Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson has been involved in farming all of his life, farming near Axtell in south central Nebraska and producing irrigated corn, hybrid-seed corn and soybeans.
Nelson — elected president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau in December 2011 — took time recently to tell The Fence Post what issues the organization is following closely during the ongoing legislative sessions, with water and tax issues toping this list
Q: What legislative issues are you following closest this year?
A: At the statehouse, we’ve primarily been focused on legislation that deals with taxes and water.
We were very involved early in the session opposing proposals that would put a greater sales tax burden on farm and ranch families.
Now that those specific measures have been shelved, we’re staying engaged in discussions on the state’s broader tax policy to ensure farm and ranch interests are represented there.
We’ve also spent time on bills dealing with our state’s water policy.
One bill in particular would create a committee to study and prioritize the needs of the state in relation to water management.
Farmers and ranchers have a lot at stake in those talks and we’ve been heavily involved in those discussions.
At the federal level we’ve been pushing for passage of a farm bill that helps manage on-farm risk.
With the federal budget situation and the budget sequester there are a lot of factors in play that will affect our ability to get a farm bill that meets the needs of farmers and ranchers competing in the global market place.
Q: What are the main challenges facing Nebraska agriculture today?
A: The drought is squarely on the minds of our members, particularly livestock and dryland crop farmers.
We did have some places last year where irrigated land generated record type crop yields last year.
At the same time, we had dryland farms raising half a crop to no crop at all due to the drought.
Things were particularly difficult on livestock farmers and ranchers.
The decimation of pastures and overall lack of forage made it extremely difficult on cow/calf operations.
Those involved in the livestock feeding business also felt the drought in the form of higher feed prices given the drought related crop and forage shortages.
For crop producers, a second year of drought will obviously hurt crop-growing conditions and will likely increase the need for irrigation again in the state.
Our crop insurance tools could come into play again this year.
Our cow-calf sector would also struggle again.
What could make this year different than last is the fact the eastern cornbelt has been getting some moisture.
If those areas are able to generate good crops we could see corn prices drop considerably, which would provide some relief to livestock feeders, but put more pressure on the crop sector.
The drought affects all the sectors of farming differently so there is a lot of uncertainty depending on what type of operation your involved with.
Q: Aside from legislation, what are some of the efforts taking place to help mitigate those concerns?
A: We’ve been holding drought-risk management seminars across the state to try and help farmers and ranchers identify ways in which they can try to manage for a second year of drought conditions.
The reoccurring theme from our speakers, including experts from the university is to have a drought plan in place.
We obviously can’t make it rain, but there are things you can do from a management standpoint on your operation to try and mitigate the impacts of drought.
Q: What do you believe will be some of the main challenges for agriculture in Nebraska 10 years from now?
A: How we manage our water resources has been and will continue to be one of, if not the biggest, issue for Nebraska agriculture moving forward.
It’s a limited natural resources and everyone needs it.
Without water there is no agriculture, and no agriculture means no food.
For the most part, Nebraska farmers and our state’s leadership have been proactive in trying to work through ways in which we manage this limited resource but there is still a lot of work to be done, particularly in how we go about prioritizing and funding the programs and actions that will be needed to better manage our water resources.
In a broader sense, I expect that we’ll continue to be working on ways to help people better understand where their food comes from.
Farmers and ranchers are clearly a minority in our population and we continue to have fewer and fewer people with direct ties to the farm.
That in and of itself creates challenges, particularly when it comes to policy issues, such as explaining why funding for programs like crop insurance are vital to our nation’s long-term food security, and why we need regulatory policies that don’t put farmers out of business.
Q: Are you optimistic about the future of agriculture in Nebraska? Why or why not?
A: While we certainly have a lot of challenges to work through, it’s hard not to be optimistic about where we are headed in agriculture. Last week Nebraska Farm Bureau was joined by state leaders and university officials at events celebrating National Ag Day.
There were many FFA students in attendance at our events.
Their youthful enthusiasm is contagious and they clearly understand the challenges that lie ahead in feeding our growing world population using less land and less natural resources … and they are more than up for the challenge.
On top of that, I just returned from a trip to Peru and Panama with the U.S. Meat Export Federation.
You can’t go on a trip like that without coming back excited about the market prospects that exist for our agriculture commodities.
We truly are in a global market place and the demand for our products is growing.
We have a lot to be optimistic about. ❖