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POLICY WATCH

Floor Debate and Public Hearings Continue at State Capitol

Floor debate is in full swing at the Nebraska Legislature. One bill of interest on General File is LB 299 (Linehan), which would require any joint entity created by a Nebraska school district or an educational service unit to hold an election before issuing any bonds. The bill, supported by Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB), advanced by a vote of 38-0.

Nebraska Farm Bureau testified in opposition to a bill that would require producers to plant a 50-foot average “riparian buffer” along both sides of waterways. LB 40 (Blood) was modeled after a bill that was enacted in Minnesota two years ago and includes the same buffer distances. The results of that bill have been detrimental to the agricultural industry in Minnesota. In its testimony, NEFB outlined how the bill is much like the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. Like the WOTUS rule, a problem lies within the bill’s definition, or more accurately, lack of definition, of waterway.  It would have the Department of Agriculture define waterways and give it the leeway to designate public or drainage waterways. According to the bill, that could be a difference between a 16.5-foot buffer and a 50-foot buffer. If the Department of Agriculture decides to designate the same definition as some of the versions of WOTUS, little used drainages or even puddles could be considered waterways.

NEFB said Nebraska farmers and ranchers have worked with leaders in the agricultural science field and the University of Nebraska in the last century to follow the best available scientific practices of the time and agriculture Nebraskans have long strived to be leaders in agricultural conservation practices. NEFB believes the Legislature should focus their efforts on water quality issues by applying dollars to the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s reverse osmosis system while further research can continue into how best to address this issue.

NEFB also testified in support of LB 689 (Linehan), a bill that changes provisions of the Nebraska Property Tax Incentive Act. Starting in taxable year 2026, the refundable income tax credit for property taxes paid to community colleges would be 100 percent of taxes paid during the taxable year. This bill would help achieve one of NEFB’s policy priorities to reducing Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes and seeking a more balanced system to fund education.

Working towards its policy priority to expand rural connectivity to secure high-speed, high-quality internet access statewide, NEFB weighed in on a bill that would authorize leasing of dark fiber and eliminate certain powers of the Public Service Commission. LB 61 (Brandt) removes the definition of unserved/underserved and allows political subdivisions to license dark fiber and related infrastructure. Dark fiber is fiber-optic infrastructure that is not yet “lit” or put into use by a service provider. A dark fiber lease allows the customer rather than the service provider to maintain and operate the equipment required to “light” the fiber and use it for Internet access and communications.

In its testimony, NEFB said rural areas are usually not the places telecommunications providers first look to expand broadband infrastructure. Allowing public utilities, cities, and villages to license their dark fiber will offer providers cost-effective options to step up their deployment of broadband in under-served rural areas of Nebraska. NEFB said supporting economic vitality across the state should be one of our state’s highest priorities.

Hearings and floor debate will continue next week. Nebraska Farm Bureau’s public policy team is offering to provide a brief legislative update on the latest state and/or national issues and answer questions during your County Farm Bureau Board of Director meetings. Contact Whittney Kelley at (402) 421-4760 or at whittneyk@nefb.org to schedule a Legislative Update Call today.

Farm Bureau Tells EPA to Withdraw, Rethink Rodenticide Proposal

American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) submitted comments opposing the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to overturn decades-long policies governing farmers’ and ranchers’ use of rodenticides, their primary tools for controlling infestations of rats and mice.

In November 2022, the EPA released for public comment new Proposed Interim Decision (PID) for 11 rodenticides, which if implemented, will have a major impact on all currently available rodenticide products. In summary, the proposal includes the following mitigation measures:

  • All rodenticides would be classified as Restricted Use Pesticides (RUPs), except for pre-filled single use disposable bait stations available to consumers;
  • Cancellation of reusable consumer bait stations (1lb or less) and refills;
  • Applicators of ‘loose’ formulations (pellets, meal baits, and treated grains) would be required to wear APF10 respirators (half-face elastomeric);
  • The PPE label requirement for gloves for all products would be changed to chemical-resistant gloves, generally with a thickness ≥ 14 mils (thicker than the current standard);
  • Prohibition of currently allowed uses of First-Generation Anticoagulants (FGARs) in cropped areas including orchards, groves, vineyards, and alfalfa;
  • Prohibition of spot and broadcast applications to rangeland, pastureland, and fallow land;
  • Prohibition of spot and broadcast applications of FGARs and zinc phosphide to turf, lawns, parks, golf courses, campsites, and other recreation areas;
  • Mandatory carcass searches and non-target reporting for all zinc phosphide applications, and for all FGAR baits used in fields and other non-structural use sites;
  • Endangered Species requirements, including mandatory record-keeping of Bulletins obtained from EPA Bulletins Live! Two for each application of any product other than a consumer pre-filled bait station.

ABFB says EPA’s choice to designate these vital tools as “Restricted Use Products” (RUPs) will undermine animal health and welfare, put food safety at risk, reduce environmental performance, and increase economic losses for hard-working farmers. Having rodenticides designated as RUPs would require any commercial user of the products, including farmers or ranchers, to become a “certified applicator,” essentially requiring state licensing for farmers to farm.

Farm Bureau committed to continuing the use of agricultural chemicals in a safe and judicious manner to protect the health and safety of producers, our employees, our families, our communities, and the environment. It is no different with the handling and application of pesticides to manage destructive and hazardous pests like rodents. Additionally concerning, EPA’s proposal to engage in carcass searches to uncover potential non-
target species is an unreasonable request.

AFBF is urging EPA to reconsider the practical implications of the proposed mitigation measures under the PID, as well as the forthcoming proposals of other product reviews under this new approach.

FACA Releases Farm Bill Policy Recommendations to Support Economic Opportunities and Address Climate Change

The Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance (FACA) released policy recommendations for the 2023 farm bill. The farm bill is essential legislation that impacts every family in America and has enormous potential to help the food, agriculture, and forestry sectors achieve their climate mitigation potential while preserving and creating new economic opportunities.

Further reducing emissions throughout agricultural and forestry supply chains will require a comprehensive effort involving financial and technical assistance, research investments, proactive response to innovation, public-private partnerships, and a commitment to equitable opportunities for all producers.

FACA’s recommendations, developed by the 23-member steering committee, are divided into six categories:

  • Conservation, risk management, and credit
  • Energy
  • Food waste
  • Forestry
  • Livestock and dairy
  • Research, Extension, and innovation

FACA’s past recommendations have provided guidance to members of Congress and administration officials and have been credited with shaping federal laws and programs. We now urge both chambers of Congress and the president to act this year to pass a farm bill that advances voluntary bipartisan climate solutions.

FACA’s founding organizations and co-chairs celebrated the policy recommendations and the impact they will have:

Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, said: “Despite a pandemic, severe weather, volatile markets, and rising costs, farmers continue to meet the growing needs of America’s families, and the farm bill helps make that possible. We look forward to working with Congress to strengthen Title I programs, improve risk management tools, and utilize these FACA recommendations to advance our sustainability mission in a manner that respects farmers and ranchers as partners.”

Rob Larew, president of National Farmers Union, said: “Climate change continues to be a serious threat to farmers, ranchers, and their communities. Farmers are already implementing practices to address the climate crisis and make their farms more resilient. The farm bill presents an opportunity to build upon the programs that support these voluntary, incentive-based practices. FACA’s farm bill recommendations will establish a strong foundation to support farmers and ranchers in sequestering carbon, building soil health, and reducing emissions for years to come.”

Chuck Connor, president and CEO of the National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, said: “Throughout our work, FACA has been driven by the recognition that the farm bill is also a food bill, having importance beyond agriculture and impacting every family in America. Consumers are increasingly interested in both where their food comes from and the climate impact of what they eat. By helping America’s farmers, ranchers, and growers continue adoption of more climate-friendly farming practices, the recommendations will help producers meet growing consumer preferences. Also, by building on and strengthening efforts to combat food waste in the 2018 Farm Bill, the recommendations would ensure that the resources put towards growing and producing food are used as efficiently as possible.”

Elizabeth Gore, senior vice president for Political Affairs at Environmental Defense Fund, said: “The farm bill is one of the biggest opportunities to advance conservation and climate solutions in the U.S. FACA’s recommendations will make it easier for farmers, ranchers, and foresters to help stabilize the climate, while building resilience to climate impacts that are already affecting crops and livestock. In doing so, they can continue to produce food for a growing population and support vibrant agricultural and rural economies.”

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