April 18, 2015

Fire heavily damages Jefferson County hog lot, 200+ firefighters respond

FireFirefighters from perhaps 20 departments in Nebraska and Kansas battled a major fire at the Livingston Enterprise State Line Hog Facility, south of Fairbury in Jefferson County.

The blaze broke out Sunday night and was contained early this  morning. Fairbury Rural Fire Chief Kenny Krause says upwards of 200 firefighters helped fight the blaze.

“It took several hours,” Chief Krause says. “We probably agressively faught fire for a solid three to four hours.”

Upon arrival, four buildings were engulfed in flames. Krause says the embers were mostly extinguished by 2 AM. The blaze destroyed several buildings at the hog confinement operation, a major employer in Jefferson County.

“Four buildings were totally destroyed and there’s two additional buildings that had smoke damage inside of them and the livestock inside didn’t make it through that smoke,” he says. There are six remaining buildings at the site and a nearby residence which was not damaged.

Thick smoke could be seen for several miles and firefighters ran low on water, fighting the flames.

Authorities said some hogs died in the fire and smoke, but an exact number is not known. Krause says several agencies helped battle the fire and provide support, including more than two dozen fire departments, law enforcement agencies, ambulances and the Red Cross.

The cause of the fire and the estimated damage are not yet known. There were no injuries to firefighters.

By Doug Kennedy, KWBE, Beatrice


Governor, lawmakers at odds over tax relief

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts

Gov. Pete Ricketts and state lawmakers don’t seem to be on the same page on tax relief.

Not only did the legislature’s Revenue Committee pass on a bill that would have lowered property taxes for farmers, it has endorsed an increase in the gas tax.

Ricketts has backed a measure that would lower the percentage at which agricultural land is taxed from 75% of its market value to 65%. Ricketts promotes it as needed tax relief for the state’s number one industry.

“So, I’m very disappointed that the Revenue Committee didn’t get that out of committee,” Ricketts tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX. “However, I view this as just the start of the conversation, not the end of it. We look forward to continuing to work with the Revenue Committee.”

Not only did the Revenue Committee not endorse a property tax cut for farmers, it did endorse a six cent increase in the gasoline tax over the next four years.

Ricketts isn’t giving up.

“Well, certainly one of the things that we’re looking for is to figure out a way to make sure we can bring people on board with us,” Ricketts says. “So, I think there’s always going to be a place to compromise on this.”

Lawmakers have been reluctant to endorse the governor’s proposal to increase the property tax relief fund by $60 million a year, with much lower numbers being floated in the Capitol.

Ricketts says concern about how the lowering of the farmland assessed valuation would affect local governments, including school districts, has been over-played, noting that his proposal would spread out the percentage decrease over a three-year period.

“I would expect to be able to see school districts and counties be able to adapt to that change,” Ricketts says.

Jerry Oster, WNAX, contributed to this story.

Ag land property tax relief bill likely dead for the session

Steve Nelson

Steve Nelson

Nebraska Farm Bureau leaders are disappointed by Wednesday’s decision by the Unicameral’s Revenue Committee to not advance a measure decreasing ag land valuations.

The Farm Bureau had supported a bill that would have lowered the valuation of agricultural land from 75% to 65%. Bureau president Steve Nelson says property taxes have risen dramatically in the past ten years — as high as 160% in some cases.

“Even though we’re seeing land prices flatten out, that valuation growth will probably continue at least for another year because of the way the system works,” Nelson says. “Farmers and ranchers are really being hard hit by the cost of funding education in Nebraska.”

Nelson says senators need to find a more balanced way to determine how to divide the tax burden.

“The way that we get to a better solution to the problem is to take a look at how we fund education in the state,” Nelson says. “We’ve talked about that. That’s the next step, the next goal that we want to work on in relation to dealing with the property tax issue. Nothing has changed from that perspective.”

Nelson says his group will keep working with the Unicameral to try and find an ag land valuation solution.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton


Ethanol industry riding high last year, suffering this year

KAAPA Ethanol in Minden/Photo by KAAPA Ethanol, LLC

KAAPA Ethanol in Minden/Photo by KAAPA Ethanol, LLC

What a difference a year can make.

Last year, the ethanol industry soared. This year, it has been rough.

Overproduction and the big drop in oil prices get the blame from industry insiders.

CEO of KAAPA Ethanol of Minden, Chuck Woodside, says strong profits last year spurred over-production.

“We’ve got over 15 billion gallons of production in a 14-billion gallon market,” Woodside tells Brownfield Ag News.

Woodside says something has to give.

“And whether that means that we see some reduction in runs, we’ve already started to see some within the last two months and we may see that continue, based on certain locations and certain technologies and capacities,” Woodside says.

There is an upside to this downturn, according to Woodside. The ethanol industry has grown stronger the past few years, reinvesting profits to provide a stronger foundation. That, says Woodside, will allow the industry to better weather the down market.

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

Study sees farmland values slip about 3% statewide

corn fieldThe average value of Nebraska farmland has dropped for the first time in years.

UNL Extension educator Jim Jansen says the just-released Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey Report indicated a modest but definite fall.

Jansen says, “The average Nebraska farmland value, which is a weighted average of cropland as well as rangeland, pasture and hay land, the value in Nebraska has declined slightly, by about 3%, to $3,210 an acre.”

Jansen says there were declines in most of the other agricultural lands in the state, especially for dry land.

“For the dry land crop ground, we’ve seen values flip in the ten-percent range on average across the state,” Jansen says. “Irrigated crop ground is also declining but not quite at the rate that the dry land crop land was, and we did see an increase in some of the hay land as well as grazing land in the state.”

Jansen says the recent drop in prices for big crops like corn and soybeans was the primary cause of the slippage in the average farmland values.

“General trends in Nebraska farmland values basically reflect the rental rates and they reflect the changes in agricultural commodity prices,” he says.

The Nebraska Farm Real Estate Market Survey has been conducted every year since 1978.

By Jerry Oster, WNAX, Yankton