September 1, 2014

Expert: Now’s the time to top off propane tanks for winter heating

Propane TankWhile many Nebraskans have their air conditioners running during the heat of early August, one expert suggests they look ahead to wintertime and their home heating needs.

Fuels analyst Harold Hommes says a very rapid rise in liquid propane prices last winter left many Nebraskans stunned and facing tough financial decisions.

“We’re encouraging people to be prepared,” Hommes says. “Last year was truly an unusual situation that caught a lot of people off guard. We had prices bumping up in that $4 and $5 level and we certainly don’t want to see a repeat of that.”

It’s a lesson learned in Economics 101 about supply and demand and Hommes right now, the supply is very good, so prices are low.

“Propane prices are ranging from about $1.40 on up to the $1.70 range,” Hommes says. “Those are good summertime fill opportunities. Get that tank full going into winter and minimize obligations for what they’ll be facing for propane costs this winter.”

Prices peaked in January above five-dollars a gallon. About 90-percent of the Midwest’s inventory of propane is stored in underground caverns near Conway, Kansas. Hommes says supplies are plentiful heading into fall and winter.

“Right now, we’re sitting on about 22.5-million barrels which puts us 6.5% better than we were at this point one year ago,” Hommes says. “Unfortunately, we’re still slightly below our five-year average for this point in the calendar year.”

About 8% of Nebraska homes are heated with propane, mainly in rural areas.

Assistance coming to individuals, businesses impacted by June storms

Disaster assistance for businesses and individuals is being offered to the areas of Nebraska most heavily damaged by June storms, but not by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA announced earlier that though public assistance has been made available for several areas of Nebraska hit hard by June storms, individual assistance would not.

The state turned to the Small Business Administration, which has issued a declaration of disaster for Stanton County for tornadoes, high winds, and flooding that occurred during June. Its five neighboring counties, Colfax, Cuming, Madison, Pierce, Platte, and Wayne, also will be eligible for low-interest federal loans.

Nebraska Emergency Management Agency Assistant Director Bryan Tuma says SBA personnel will be talking with homeowners and business owners impacted by the storms.

“They will begin working with individuals and businesses to identify what type of programs, either through SBA or other government programs that might be able to assist those folks with recovery,” Tuma tells Nebraska Radio Network affiliate WNAX.

Most of the assistance provided by SBA will come in the form of low-interest loans.

Tuma says recovery assistance will be made available to offset losses incurred June 14th through the 21st.

“That was the storm period, or that weather period, where we had the most damage to residential and businesses, obviously with a lot of public infrastructure,” according to Tuma.

Storms rocked Nebraska during June, including tornadoes, the most destructive of which was the June 16th EF4 tornado that tore through Pilger, wrecking more than half the town.

Federal assistance has been approved to help offset the cost of recovery borne by local governments as well as the state.

“Nebraskans truly appreciate the approval of the SBA assistance following the June storms,” Gov. Dave Heineman said in a written statement. “The low-interest federal disaster loans available to homeowners, renters and businesses will provide needed assistance in the recovery of the affected communities.”

SBA representatives will staff a Disaster Loan Outreach Center to answer questions about SBA’s disaster loan program, explain the application process and help each individual complete their application:

The Stanton County Disaster Loan Outreach Center will be located in the Stanton County Courthouse, Commissioners Room, 804 Ivy St. It will open Monday and be open between 8am and 4:30pm Mondays through Fridays.

Benefit concert for tornado-tossed Pilger brings windfall

The Omaha band "Clarence Tilton"

The Omaha band “Clarence Tilton”

Residents of western Iowa and eastern Nebraska gathered at a bar in Omaha last night to support a benefit concert for the tornado-ravaged town of Pilger, Nebraska.

Four bands, all featuring members with ties to the small town, performed at The Waiting Room.

Many residents of Pilger were in attendance, including 61-year-old Keenan Meyer, who’s astounded with all the donations and volunteer efforts to help the community of roughly 350 people recover from the disaster on June 16.

“It’s just amazing the people who came in, even that night, an hour later there were people with trucks and big equipment. “Of course, they couldn’t do anything because they were evacuating the town, but it’s really amazing what they’ve gotten done in a month,” Meyer said. “I’ve talked to people from Illinois and Texas who have given up their vacation to come (to Pilger) pick up sticks and bricks.”

An EF4 tornado ripped through Pilger, while another EF2 passed just outside of town. Two people were killed, including a five-year-old girl, while 16 more were critically injured.

Can coozieMeyer believes things could’ve turned out much worse had the storm not passed through in the afternoon.

“You know, if it would’ve been two in the morning and people wouldn’t have heard a siren or got to shelter, we could’ve had two dozen deaths,” Meyer said. “So, in that respect, you hate to lose anybody, but it saved a lot of people that it was in the daytime.”

Over half of the buildings and homes in Pilger were destroyed or severely damaged. Meyer said his home, located four blocks away from where the tornado made a direct hit, sustained about $20,000 in damage. A large tree fell in his yard, but missed hitting his house.

A final tally on how much money was raised last night has yet to be released.

Link to Pilger Rebuild & Relief Fund:







Concert is tonight in Omaha to benefit tornado-tossed Pilger

Several musicians with ties to the northeast Nebraska town of Pilger have organized a benefit show tonight to raise money for the community that was struck by two tornadoes last month.

Clint Meyer, a singer-songwriter, grew up in Pilger. He saw the pictures and videos of the damage done on June 16 and went back to his hometown a couple days later to volunteer with cleanup efforts.

“To be there and notice the scale and the depth of it all, it wasn’t just the row of houses you see in the picture, but the row behind it and the row behind that, several blocks completely destroyed,” Meyer said. “There was no way to get a sense of that with just the pictures, so it was a pretty shocking experience to see it.”

Two people, including a five-year-old girl, were killed, and 16 more people were critically injured. Over half of the buildings and homes in Pilger were destroyed or severely damaged.

“It will never be the same as it was, of course, but the hope is that there will still be a town there that can start finding whatever that new normal is,” Meyer said. “I think the hope is to try and raise awareness that even though the volunteers are gone, there is still a need there.”

Meyer is a biology professor at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa, and plays guitar and sings in the central Iowa-based band Monday Mourners. He wrote a song about Pilger, titled “(The Town) Too Tough To Die,” which he plans to premiere at the benefit concert.

Monday Mourners and three bands from Omaha will play the fundraiser show for the town of Pilger tonight at The Waiting Room in Omaha. The music will start at 8 p.m. and there’s a cover charge of $8.

Learn more at:


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.




AUDIO:  Brent Martin reports  [1 min.]