President’s Column – Apr/May 2023
Springtime brings optimism and excitement for farmers and ranchers
On the farm or ranch, we love the sights, sounds and smells that all tell us it’s time for a new season and fresh start. As we quickly move from calving season to planting season, I wanted to take a minute to wish you well during this busy time of year. It is a time of hope and optimism as ranchers welcome newborn calves and farmers prepare for a new crop.
Hope and optimism are very important for anyone starting something new. After all, we’re about to put a whole lot of time and resources into that herd and into the ground – with the hope and expectation that good things will happen.
Your Nebraska Farm Bureau staff have put a lot of time and resources into getting additional property tax relief that is significant this session. We continue to build upon our successes from the last session that provided farmers and ranchers an average credit per farm of just over $8,000 in property tax relief. Our staff is at the state Capitol daily meeting with state senators and Gov. Jim Pillen on his package of bills to reduce Nebraska’s overreliance on property taxes and seeking a more balanced system to fund education in the state. This is a top priority for Nebraska Farm Bureau, and we are taking the necessary steps toward achieving NEFB’s policy goals.
I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to represent Nebraska on the American Farm Bureau (AFBF) Board of Directors. Each year the board tours one location in the United States. and this year it was Yuma, Arizona, on the U.S.-Mexico border. This is where most of the U.S. winter fruits and leafy greens (lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower and parsley, to name a few) are grown and harvested. It’s harvest time in Arizona, and the most interesting part of my visit was seeing the actual border wall and watching 15,000 legal migrates from Mexico board buses ready to harvest those leafy greens and then head back to Mexico to enjoy a lower cost of living.
There is a lot of competition for these workers on Arizona farms. Some workers received $100 a day just to get on a certain bus that could take them several hours from their home in Mexico to an Arizona farm to work. They would receive additional hourly wages for their day’s work and then head back to Mexico. Because of the increase in wages being paid, the workers work less hours to meet their basic living needs, and we are seeing a tremendous shortage of workers. It was surprising to me that even being so close to the boarder, Arizona still sees a shortage of workers, just like Nebraska.
At the end of March, the Department of Labor enacted a new formula for H-2A wages. the Adverse Effect Wage Rate, or AEWR. Rather than bringing the consistency and fairness that AFBF called for, the 2023 AEWR impacts small farmers disproportionately and is wildly unpredictable. What’s more, it doesn’t factor in the already competitive wages farmers pay to ensure there are enough hands to plant, tend and harvest crops, or care for animals. To put it simply, we need Congress to pass meaningful immigration reform that helps address the significant labor shortages our nation’s farms and ranches currently face. The new AEWR rule will only hurt, not help the situation.
Spring is a time for growth, and I was able to see firsthand how two Nebraska companies are using ag technology to help farmers and ranchers lower input costs; increase land productivity while optimizing the use of water, fertilizer and pesticides; and reduce our carbon footprint. One example is how Valmont pivots can take a picture of a weed in your field and spray that one weed instead of an entire field. Bluestem is a decarbonized chemicals company that uses agricultural feedstocks and its chemical platform to displace oil-derived products we use and wear every day. Can you imagine using our ag byproducts to produce Nike tennis shoes in Nebraska? These opportunities are real. The future is bright for Nebraska agriculture.
Spring gives us a fresh new look at our farms and ranches. As you enter into your fields and pastures, please know I and our Farm Bureau team are working on your behalf. As always, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me at email@example.com.
Stay safe and be well!
Mark McHargue, President