New Nebraska FFA officers announced

nebraska ffa officers for 14-15-editedNebraska FFA has announced its officer team for 2014-15.

Pictured, left to right, are Blair Hartman, State Vice President, Imperial FFA Chapter; Colton Flower, State Secretary, Scottsbluff FFA Chapter; Andrea Wach, State Vice President, Hayes Center FFA Chapter; Paige Dexter, State President, Chambers FFA Chapter; Amanda Lambrecht, State Vice President, Blair FFA Chapter; Brandon Nichols, State Vice President, Bridgeport FFA Chapter; and Ben Rice, State Vice President, Norris FFA Chapter.

(Photo courtesy of the Nebraska FFA Association)

Nebraska farmer welcomed precipitation

Weekend rain and snow brought three-quarters of an inch of precipitation to Mark Jagels’ farm in south-central Nebraska.  Jagels says it was very welcome.

“I would say here in south central Nebraska we’re extremely dry,” Jagels says. “We had some moisture there at the last part of harvest—but we really didn’t have any over the winter.”

Jagels says his topsoil was extremely dry, “up to maybe six to eight inches, even in the no-till stuff.”

Once it dries off and warms up a bit, Jagels says he’ll be ready to plant corn.

“I still think probably the opportune time on corn is still that 18th through the 25th—so we’ve still got a good timeframe.”

Jagels says the temperature at his place near Davenport dipped to 23 degrees this morning.

AUDIO: Mark Jagels (3:12 MP3)

Nebraska ag land valuations continue to rise

The heavy property tax burden being carried by many Nebraska farmers and ranchers may get even heavier.

According to a new Nebraska Department of Revenue report, agricultural land valuations statewide are up 29 percent over last year.  Nebraska Farm Bureau president Steve Nelson says that means ag land valuations have doubled since 2009.

Nelson says Nebraska farmers and ranchers pay the third highest property taxes in the U.S.  And not only are they too high, he says, but the balance between property, income and sales taxes in the state is out of line.

“Three percent of Nebraskans—farmers and ranchers—pay 25 percent of the property tax in the state,” Nelson says, “So there’s not a balance there and we need to address that issue.”

Farm Bureau was disappointed that legislation to reduce the percent of ag land’s value subject to taxation from 75 to 65 percent failed to make it out of the appropriations committee.

“We believed that there was support to do that—a lot of talk about that, good support from the governor,” he says, “and so part of the disappointment is that it seemed like things had lined up that we could get something done.”

Nelson says Farm Bureau will continue to advocate for property tax relief for farmers and ranchers.

AUDIO: Steve Nelson (1:05 MP3)

Nebraska legislature creates Water Sustainability Fund

Nebraska lawmakers have given final approval to legislation creating a new water sustainability fund.

The fund will help local governments and the state pay for water projects, with an 11 million dollar annual appropriation.

Nebraska Farm Bureau president Steve Nelson calls it “a milestone piece of legislation”. He says the difference between this bill and previous water-related bills is that this one provides significant funding.

“It’s taken a number of years—we’ve talked about it for a long time,” Nelson says. “We’ve been able to get smaller amounts of money moved towards these issues before, but never this kind of commitment from the state.”

Budget bills that were approved this year are expected to generate 32 million dollars for the fund by mid-2015.

AUDIO: Steve Nelson (4:38 MP3)

Precipitation welcomed in Nebraska

Although precipitation amounts from weekend rain and snow in Nebraska were generally one inch or less, the precipitation was expecially welcome in areas where drought conditions are the most severe—specifically, south central and southwestern Nebraska.

Some areas of south central Nebraska received in excess of one inch of precipitation.

The weekly crop progress report for the state indicates a few fields of corn were planted last week in southern counties, amounting to one percent of corn planting statewide.  But most farmers were waiting for the weekend conditions to clear and soils to warm.

Winter wheat condition rated 12 percent poor to very poor, 81 percent fair to good, and seven percent excellent.

Driest parts of Iowa receive rain

Portions of western Iowa, the driest part of the state, received some welcome rain this past weekend.

Rainfall totals ranged from one to three inches in many parts of southwest and west central Iowa.  Heavier amounts, up to 6 inches or more, fell in eastern Iowa.

“The rains that much of the state saw this weekend were generally welcomed as it is still early,” says Iowa secretary of agriculture Bill Northey.  “The northwest corner did miss much of the rain and remains in need of moisture.”

Statewide, topsoil moisture supplies rate 31 short to very short, 57 percent adequate and 12 percent surplus.  Subsoil moisture supplies are 55 percent short to very short, 43 percent adequate and two percent surplus.

“If it warms up and fields dry, farmers will be ready to start planting,” Northey says.

Report outlines Nebraska’s livestock growth potential

Nebraska has great potential to expand its livestock industry, but obstacles remain.  That’s the conclusion of a report on livestock expansion from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL).

Dr. Ronnie Green, vice president for agriculture and natural resources at UNL, says Nebraska has several advantages to offer livestock producers, including extensive water resources and the synergy created by the production of corn, ethanol and cattle. But while Nebraska’s beef cattle industry is recognized as a national leader, Green says the state’s pork, dairy and egg industries have failed to keep pace with the growth taking place in surrounding states.

“There’s a lot of discussion (in the report) abut legislative policy in the state and how that looks in Nebraska compared to neighboring states,” Green says, “and Iowa, in particular, where there’s been a huge expansion of the swine industry over the last couple of decades, while our swine industry has continued to retract, to a degree, over that same time period.”

A 1998 law banned packer ownership of hogs in Nebraska, which means large pork processors like Smithfield can’t contract with farmers to feed hogs.  An attempt to overturn that law has failed to advance out of the Nebraska legislature’s agriculture committee.

Another obstacle to growth, Green says, has been Nebraska’s system of local zoning, which can make it more difficult for livestock expansion projects to gain approval.  However, Green says he is encouraged by the number of counties that have qualified for the state’s “Livestock Friendly” designation, which indicates they are open to livestock expansion.

The UNL report outlines several scenarios for livestock growth, including a 25 percent increase in the swine finishing sector, a doubling of dairy cows in the state (from 60,000 to 120,000 head), a tripling of egg-layer production, and a ten percent increase in feed cattle numbers.

“As the state’s land-grant university, we are hoping to use this report as a way to start a statewide conversation about this potential, understanding that all Nebraska citizens have a stake in this matter,” says Green.

AUDIO: Ronnie Green (10:32 MP3)

Link to news release on UNL web site

Iowa announces ‘Fueling Our Future’ grants

Two Iowa fuel retailers with plans to offer higher blends of ethanol and biodiesel to their customers will receive some financial assistance through the state’s “Fueling Our Future” pilot program.

Farmers Cooperative in Mount Ayr and Oak Street Station in Inwood will each receive 125-thousand dollars in cost share funding to help with their projects.

Oak Street Station’s Brent Van Regenmorter (Ree-gen-mortar) says their new fueling site will offer E10, E15, E30 and E85, as well as several biodiesel blends.

“We’re excited to have this fuel that’s locally made here and to support the local economy—the farmers,” says Van Regenmorter. “And we’re also excited to offer it in different forms that people can just make their own decision on.  Just in the past month, I’ve had more people asking about the E85 product because of the price flexibility.”

Farmers Cooperative plans to build a new fueling site at its Country Store in Mount Ayr to offer E10, registered E15, E30 and E85 and biodiesel blends of B5, B10, B20 and B99.

Iowa received the 250 thousand dollars to support the Fueling Our Future pilot project from a U.S. Department of Transportation air quality program.  Applicants were required to provide at least a 50 percent match to receive funding.  The projects were selected by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Infrastructure Board.

AUDIO: Brent Van Regenmorter (2:46 MP3)

Link to news release on Iowa Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources web site

Shake-up in Angus Association ranks

There’s been a shake-up in the ranks of the American Angus Association, the nation’s largest beef registry association.

In an April 11th letter to American Angus Association members, CEO Bryce Schumann announced that six regional managers and six staff members are, in his words, “no longer employed by the organization.”

According to Schumann, the action stems from a letter sent in March to the American Angus Association board of directors by 15 association employees. The letter expressed concerns over management of the organization and asked for his—Schumann’s—removal as CEO.  After an investigation of the issues involved, the association’s board of directors reaffirmed its support for Schumann and gave him the authority to deal with those who filed the complaint.

In his letter to the association’s members, Schumann said “We fully understand that this decision may create unexpected hardships for our members, but please be assured that, in light of this unforeseen circumstance, the Board of Directors and employees of the Association will do everything in our power to alleviate or prevent any inconveniences or disruptions in services related to the changes taking place.”

The American Angus Association declined Brownfield’s request for comment.

Link to PDF of letter sent to American Angus Association members

Ethanol supporters hoping for RFS reversal

Ethanol supporters are hoping that the avalanche of comments that the EPA received on its proposal to lower the ethanol volume requirement in the Renewable Fuels Standard will convince the agency to change its mind.

At the very least, a partial reversal, says Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator Todd Sneller.

“We’re hopeful that come mid-June or so, when that announcement comes out, that it will be a higher number than was required in the current proposal by EPA,” Sneller says, “although it may still be somewhat lower than the Congress had initially required.”

The EPA received more than 200-thousand comments on the RFS proposal.  Speaking to ag journalists in Washington last week, EPA administrator Gina McCarthy hinted that the final rule would probably be different than the one that was proposed, but did not offer specifics.

EPA’s proposal drops the corn ethanol requirement from 14.4 billion gallons to a little more than 13 billion gallons, an amount less than the 13.8 billion gallons required in 2013.

Sneller made his comments in an interview with Brownfield at the Ethanol 2014: Emerging Issues Forum in Omaha.

AUDIO: Todd Sneller (5:25 MP3)