Humans, Just Like You

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Yesterday evening, I went to visit my grandpa in the nursing home. When he asked “Do you know when I’ll be able to come home?” I thought to myself, “Living at home isn’t something you’ll be able to do anymore.” However, I wasn’t going to tell him that. Instead, I looked at Grandpa with hopeful eyes and said, “Well, I’m not sure! I guess we’ll have to wait and see! What’s so bad with being here though? I think they treat you pretty good!” Grandpa replied with a smile, “They sure do! But there’s nothing like living on the farm with my wife.”

As Grandpa expressed his love for his farm life through those words, I was reminded of his journey. It’s been a long one. Cecil, my Grandpa, has been living his whole life for the Lord, his family, and for farming. In my opinion, the greatest things around! Now, as he grows older, he has to separate from one of those things. The Farm. There comes a time when we grow too old to care for our cattle and too weak to climb up the tractor. I know Grandpa wishes nothing more than to be rolling through the snow in 30 below wind chills to feed his black beauties. That’s the passion of a farmer. The devotion of a farmer is something that goes unnoticed. People disconnected from agriculture are often misinformed and don’t view us as hard working humans. They instead view this industry as a machine. Yes, we are industrialized, but we are much more than that. My grandpa is a prime example of what’s really at the roots of agriculture. Here are 3 things that I think go unnoticed by our consumers.

  1. The passion we have for taking care of the land is absolute. As farmers, we don’t just plow through our land without a care in the world. We have a passion for what we are working with. We take pride and joy in knowing that the land we are working with has been an art project in the making. We work hard to preserve our land over the years so the next generation can inherit it.
  2. The care we have for our consumers is far beyond what others believe. What many people forget is that we, as farmers, eat what we produce as well. We wouldn’t produce anything that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. Consumers are always in the back of our minds when we are working hard to produce quality food.
  3. We are humans, just like you. What people will often forget is that people in agriculture are just as human as everyone else. We have families, we have feelings, and we have jobs that have much more passion behind them than advertised.

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If you take anything away from this blog, take away this: when you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal this month, think less about the technical side of things and more about the personal side of things. Look at your hearty meal and see the hard work, dedication, and passion that farmers endured to produce what you’re eating. We aren’t just producing food to produce food. We are caring for our land, caring for our consumers, and being humans, just like you.

 

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Property Taxes Still Top Priority

steve corn head shotIn early June I had the opportunity to attend the 2016 Cattlemen’s Ball hosted by the Linemann Family near Princeton, Nebraska. The Ball is a tremendous event targeted to raising funds for cancer research. If you’ve never been, I’d encourage you to put it on your list of things to do and see in Nebraska. Congratulations to the Linemann family and all those who helped make this year’s event a major success!

Not only is the Ball a fun time for a great cause, it’s a good way to connect with people from across the state. During the Ball I had the chance to talk to many farmers and ranchers. Not surprisingly, property taxes and concerns about profitability in agriculture were the top two issues on people’s minds. As margins in agriculture have tightened, the squeeze of higher property tax bills have only added more financial pressure to farm and ranch families. With property valuation notices hitting mailboxes in June its only added to the seriousness of the need to address this issue.

I don’t need to repeat the numbers, but I will. Over the last 10 years property taxes collected on agricultural land statewide have increased 176 percent. Commercial and residential property taxes have also climbed by 49 percent and 35 percent, respectively. Nebraska’s three-legged tax stool of property, income and sales tax is out of balance. Property taxes now account for 48 percent of total collections of the three, with income taxes at 32 percent and sales taxes at 20 percent of statewide collections.

We have to bring balance to our tax structure and alleviate the over-reliance on property taxes. As we head into the heat of the summer, I want you as a Farm Bureau member to know this when it comes to the property tax issue:

Farm Bureau will continue to lead the charge to fix this problem. This isn’t an easy issue, but it is not an impossible one either. There are numerous ideas and approaches to better balance the tax burden and alleviate the pressure on property taxes. We’ve offered solutions in the past and we’ll continue to do so. We’re fleshing out new ideas, even as I write this. We are committed to this issue.

We have expectations of the Legislature. There are good people in the Nebraska Legislature who are interested in making sound tax policy for Nebraskans. The Legislature is still our first best means to solve the property tax problem. As we’ve always done, we will bring ideas to the legislature and work together with Nebraska senators to find solutions. With that said, the Legislature needs to act. Kicking the can down the road won’t cut it. We’ll continue to do everything we can to work with senators to make progress in the legislative arena.

We’re willing to be patient, but there must be a final destination. Baseball analogies are often used to discuss the property tax problem. I continue to hear the terminology “bunts and singles” when it comes to fixes for property taxes. “Bunts and singles” will not solve the problem unless you string enough of them together to score runs and ultimately win. I’ve testified before the legislature that if it takes multiple years to solve this issue, we’re willing to do that. But there must be a clearly identified end goal, with a plan for how that is accomplished.

All Nebraskans, not just farmers and ranchers deserve better. They say a rising tide raises all ships. While our farm and ranch members have been hit the hardest by property tax increases, we know many Nebraskans share those concerns and they’ve relayed those to their elected leaders. Our solutions to balance the property tax burden will work for all Nebraskans.

Doing nothing is not an option. I know you want this issue addressed. Many of you have reached out to the team at Nebraska Farm Bureau urging action. I also know some members are looking at alternatives beyond the legislature. As I said before, the legislature is our first best solution, but we are open to looking at all options to make the reforms needed to bring balance to our tax system.

As always, I want to thank you for being a Farm Bureau member. Farm Bureau exists to serve you and I always welcome your thoughts, input and ideas as we work together to address this critical issue.

 

Until Next Time,

Steve Nelson, President, Nebraska Farm Bureau

Sound Tax Policy isn’t Education’s Foe

steve corn head shotThere are two things I’m confident about when it comes to the beliefs of the majority of Nebraskans. One, we value education; whether it’s making sure we have high quality K-12 schools, or quality secondary education opportunities. Two, we believe in sound fiscal policy; including an appreciation for spending restraint and a balanced tax structure.

We don’t believe those two things have to be in conflict, but you might get that impression based on sentiment expressed by some in the education community as Farm Bureau has weighed in on the need for property tax and school funding reform. Farm Bureau’s calls for local spending restraint and property tax relief should not in any way be construed as adversarial to public education.

You know as well as I do that Nebraska Farm Bureau and its members value quality educational opportunities for Nebraska students. For decades, numerous members of our organization have given their time and talents to serve on local school boards, while many others have offered their service to Nebraska education as teachers and volunteers. Our members are proud to support their schools and their communities.

As I’ve said on many occasions, including testimony before the Legislature’s Revenue and Education Committees, how we as Nebraskans choose to fund schools is a separate and distinct question from whether we should provide quality educational opportunities for students.

We believe in quality education, but we also believe we must address the underlying imbalance in our tax structure that has led us to a point where property taxes carry the lion’s share of school funding. Nebraska is far outside the norm in terms of our reliance on property taxes when compared with other states. For example, the nationwide average contribution of property taxes for school funding is 32 percent. In Nebraska, it’s 51 percent.

Calls for reform are not an indictment of whether our schools are doing a good job, but rather an indictment of an imbalance in the way in which we fund schools in Nebraska and the over-reliance on property taxes to do so.

And make no mistake, Nebraskans want lower property taxes.

Over the last 10 years, (2005 to 2015) total statewide property tax collections for real property increased 66 percent, with property taxes levied on agricultural land increasing 176 percent, commercial property taxes 49 percent and residential property taxes 35 percent.

In 2015 alone, property tax collections increased statewide by six percent, a total increase of $216 million. That clearly outpaces the $204 million put into the state’s property tax credit program that was targeted to provide property tax relief.

We’re not getting ahead. We’re not even treading water.

To solve the property tax problem we as Nebraskans have to think bigger. We need visionary leadership. That’s the reason delegates at Nebraska Farm Bureau’s annual meeting adopted policy that seeks to set a limitation that no more than 40 percent of school spending could come from property taxes, bringing us closer to the national norm. The goal isn’t to harm education. The goal is to alleviate the pressure on property taxes and force the conversation that must take place about balancing the tax burden on Nebraskans. This is about fixing a problem that continues to be kicked down the road.

Those who believe that calls for property tax reductions and school funding reform are attacks on education, are simply missing the point.

We can work together to determine how much money it takes to provide adequate funding for schools. But, until we reform how we fund schools, there will continue to be undue pressure on property taxes.

There’s no question that re-balancing the tax burden and how we fund schools is challenging. But having the ability to problem solve and tackle these types of challenges is why we invest in education in the first place.

It’s time to think bigger on Nebraska tax policy. Reducing our over-reliance on property taxes to fund education is the right place to start.

Sincerely,

Steve Nelson

President

A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

steve corn head shotThere’s an old saying that to know where you’re going, it helps to know where you’ve been. And as we closed out 2015, it’s worth taking a look back at last year to see the work that’s been done and see how it helps moving forward in 2016. That applies not only to our farms and ranches, but also to Farm Bureau.

Farm Bureau is about making life better for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families.

In 2015 that meant working to provide property tax reform for farmers, ranchers and all members. It meant finding ways to grow Nebraska’s livestock sector to create home grown markets for our commodities. It meant investing time and resources working to promote agricultural trade opportunities to add value to the grain and livestock produced on our farms and ranches. And it meant pushing back on a landslide of regulations directed at agriculture, particularly EPA’s “Waters of the U.S.” rule that poses the single largest threat to private property rights we’ve ever seen from a federal agency.

It also involved getting the Nebraska Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture up and running with new leadership and new staff which are integral to the Foundations’ efforts to engage and equip students, teachers and consumers with information about how their food is produced and where it comes from.

And it also meant providing support for our county farm bureau’s, growing our list of member benefits, and engaging more with the youth who will be the next generation of Farm Bureau leaders.

It was a good year with numerous successes; all of which have everything to do with your engagement as a Farm Bureau member. Listing all the activities members do to make Farm Bureau great at the county, state and national level is a nearly impossible task. But the results of all those actions are reflected in our list of 2015 achievements.

As we look to 2016, I’d ask you to consider a New Year’s Resolution; a resolution to continue to engage and be a leader for agriculture in the coming year. As I’ve said on many occasions the strength of Farm Bureau lies in the strength and engagement of our grassroots membership. Working together thru Farm Bureau we do things we could never accomplish alone. My hope for 2016 is that we continue to push forward together as we always have, engaging when and where we can, to help make life better for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families. That’s truly a New Year’s Resolution worth keeping!

Sincerely,

Steve Nelson, President, Nebraska Farm Bureau

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Belief and Engagement, Critical to Fixing School Funding Problem

steve corn head shotBefore I get to the heart of this month’s column I wanted to take a minute on behalf of the leadership and staff of the Nebraska Farm Bureau to wish everyone a safe and bountiful harvest season. As combines roll across the state, this time of year can be stressful, yet extremely rewarding. Please know here at Farm Bureau we wish you only the best as you work to safely harvest the fruit of your labors.

Speaking of harvest, we all know there would be a lot less to do in the fall if it wasn’t for the work done in the spring to sow the seeds for the coming year’s crop. The same holds true when it comes to addressing the number one issue we hear about from members, that being property tax relief.

Nothing worth having comes easy. To have a harvest you must first, successfully plant seeds. Over the past two legislative sessions Nebraska Farm Bureau has made providing property tax relief a top priority; planting the seeds and working to address the issue. Yet like many things, there is no simple fix. I’ve said many times that high property taxes in agriculture are the symptom of a larger problem with the way Nebraska funds schools. The reliance on property taxes and a diminished level of state support for districts with large agricultural land bases has created inequity in how schools are funded; and in who funds them. As you know all too well, much of the increased burden has fallen on farm and ranch families across the state.

The frustration I hear from members with the situation is growing in both size and scope. Yet at the same time, I sense some have doubts as to whether the legislature will do anything to address the issue and therefore there’s little reason to put forth the effort to fix the problem. As I think about the situation, a couple of quotes from some very successful coaches come to mind.

“You carry on no matter what are the obstacles. You simply refuse to give up – and, when the going gets tough, you get tougher. And, you win.” ~Vince Lombardi

“If you are going to be a successful duck hunter, you must go where the ducks are.” ~Paul “Bear” Bryant

To me, these two quotes provide great insight into how we must approach this critical issue. Leaders work to find solutions, not dwell on problems. Your Farm Bureau organization will head into the 2016 legislative session committed to finding solutions to the school funding issue, fully examining all of our options.

Having said that, engagement from members is also critical. As Paul Bryant points out, we have to take our message and our concerns to the people who can make a difference. That’s not just the rural contingency in the legislature, but all 49 state senators who have been elected to provide leadership and direction for our state. And that can’t be done just by Nebraska Farm Bureau staff. We need members to both believe in this effort and to engage to make a difference. The legislative process is a contact sport. We need to develop sound policy as we work through the policy development process this fall. And from there we need members to spread the message to elected officials and others who can assist in our cause. Your personal stories, experiences and voice carry weight.

This problem isn’t going away and it’s only going to get worse. Now is the time for us to roll up our sleeves and take heed of the message provided by Lombardi and Bryant who knew a thing or two about hard work and winning. As we head toward and through the 2016 legislative session there will be many opportunities for you work through Farm Bureau to make a difference. Farm Bureau is about engaging leaders for the betterment of agriculture. Never has there been a better time, or issue, for us to come together to show it.

Until Next Time,

Steve Nelson

Declining Ag Economy Will Pose Challenges for Nebraskans

steve corn head shotIn Nebraska, there’s a telltale sign that we’re transitioning from summer to fall. It’s the dramatic change that happens on Saturday’s when no matter where you go in the state, you start seeing plenty of scarlet and cream. The University of Nebraska and Husker athletics, like the weather, is something you can strike up a conversation with virtually anyone. It connects many of us no matter where you live or what you do for a living.

While the relationship between Nebraskans and Husker athletics is apparent, there’s something else that connects Nebraskans as well; agriculture. On its face, the connection might not seem as obvious, but if you dig a little deeper, the connection is abundantly clear.

While only three percent of Nebraskans identify themselves as farmers and ranchers, the end product of their efforts in producing crops and livestock translates into creating jobs for one out of every four Nebraskans.

A study released by the University of Nebraska in 2012 leaves little question about agriculture’s connection and importance, whether you’re more likely to drive to work on six lanes of pavement or drive cattle down a gravel road.

To quote the study which looked at 2010 numbers to evaluate agriculture’s importance, “The combined direct and indirect effects of the agricultural production complex on Nebraska’s economy are considerable. In short, more than a fourth of the Nebraska’s economy can be attributed to the agricultural production complex.”

The study goes on to point out that, “While the nation’s economy was hit by the Great Recession followed by years of anemic recovery, this state’s economy has fared much better than most, in large part due to the prosperity within its agricultural sectors.”

The take away message from the report is simple. When Nebraska agriculture does well, so do Nebraskans. It was Nebraska’s connection to the agriculture that helped Nebraska families work through one of the lowest economic points in our nation’s history. And while agriculture had been riding a wave of momentum, things have changed.

Since 2013, the agriculture economy has done an abrupt about face. In Aug. USDA put out its projects for net farm income for 2015. The projections for farm income reflect a 50 percent decline in farm income over the last two years. It’s the equivalent of someone walking into their place of work and finding their salary or per-hour wage has been cut in half.

The transition in the agriculture economy will have broader ramifications for the state and the people and families who live here. Farmers and ranchers, while small in number, serve as the ignition point for the state’s economic activity. The ripple effect is already being felt. In late Aug. CNH Industrial America, which manufactures agriculture combines in Grand Island, reduced its workforce by 70 employees. That comes on the heels of cutting 136 jobs in February and 230 positions in August of 2014.

The loss of purchasing power by farmers and ranchers will trickle down and be felt across the state. The connection between agriculture and Nebraska’s economy is just that strong. That’s why Nebraska Farm Bureau continues to advocate for policies to keep a vibrant ag economy, whether that’s working to address a property tax burden that is threatening the viability of farms and ranches or pushing back on needless regulations that stifle growth opportunities.

At the end of the day, all Nebraskans have a connection to agriculture; and the connection isn’t just limited to the food on our plates.

 

Until next month,

Steve Nelson, President, Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation

Secret Documents, Questionable Actions Paint Ugly Picture of EPA

steve corn head shotGeorge Strait made a living putting out country hit singles. “Ace in the Hole” immediately comes to mind. You might remember the song for its message about having a little something up your sleeve to ensure things ultimately go your way. “You’ve got to have an ace in the hole,” sang Strait. “A little secret that nobody knows.”

While I don’t know if officials at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are George Strait fans, I do know they understand the idea of having a little something up their sleeve and know a thing or two about secrets. This became apparent a few weeks ago when documents came to light pointing out the joint Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) and EPA “Waters of the U.S.” regulatory proposal was, in fact, virtually all EPA and very little Corps. Worse, the documents paint a picture of the EPA ignoring concerns the Corps had raised regarding the regulatory proposal to vastly expand EPA’s control over private property.

The documents came to light when Sen. Jim Inhofe, Chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, asked the Corps to provide information concerning the development of the “Waters” rule. The Corps provided the documents, but asked they be kept hidden from public view. Evidently they show that Corps staff had questions about the validity of EPA’s economic analysis and the rule’s unworkability due to lack of clarity concerning what “waters” were to be regulated. If those concerns sound familiar it’s because they are the same concerns echoed by virtually every opponent of the rule, Farm Bureau included.

And it doesn’t end there.

As I write this, a Dear Colleague letter is making its way through Congressional offices. The letter seeks to have EPA’s Office of Inspector General investigate all matters relevant to EPA’s efforts in generating support for the “Waters” rule. The effort stems from a recent New York Times article exposing EPA’s abuse of the public comment process by engaging in an unprecedented advocacy campaign intended to generate public support for the proposal. According to the Times, EPA engaged in a grassroots solicitation for public comments by partnering in social media campaigns with groups like the Sierra Club to intentionally drown out opposition and to help justify EPA’s actions.

EPA has consistently made claims it received over one million comments on the rule with 90 percent of them being supportive. However, according the Corps (EPA’s jilted partner) only 20,000 plus of those were considered unique, and of those, only 10 percent were considered substantive. The vast majority of comments appear to be mass mailings generated by EPA’s own lobbying efforts. Not only are EPA’s actions on this front potentially illegal, but reflect an abuse of the most democratic component of the federal rulemaking process designed to give a voice to those impacted.

The picture painted by EPA’s actions, while ugly, is clear. The EPA was determined to push this proposal through no matter what; keeping secrets and working to manipulate the public.

At Nebraska Farm Bureau we continue to work with our Congressional delegation and other partners to push back against this blatant overreach of power and disregard for Nebraska’s farm and ranch families. There is much at stake not only in how we respond to the rule, but in the way EPA has conducted its business in this matter. I do know one thing. If EPA believes we’ll go away quietly I’d point them to another George Strait song; one that involves selling ocean front property…in Arizona.

Until Next Month,

Steve Nelson

President, Nebraska Farm Bureau