LINCOLN, Neb. – The ongoing decline in Nebraska’s agriculture economy is among the top agriculture stories of 2016, according to Nebraska Farm Bureau. Also making the list are a series of actions slowing major federal regulatory proposals widely known to be detrimental to agriculture, and a growing call for tax reform and property tax relief, said Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson.
“One out of every four jobs in Nebraska is generated from agriculture and agriculture businesses. It’s impossible for the state’s broader economy not to feel the impact of a third straight year of decline in farm incomes,” said Nelson. “Whether it’s cattle, corn or everything in between, farmers and ranchers are receiving lower prices for virtually every commodity produced in our state and it appears we are going to be in a down cycle for a while. That’s not good news for farm and ranch families or for the state as a whole.”
The downturn in the ag economy has directly contributed to shortfalls in state revenues that will have the state legislature looking to close a $1.2 billion budget shortfall when they return in January. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) projections for profitability on Nebraska farms and ranches in 2016 is expected to drop by nearly half since 2013, declining from $7.5 billion to just over $4 billion.
In addition to falling farm prices, a series of measures to slow excessive and unnecessary regulations on agriculture were noteworthy in 2016.
“The sheer volume of major regulatory initiatives proposed on agriculture has been staggering over the last several years. 2016 was a landmark in that the brakes were put on many major regulations viewed to be unnecessary and damaging to agriculture operations,” said Nelson.
In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Cincinnati validated a previous federal stay on the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) rule. If implemented, the wide reaching regulation could have given the agency more control over activities on private land, including requirements for farmers to obtain federal permits for common farming practices.
In September, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit leveled a major setback against the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) which had attempted to implement new restrictions on the handling and storage of anhydrous ammonia, a common fertilizer used in agriculture. The court action required OSHA to start over using the official rulemaking process for implementing changes which would have translated to higher costs and limited farmer and rancher access to the fertilizer product.
“If implemented, these regulations would be damaging to Nebraska farms and ranches. The legal actions supported by Farm Bureau to stop these measures were major wins and we expect positive regulatory reforms under the new Administration,” said Nelson.
The growing call for state tax reform to address property taxes also topped Nebraska Farm Bureau’s list of key stories in 2016.
“2016 is likely to be remembered as the year when momentum for major tax reform in our state began. We heard more from individuals, both inside and outside of our organization, about the need for tax reform to address the property tax burden than ever before,” said Nelson. “The concerns about property taxes came through loud and clear, particularly on election day when voters in Southeast Nebraska soundly rejected a $369 million community college bond measure that would have raised property taxes for farmers, businesses, and homeowners.”
Looking forward into 2017 Nebraska Farm Bureau predicts tax reform to remain on the list of major news items at both the state and national levels.
“In addition to state tax reform, we’re anticipating movement on federal tax reform, including potential action to eliminate the federal estate tax or ‘death tax’,” said Nelson. “We also fully expect movement on several other key issues for agriculture, including broader regulatory reform and healthcare reform. Development of a Farm Bill and trade issues are likely to be making headlines as well.”
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 61,000 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.