July 29, 2014

Disaster aid now available for livestock producers; amount under dispute (AUDIO)

Federal disaster assistance has been made available for livestock losses due to severe weather, even to producers who suffered losses two years ago from drought. But, the amount of aid is in dispute.

Nebraska Farm Service Agency Director Dan Steinkruger agrees Nebraska producers have been hit hard by severe weather the last few years.

“The drought had a substantial impact in our cattle herd in 2012 and 2013 and then we had some unusual events that caused these other livestock losses,” Steinkruger tells Nebraska Radio Network. “So, yeah, we have had more than our share of problems the last couple of years.”

A wide range of severe weather has caused cattle losses in Nebraska.

Drought in 2012 took its toll. Steinkruger says the state lost some cow-calf operations due to the severe drought two years ago. Others lost cattle.

A freak snowstorm in October of 2013 killed cattle in western Nebraska.

The thunderstorms and tornadoes of June this year killed an estimated one thousand head.

The 2014 Farm Bill makes aid to livestock producers retroactive to 2012 through the Livestock Indemnity Program, a fact not all producers understand, according to Steinkruger.

The program itself has come under fire by the Nebraska Congressional delegation, which asserts that the United States Department of Agriculture is miscalculating how much aid should be made available, costly some producers as much as $300 a head.

The delegation has written Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking for a calculation correction. The letter claims some producers who suffered losses in the June tornadoes discovered the USDA used outdated data.

Steinkruger says the USDA is aware of the complaints.

“Those issues really come down to the department’s interpretation of the statutes and the best way to implement them. And that’s really the difference of opinion,” according to Steinkruger. “So, I know the department is taking another look at those issues that were raised by Nebraska’s delegation.”

 

A copy of the letter can be found below:

July 2, 2014

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write to request that the Farm Service Agency (FSA) revise its methodology for calculating payment amounts for the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP).

During the week of June 16, 2014, tornadoes devastated the town of Pilger, Nebraska and severely damaged crop and livestock operations in the surrounding area. Producers who had livestock killed by the tornadoes have sought relief from the LIP program that was recently extended by Congress with passage of the 2014 farm bill. But after producers read the payment schedule produced by FSA, they realize they will receive much less from FSA than they are entitled to receive under the statute.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 states that “payments to an eligible producer on a farm… shall be made at a rate of 75 percent of the market value of the applicable livestock on the day before the date of death of the livestock, as determined by the Secretary.” However, the rule implementing LIP states that “The LIP national payment rate for eligible livestock owners is based on 75 percent of the average fair market value of the applicable livestock as computed using nationwide prices for the previous calendar year unless some other price is approved by the Deputy Administrator.”

These are clearly not the same standard. We appreciate that FSA may have some constraints on availability of appropriate data, but it is clearly unfair to producers who expect relief based on the plain language of the law to then find out that the relief received will be significantly less than 75 percent of the market value of their livestock. For example, according to the LIP fact sheet published by FSA in April, the payment rate for feeder steers weighing 800 pounds or more is $1,149, but data from the Agriculture Marketing Service indicate that 75 percent of the average value of an 800-900 pound steer was approximately $1,278 the week before the tornadoes hit Pilger, a difference of $129 per head. Moreover, producers also experienced losses for cattle that were at their finished weight of approximately 1400 pounds. Using the data from the Agriculture Marketing Service, 75 percent of the average value for a finished steer was $1,479, for a difference of $330 per head.

Therefore, we request that you direct FSA to calculate relief for livestock producers based on market values that more accurately reflect the plain reading of the statute.

 

Sincerely,

 

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports  [1 min.]

The silver lining of June storms: an end to the drought (AUDIO)

One month of well-above-normal rainfall has ended the drought in nearly all of Nebraska. But drought continues to plague a large portion of the United States.

Climatologist Brian Fuchs at the National Drought Mitigation Center on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln east campus says heavy June rains finally broke the drought which began in 2012.

“It’s nice to talk about improvements in the state,” Fuchs says in an interview with Nebraska Radio Network. “I know after the drought of 2012 and some of the lingering dryness last year, we just really had a hard time getting over the hump so to speak and seeing full recovery across the state.”

Drought crept into Nebraska in 2012. Little rain and high temperatures depleted subsoil moisture. Farmers pumped more irrigation that usual to keep crops from burning up. Pastures suffered.

Little relief came the following year. It seemed the drought would enter its third year when June hit.

Hit it did.

Storms shook Nebraska; tornadoes, hail, thunderstorms, straight-line winds, heavy rain left a lot of destruction in their wake. June 16th an EF4 tornado roared through the heart of Pilger, destroying a huge section of the city. Smaller tornadoes hit other cities.

A ray of benefit emerged, though.

Fuchs says the storms dumped above normal amounts of rain on much of the state, replenishing subsoil moisture and ending the drought.

Almost.

Approximately 7% of Nebraska remains in moderate drought, the lowest severity of drought on the Drought Mitigation Center scale. Southwestern Nebraska, the area basically south of North Platte to the Kansas border around the Republican River still remains dry. A portion of north-central Nebraska remains abnormally dry.

While the storms of June ended drought conditions in the Midwest, portions of the country remain in drought, some severe.

Fuchs says the Southern Plains of Texas, Oklahoma, and portions of New Mexico remain in a drought that spread across that part of the United States in 2010. California and Nevada also have yet to emerge from drought.

While nearly half the United States suffered through drought until this year, about 34% remains in the grips of devastatingly dry conditions.

“A little over a third of the country still is seeing some drought and a little over 10% of the country is seeing extreme drought right now.”

Click here for the latest United States Drought Monitor.

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:40]

Presidential disaster declaration granted in wake of Pilger tornado

Federal officials have informed Gov. Dave Heineman his request for a presidential disaster declaration in wake of the Pilger tornado has been granted.

The declaration covers more than just the Pilger tornado, extending to cover damage from tornadoes and thunderstorms through southern and northeastern Nebraska between June 14th and the 21st.

Still, the biggest damage was done by an EF-4 tornado that ripped through the heart of Pilger, destroying more than half the town.

President Barack Obama has approved the presidential disaster declaration for 12 counties, which suffered storm damage from severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding.

“We appreciate the approval of the disaster declaration for Public Assistance,” said Gov. Heineman said in a written statement issued by his office. “The federal government and local entities have been good partners working with the State as we assessed the severe and extensive damage that occurred throughout Nebraska. I am proud of Nebraskans for coming together and helping each other in challenging times.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Region VII office notified the governor that the Public Assistance portion of his request had been approved, according to the governor’s office. Public assistance can help offset the cost of clean-up, even repair or replacement of any infrastructure damaged by the storms, including roads, bridges, sewers, and power systems.

Public assistance has been extended to the counties of Cedar, Cuming, Dakota, Dixon, Franklin, Furnas, Harlan, Kearney, Phelps, Stanton, Thurston, and Wayne Counties.

Federal assistance to help individuals from Cedar, Cuming, Dixon, Stanton and Wayne Counties to recover from the storm is pending, according to FEMA officials [CORRECTION: We incorrectly reported earlier individual assistance had been granted. We apologize for the error].

“The public assistance declaration will help Nebraska recover some of the costs of responding to the disaster and will help fund rebuilding public infrastructure damaged by this disaster,” said Bryan Tuma, assistant director of Nebraska Emergency Management Agency in a written statement. “NEMA will work closely with local governments to help speed up the recovery process.”

Public assistance damage is expected to exceed $13 million.

NEMA will coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in assessing damages and distributing aid.

 

Early childhood education touted as way to fight crime (AUDIO)

Lincoln Public Safety Dir. Tom Casady leads news conference with (from L) Joshua Spaulding with Fight Crime and Sen. Burke Harr

Lincoln Public Safety Dir. Tom Casady leads news conference with (from L) Joshua Spaulding with Fight Crime and Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha

A push is underway to promote early childhood education as a way to reduce crime.

Advocates admit this is a long-term solution, but argue that money spent upfront in the first few years of life could make the difference between a child growing up to be a criminal or growing up to be a productive member of society.

State Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha stated during a news conference in Lincoln the discussion underway at the Capitol on reducing prison over-crowding needs to be expanded.

“It’s obvious we have a problem. We have got to find a way to lower our prison rates. I don’t think anyone wants to build new prisons,” Harr said. “So, the question is, how do we do that? It’s not an overnight fix.”

A group called “Fight Crime: Invest in Kids,” hosted the news conference at the Justice and Law Enforcement Center in Lincoln.

The group touts research which indicates early childhood education has a number of benefits, including reducing crime. Its report, “I’m the guy you pay later,” outlines the benefits, such as a drop in abuse and neglect, better school outcomes, less need for special education, better reading and math scores, fewer drop-outs, and less crime.

Sen. Harr answers questions from reporters

Sen. Harr answers questions from reporters

The report argues that states can either fund pre-Kindergarten education or pay a greater price down the road when children grow into a life of crime.

The group has attracted the support of 5,000 law officers throughout the country, including nearly 80 in Nebraska.

Lincoln Public Safety Director Tom Casady spoke for the Nebraska officers, stating that the current discussion about ways to fight crime needs to be broadened to ways to prevent crime.

“So, if we can expand the discussion a little bit and get all of our citizens to start thinking more about the importance of prevention so that we’re really not just thinking about the end of the road, with adding a judge, increasing the number of deputy sheriffs, and building a new jail, I think we’ll all be better off for that discussion,” Casady reasoned.

Sen. Harr acknowledged that can be a difficult argument to make in the Unicameral, but insisted it is one that can be made.

“We policy makers, just like law enforcement, we like our facts,” Harr said. “So now, we have facts that prove, it’s not easy, but over the long term this is the better way.”

AUDIO:  Open to news conference on the benefits of early childhood education. [9 min.]

Poll provides encouragement to independent US Senate candidate Jenkins (AUDIO)

A public opinion poll provides some encouraging numbers for the independent United States Senate campaign of Jim Jenkins.

Jenkins commissioned the poll by the MSR Group of Omaha that surveyed 618 registered Nebraska voters between May 27th and the 29th.

MSR Senior Vice President Rob Noha says several findings surprised him.

“I think one of the things I was most surprised about was that 56% of Nebraska voters said that they were likely to consider an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate,” Noha tells Nebraska Radio Network.

A willingness to consider an independent candidate and a negative attitude toward both Republicans and Democrats highlight the poll’s results.

Both parties carry high unfavorable numbers into the November elections. Democrats received an unfavorable reaction from 49% of the voters. Republicans don’t fare much better, receiving an unfavorable score from 47% of those polled.

A full 76% of those questioned disapprove of the way the United States Senate is doing its job.

Nearly 90% say the political parties have too much control in Washington. Eighty-four percent say Republican and Democratic leaders put their own interests ahead of the nation’s interest. Sixty-five percent say the two party system is broken.

Noha says a key figures for Jenkins are that 56% say they would vote for an independent and 52% say an independent could break the Washington gridlock.

“Well, I think this poll helps him in a number of ways,” according to Noha. “First of all, it shows that Nebraskans will consider Jenkins. A majority of them would vote for him. Obviously, the key here is he’s got to get his message out now.”

[Executive summary of poll]

AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports [:50]