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POLICY WATCH

Fischer and Klobuchar Reintroduce Legislation to Expand Access to Precision Ag Tools

This week, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, introduced two bills to expand farmers’ access to precision agriculture equipment – a wide range of new technologies in farming and ranching that can help producers lower costs, optimize productivity, and reduce their environmental footprint. The Precision Agriculture Loan (PAL) Act would create a program within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide loan financing to farmers and ranchers interested in purchasing precision agriculture equipment. The Producing Responsible Energy and Conservation Incentives and Solutions for the Environment (PRECISE) Act would provide a suite of financial tools to help farmers and ranchers of all sizes increase their adoption of precision agriculture technologies through existing USDA conservation programs.

“Precision agriculture equipment can help farmers and ranchers expand on the work they already do
as good stewards of our land. High upfront costs, however, often limit producers’ ability to use these cutting-edge technologies. These two bipartisan bills would improve producers’ access to exciting, innovative tools that can make operations more productive, efficient, and less resource-intensive,” said Senator Fischer.

“Precision agriculture tools like soil mapping and aerial imagery technologies help lower costs for farmers, improve productivity, and benefit the environment. That’s why it’s critical that more farmers can access and benefit from precision ag technologies. Our bipartisan bills will give farmers and ranchers the resources they need to invest in precision ag tools,” said Senator Klobuchar.

“The adoption of precision technologies by farmers and ranchers will lead to a more sustainable future for our nation’s food producers both environmentally and economically. At the same time, the cost of adopting these technologies can be considerably prohibitive. Nebraska Farm Bureau truly appreciates Sen. Fischer introducing the Precision Agriculture Loan Program Act, which will provide needed assistance to help farm and ranch families purchase this vital equipment,” said Mark McHargue, Nebraska Farm Bureau President.

NEFB Continues Working Towards Policy Priorities at State Capitol

This week the Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) Public Policy Team attended the State Chamber’s Public Affairs Council meeting, something we do every Tuesday morning. The speaker was Sen. Clements, chair of the Appropriations Committee. He provided enlightening information about the budget proposal in the works, the state’s revenues and expenses, and the bills before the committee which are seeking money. Some notable information is worth sharing.

  • The Appropriations Committee is responsible for putting together the state’s budget proposal which is about $5.4 billion per year.
  • The Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board met last month and reported that it expects the state’s revenues for the next year to be $6.4 billion.
  • Governor Pillen’s budget proposal aims to limit state spending growth to 1.5 percent per year and Sen. Clements shares that same mindset.
  • Sen. Clements would like to see the state’s cash reserve at $1.3 billion which is three months of the state’s budget.
  • In addition to the budget proposal in the works, there are 87 bills before the Appropriations Committee asking for well over $1 billion, not to mention bills in other committees also seeking funding.
  • American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars that were allocated last year are fully accounted for. Any bill seeking ARPA funding this year will not be funded.

What does this mean? Most importantly, it is only a snapshot of pieces of a huge puzzle that is yet to be put together. Rest assured we will work diligently every day to achieve NEFB’s priorities.

On the committee hearing side of things, NEFB testified in support of LB 449 (Brandt) on behalf of the Ag Leaders Working Group. The bill provides additional use for the County Bridge Match Program and extends the program for five years to 2028, while appropriating $68 million annually to the program. Agriculture relies on roads and bridges to produce and transport its products. As most of the products are produced in counties with few resources, programs like the bridge match program help ensure that Nebraska’s largest industry and our nation’s third largest agriculture complex continue to thrive and drive the economy. NEFB said the program is an investment in rural Nebraska and encouraged its expansion as the infrastructure needs of rural Nebraska and agriculture continue to grow.

As part of the Ag Leaders Working Group, NEFB also showed support for LB 564 (Dorn), a bill to change the Department of Transportation’s Economic Opportunity Program to include expansion of livestock production and processing for qualifying projects. The program is great tool for communities to utilize and overcome economic development obstacles that they can’t afford. This program is a cost share between the county applicant and the state to build critical transportation infrastructure to support economic development. To be eligible for this program, the county must prove that the project demonstrates economic benefit to Nebraska and provide 25 percent of the total eligible transportation project costs but the program recognizes in-kind contributions. In the past, livestock production projects have been disqualified because they don’t align with the definition of agribusiness. By including the words “livestock production and processing”, the bill eliminates the gray area and ensures livestock producers have access to this program as well.
As we near the halfway point of the session, public hearings will begin to taper off and floor debate will shift into all-day sessions. As always, please reach out to the PPT team with any questions or concerns.

USDA Proposes Rule on “Product of the USA” and “Made in the USA”

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on Monday that USDA would be issuing a proposed rule to add regulatory requirements to their voluntary “Product of USA” label. In a news release, USDA noted that the proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States. In 2020, members of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s Cattle Market Task Force developed policy that was ultimately passed through the Nebraska/American Farm Bureau policy process and was ultimately passed into official AFBF policy. The policy states the following: For animal products to receive a “Product of Grown in the USA” label the animal(s) must be have been exclusively born, raised and processed in the United States. “American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.” Farm Bureau plans to submit comments by the official comment submission deadline which will be known once the rule is officially published in the Federal Register.

Last Call! County Leaders Advocacy D.C. Trip

Are you interested in advocating for agricultural issues in Washington, D.C. on June 12-14? Sign up to receive more information on this exciting opportunity. Over three days, participants will hear from experts and in-turn voice their thoughts on topics including the 2023 Farm Bill, environmental regulations, and energy and economic policies. This is an opportunity for members to help law makers make the connection between what is happening on Nebraska farms ranches and what is being debated in the halls of Congress and within federal agencies. Sign up deadline is March 13. Please reach out to your Regional Manager or Whittney Kelley to reserve your spot or sign up here for information.

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