakers on a long-term plan to reduce the reliance on property taxes to fund schools. It’s a big issue to tackle in one 60-day legislative session.

“Think there’s going to be a lot of focus this session on the spending restraint side of things which needs to be done and we’re fully supportive of that and also looking at some of the evaluation ways to maybe limit the evaluation growth and things, but also we want to try to set the track for a long-term discussion about how do we reduce the amount of property taxes we use to fund schools,” Rempe says.

Rempe calls the 40% figure “a long-term target” that they are discussing with state legislators which would put Nebraska more in line with other states.

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

Meat packers might soon be allowed to own hogs in Nebraska

Pig_looks_directly_in_cameraState lawmakers have moved a step closer to lifting the ban on meat packers owning hogs in Nebraska.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, the sponsor of LB 176, argued during legislative floor debate that lifting the ban would end the attrition of hog production in the state.

“States with no packer bans are growing in hog production. Iowa, right next door, is number one in hog production with nearly ten times the hog production of Nebraska and South Dakota’s hog production grew five percent last year,” Schilz told colleagues. “The packer ban is not saving small farms and Nebraska is losing to our neighboring states who don’t have the ban.”

Opponents mounted a filibuster against the bill, but it was broken without a vote to spare, 33-to-12 with two senators not voting. The Unicameral advanced the bill to final round on a 32-to-12 vote with three senators not voting.

Opponents focused on one company in particular: Smithfield Foods, an American subsidiary of a Chinese packing company.

Schilz objected to how opponents characterized the company.

“And I keep hearing this argument and it really causes me consternation,” Schilz said. “Smithfield is a Nebraska company. Smithfield was here way before, even when it was Farmland if anybody remembers Farmland, okay. Smithfield has a facility here in Nebraska, in Crete. They employ thousands of people.”

The legislative debate pitted rural legislators against each other, offering two very different views on how lifting the packer ban would impact Nebraska agriculture. Supporters said it is necessary to spur growth in the state hog industry. Opponents countered that it would end independent hog production, ushering in corporate hog farms.

“If you look at what happened in the chicken industry, you can see where the hog industry is going. And a few years behind that, it will be the cattle industry that goes that way,” Senator Al Davis of Hyannis, a leading opponent of the bill, warned. “So virtually no chickens are raised independently anymore; just for the niche markets, that’s the only place.”

Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids left a meeting with lobbyists for Smithfield Foods unimpressed.

“One of the things that runs through my mind: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Sullivan told colleagues. “Don’t threaten me with the fact that these processing plants could conceivably leave our state. Don’t give me the idea that this might be some property tax relief. All of those are red herrings.”

Sullivan contended hog producers will become mere serfs, taking on all the risks of raising hogs while the packer takes the profits.

Egg hatchery to invest heavily in Nebraska expansion

EggsA state-of-the-art egg hatchery will locate in central Nebraska.

Gov. Pete Ricketts was among those announcing the expansion of Hendrix-ISA in Grand Island.

Ricketts says Nebraska won over fierce competition from other states.

“At the end of the day, it came down to our people. And the quality of the people here and the opportunity that Hendrix-ISA saw was to have great Nebraskans helping their company succeed,” Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network.

Hendrix, which is based in Pennsylvania, says the investment could total close to $50 million with the main plant, plus supporting facilities.