Property taxes, health care, and trade were among the top issues of importance to Nebraska farmers and ranchers who took part in Nebraska Farm Bureau’s listening sessions across the state this summer. The organization held sessions in Ainsworth, Gering, Hastings, and West Point in June, followed by sessions in Syracuse, Columbus, and North Platte in August. Roughly 400 farmers and ranchers participated in the events, which gave attendees the opportunity to share their thoughts about the issues impacting their operations.
“Everyone who attended a session was given the chance to speak, and virtually everyone took advantage of the opportunity,” said Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president. “We gathered a great deal of insight from the sessions and we thank those who took the time to share their thoughts.”
Property taxes and school funding were the most mentioned topics at all seven listening sessions.
“What we heard is that people value education, but there continues to be major concern about relying on local property taxes to underwrite the bulk load of K-12 funding in rural areas,” said Nelson.
“When farmers say they’re looking at selling farm ground that’s been in their family for generations because they just can’t afford to pay the taxes it paints a clear picture of just how serious this situation is. We must work together in Nebraska to find a solution to this problem. What we heard during the sessions only reinforced the importance of finding solutions.”
The affordability of health care, health insurance, and access to both, was also high on the list of issues among those attending the sessions.
“Whether it was the enormous costs associated with securing health insurance or people simply dropping insurance because of the costs, we heard numerous stories from people who are challenged by health care related issues,” said Nelson. “It’s concerning to hear stories of young people who can’t farm full-time because they can’t afford health insurance or of a spouse having to leave the farm to take an off-farm job just to secure health care for their family. It’s a high priority issue for many farm and ranch families.”
Nelson said trade was also on the minds of farmers and ranchers who attended the listening sessions particularly as it relates to the uncertainty that’s been created with unresolved trade agreements and the placement of tariffs on U.S trade partners.
“Profitability is squarely on the minds of many of those who attended the sessions. We’re dealing with lower prices for virtually every commodity we produce in Nebraska and the prospects of losing long-term markets is weighing on members. Trade is a major factor in profitability for a state where roughly 30 percent of our agriculture cash receipts come from exports,” said Nelson.
Numerous other issues were raised during the listening sessions, including, but not limited to:
- The need for improved broadband and high-speed internet access across rural Nebraska.
- Concerns about generational transfers of farms and ranches and opportunities for young people to participate in production agriculture.
- Development of a Farm Bill that maintains crop insurance as a risk management tool.
- The need to support continued development of livestock agriculture in the state.
- The need for continued support for ethanol and the federal Renewable Fuel Standard.
- The importance of continued access to water resources for agriculture.
- Concerns about consumer understanding and misperceptions about agriculture.
- Transportation issues and the need to have workable regulations for the transportation of livestock animals.
- Activist nuisance suits against farms and ranches that could erode farmers and rancher’s property rights.
- Food labeling, specifically support for prohibitions on labeling lab grown protein and plant-based alternatives as “meat”.
- General concerns about government spending at the local, state, and national levels.
- Concerns about whether term-limits are working for Nebraska.
“The listening sessions are in no way a substitute for our grassroots policy development process, but they were intended to get people together to discuss issues to enhance our policy development efforts. The goal would be for these discussions to prompt individual members to think about the issues raised as they develop and make policy recommendations through their county Farm Bureau that ultimately works through our grassroots process,” said Nelson.