April 24, 2014

Water sustainability bill signed into law by Gov. Heineman (AUDIO)

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

Gov. Dave Heineman signs LB 1098 into law as its sponsor, Sen. Tom Carlson looks on

A bill designed to maintain Nebraska’s greatest natural resource, its water, has been signed into law by Gov. Dave Heineman.

Heineman signed into law LB 1098, the water sustainability bill, which he says should insure that Nebraska has the water it needs both for agricultural and city uses for years to come.

“This is a difficult and challenging issue and this legislation is aimed at planning for better future water use in our state,” Heineman tells reporters during a news conference. “We’ll also be expanding the Natural Resources Commission from 16 members to 27 members. The commission will include a diversity of water users in our state, including ground water and surface water irrigators, public power districts, and wildlife conservation groups as well as others involved in agriculture.”

The bill was an outgrowth of the work of the Water Sustainability Task Force which worked through the second half of last year.

Sen. Tom Carlson of Holdrege, a Republican candidate for governor, sponsored the bill that created the task force a year ago and, this year, sponsored the legislation that grew from its work.

“And I believe that 1098 will be remembered as a bill that helped make water sustainability a possibility for generations to come,” Carlson says.

Sen. Mark Christensen of Imperial says the bill will spur basin-wide planning for both groundwater and surface irrigation for the vast Republican River Basin.

“From the Colorado line all the way down to almost Superior, Nebraska; that’s a huge area in this state. And it will allow everybody to sit down at the same table and work out a solution,” Christensen says.

The law aims to address water management, water quality, and flood control issues. It also creates the Water Sustainability Fund.

AUDIO:  Gov. Dave Heineman holds a news conference to sign LB 1098. [8 min.]

Southwestern Nebraska declared disaster area due to lingering drought (AUDIO)

Rain continues to come in short supply in portions of Nebraska, prompting the federal government to declare eight southwestern counties disaster areas due to the lingering drought.

Farm Service Agency State Executive Director Dan Steinkruger announces Keith, Perkins, Lincoln, Chase, Hayes, Frontier, Hitchcock, and Red Willow have been declared disaster areas.

“It reflects the on-going multi-year drought conditions that we have in that entire region,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network.

While much of Nebraska has received sufficient rainfall to official declare an end to the drought, drought conditions enter their third year in southwestern Nebraska.

The dry conditions affect not just grain producers, but also cattle grazing.

Until more rain falls in southwestern Nebraska, the USDA will offer emergency loans to producers.

“I think the question is, going forward, are we going to moderate and maybe decrease that drought area in Nebraska or are we going to continue right on into the summer months,” according to Steinkruger.

The Secretary of Agriculture declared the eight counties disaster areas based on the U.S. Drought Monitor drought intensity value, which registers the area as in extreme drought.

Producers in 10 counties contiguous to the eight in the declaration are eligible for certain disaster assistance.

Producers can contact the local FSA Service Center for more information on what assistance might be available.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]


Higher farmland valuations come on heels of disappointing legislative session

Assessment of agricultural land continues to rise, adding to the disappointment farm groups are expressing about the legislative session.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue’s Property Assessment Division reports the valuation of farmland for tax purposes rose nearly 30% between 2013 and 2014.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson says the assessment report comes on the heels of a legislative session that talked a lot about reducing property taxes for farmers, but did little.

“We really thought this was going to be the year, because we had had the Tax Modernization Committee meetings throughout the state,” Nelson tells Brownfield Ag News. “They had heard the message loud and clear that property taxes are too high and, not only are they too high, but the balance between property tax, income tax, and sales tax was out of line.”

Legislators did add $25 million to the $115 million Property Tax Credit Fund. There were not enough votes to add another $20 million to the fund when an amendment to the state budget was proposed during floor debate.

A proposal to drop the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska from the current 75% of its market value to 65% of its market value failed to gain any traction in the legislative session.

Nelson says too much of the tax burden falls on the shoulders of Nebraska farm families.

“Three percent of Nebraskans, farmers and ranchers, pay 25% of the property tax in the state. So, there’s not a balance there and we need to address that issue. We believe that there was support to do that, a lot of talk about that, good support from the governor,” according to Nelson. “Part of the disappointment is that it seemed like things had lined up that we could get something done.”

Nelson says that with the latest increase, the assessed valuation of farmland in Nebraska has doubled since 2009. The Nebraska Farm Bureau estimates statewide property taxes paid by farm families will near $1 billion next year, which would rank third highest in the United States.

The Nebraska Department of Revenue, Property Assessment Division reports that, overall, the assessed valuation of agricultural land statewide rose 29.12%. The increase varies significantly from county to county. The assessed valuation of farmland in Chase County, located along the Colorado border, grew 58.48%. In Clay County, farmland values jumped 49.95%; in Kearney County, farmland values rose 49.91%. Clay County is located toward the southeastern part of the state. Kearney County is located in south-central Nebraska, not far from the Kansas border.

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

USDA chief says all FSA offices will stay open, for now

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack

U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says his agency will evaluate its network of Farm Service Agency offices, but does not plan to close any of those offices this year. There are about 80 FSA offices in Nebraska.

“We need to modernize our system and there are a couple of reasons for that,” Vilsack says. “Number one: we have 20 percent fewer workers than we did several years ago. The budget that I’m working with at USDA is now $1 billion less than it was when I became secretary in terms of the operating budget, so with a 20 percent reduction in workforce, you obviously have to realign where folks work and what they do.”

As of today, 30 Farm Service Agency offices do not have an employee assigned to work there and over a hundred other FSA offices have just one full-time employee.

“So what we are suggesting is, over time, fewer offices but better offices,” Vilsack says. “We’re doing right now a work study to try to determine exactly where the work is being done, to make sure that we have adequate people doing the work that needs to be done and then in 2015 we will probably suggest a realignment of some of the offices and a strengthening of those offices with additional investments.”

The realignment could create a three-tiered system, with central offices where supervisors are stationed, branch offices with more employees and satellite offices were farmers could set up appointments for face-to-face meetings with Farm Service Agency staff.

Vilsack says with future upgrades to the agency’s computer systems, farmers may be able to access their records electronically.

“If they have access to broadband, they’ll be able to access their records from home,” Vilsack says. “That will change the relationship they have with FSA offices.”

There are more than 2,300 Farm Service Agency offices around the country and those offices serve as the primary distribution point for all federal farm programs.

Vilsack served two terms as Iowa’s governor and became U.S. Secretary of Agriculture in January of 2009.


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