LINCOLN, NEB. – Farmers, ranchers, and Nebraska agriculture remained resilient in 2023. From widespread drought conditions and uncertainty in commodity markets, to economic recoil associated with higher interest rates and input costs, Nebraska agriculture navigated some challenging waters. Nebraska Farm Bureau (NEFB) worked alongside Nebraska’s farm and ranch families to help lighten the burden by helping deliver historic property tax relief, promoting growth opportunities for livestock agriculture, working on the next Farm Bill, helping achieve an unprecedent Supreme Court win for Waters of the United States (WOTUS), and continuing to ensure strong agricultural advocates are elected. Those issues round out Nebraska Farm Bureau’s top agricultural issues list for 2023.
“Today, Nebraska represents the third-largest agriculture production complex in the country worth $100 billion. The things we need to do to grow agriculture at this level will come with difficult conversations about taxes, trade, water, energy, and the environment, and we must get comfortable with speaking out about the things that are important for our future,” said Mark McHargue, NEFB president.
2023 brought historic tax relief for all Nebraskans, lowering property taxes by an estimated 30 percent by 2030. State funding for K-12 schools is at an all-time high, and income tax rates continue to decrease. As Nebraska saw landowners voice concern when their agricultural land was annexed into city limits. Through grassroots advocacy, NEFB was able to help those landowners preserve their special valuation status, saving up to $50,980 annually for affected farms, ultimately saving their family operations.
With Nebraska as the protein production capital of the world, NEFB continues to promote and support animal agriculture. Increased state tax credits for livestock operations growing their employment and a lowered investment threshold to qualify for the livestock modernization program have expanded the Livestock Modernization Act making over 9000 additional operations eligible for those tax credits. Also of note was the aftermath of the unfavorable Supreme Court ruling on California’s Proposition 12 (Prop 12) which established animal welfare standards for pork, poultry, and veal products imported into California. It is imperative that Congress pass a federal legislative fix to ensure one state does not dictate production practices for the entire country. NEFB is thankful the entire Nebraska congressional delegation is actively supporting legislation to rectify the situation.
“Growing Nebraska’s livestock sector is vital to Nebraska’s agricultural economy and thus, the state’s economy. It is crucial our state allows for this expansion and does not stand in the way of new and much more sophisticated facilities going in place. We need to actively engage at the federal, state, and local county level to support the new frontier for livestock growth, communicating the beneficial economic impact these livestock operations could have on local economies,” said McHargue.
While Congress spent much of 2023 hearing from farmers and ranchers about what they’d like to see in a new Farm Bill, ultimately, a one-year extension was passed pushing completion of the bill into 2024. Protecting federal crop insurance and ensuring it is not tied to climate focused practices or incentives were two of NEFB’s top priorities. Reforming USDA disaster programs to provide better flexibility in the event of natural disasters is also key. While a more evolutionary than revolutionary Farm Bill continues to be likely, getting a bill out of Congress that works for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families remains paramount.
2023 continued to prove the adage, “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” This summer, the U.S .Supreme Court scored a major win for private property advocates concerning EPA’s WOTUS regulations in the Sackett v. EPA case. Eliminating the significant nexus test was a huge step in Farm Bureau’s fight to ensure the federal government’s regulatory reach over water remains limited. The development of the Perkins County Canal remained an important issue. The finalization of this project would help ensure Nebraska’s receive the water from Colorado that it is entitled to. Lastly, there is no question that every Nebraskan deserves access to safe drinking water. Utilizing money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), NEFB secured funding to help defray the cost of reverse osmosis units to help protect those with high nitrates in their homes. Nebraska Farm Bureau remains committed to protecting this vital resource for generations to come.
Agriculture could not have made the progress legislatively it did in 2023 without having strong agricultural supporters in elected positions. We must elect the right people to get the right policies passed. Every election gives us the opportunity to expand on our past success. The Nebraska Farm Bureau Political Action Committee (NEFB-PAC) prioritizes cultivating and supporting agricultural advocates seeking office on the local, state, and national levels. In the last election, 82 percent of NEFB-PAC endorsed candidates were elected, including Nebraska’s first agricultural governor in more than 100 years. As Nebraska heads into another election year, it is critical that we continue to elevate the importance of agriculture in communities across the state and strengthen agriculture’s voice. Electing the right people into office lays the foundation for progress to be made.
“We need good, purposeful leaders across the state and in our nation’s capital,” said McHargue. “We need to identify people who will step up to be our next state senator, school board member or county commissioner, and find new leaders willing to carry the torch for our local County Farm Bureau boards. Fewer things are more important than getting the right people in positions to make important decisions for agriculture.”
With 2024 on the horizon, there is continued growth and progress to be made. At the federal level, NEFB calls on Congress to provide a solution for Prop 12 and complete the next Farm Bill. In terms of state issues, the future looks bright on finding balance of the three-legged stool of property, income and sales tax. Getting the right individuals elected will push us one step closer to achieving that balance and creating a sustainable future for agriculture. Continued growth of the agriculture complex will lead to a prosperous, sustainable Nebraska.
The Nebraska Farm Bureau is a grassroots, state-wide organization dedicated to supporting farm and ranch families and working for the benefit of all Nebraskans through a wide variety of educational, service, and advocacy efforts. More than 55,000 families across Nebraska are Farm Bureau members, working together to achieve rural and urban prosperity as agriculture is a key fuel to Nebraska’s economy. For more information about Nebraska Farm Bureau and agriculture, visit www.nefb.org.