Nebraska Economy Stumbles in First Quarter . . .

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The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) at the U.S. Department of Commerce reported Nebraska’s gross domestic product (GDP) shrunk 4 percent in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the fourth quarter of 2016.  Nebraska had the worst first quarter economic performance of any state. The BEA attributed the dismal economic performance to the slumping agricultural sector.  Other plains states, also dominated by agriculture, saw their economies shrink in the first quarter as well.  Iowa’s economy contracted 3.2 percent; South Dakota’s fell 3.8 percent; and Kansas fell 0.7 percent.  Texas saw the greatest first quarter growth at 3.9 over the fourth quarter.  The country as a whole saw real GDP increase 1.2 percent in the first quarter, and the BEA’s first estimates real GDP growth for the second quarter at 2.6 percent.

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Not all the news on the economic front was bad for Nebraska. Governor Ricketts and the Nebraska Dept. of Labor announced Nebraska’s monthly increase in non-farm employment in June was 0.6 percent, the third highest in the nation.  Nebraska’s non-farm employment in June reached 1.031 million jobs.  Also, the Bureau of Business Research at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln reported that its most recent leading economic indicator predicts rapid economic growth later this year.  The indicator is a composite of economic factors like building permits for single-family homes, airline passenger counts, manufacturing hours, and the value of the dollar.  All components of the indicator rose in June, resulting in an increase in the economic indicator of 2.75 percent, suggesting a rapidly growing Nebraska economy at the end of the year.

Nebraska’s agricultural economy will continue to struggle in 2017.  The most recent projection indicates 2017 net farm income will fall 16 percent, the fourth consecutive year net farm income will have fallen.  Thus, agriculture will continue to dampen the state’s economic growth.  The first quarter numbers are surely evidence of this fact.  However, it appears the non-farm economy is picking up steam, offsetting the agriculture slump which should help the state post modest economic growth soon.

 

Jay RempeJay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Nebraska County Export Values . . .

 

Economic Tidbits logoInternational trade and foreign markets are critical to Nebraska agriculture.  To get a sense of which Nebraska counties are most reliant on international trade, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture has created a map showing export values by county for select commodities (see below).  Commodities included are beef and beef products, corn, dairy products, distillers grains, ethanol, pork and pork products, pulses, sorghum, soybeans and soybean products and wheat.  The map was created using 2015 Nebraska cash receipts data and attributing shares to counties based on county production data.  Platte County topped the state with export values of $245 million.  Custer, Holt, Boone and Cuming Counties fall in the next tier with export values between $125-$150 million.  Most counties in Nebraska generate at least $25 million in export values, which no doubt contributes significantly to their local economies.

The top counties stand to gain the most from increased access to foreign markets.  Free trade agreements with Mexico, Canada, Korea, Colombia and others, while benefitting all counties, have been particularly beneficial to these counties.  An analysis last year of the benefits of the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) by Nebraska Farm Bureau showed many of these same counties would have benefited from the $378 million in increased receipts Nebraska was projected to receive under the agreement.  The map clearly demonstrates it is in the interest of Nebraska agriculture to continue to press for more open international markets in agricultural products.
county exports

 

Jay Rempe is the senior economist for Nebraska Farm Bureau. Rempe’s background in agricultural economics, years of experience in advocating at the state capitol, and firm grasp of issues allow him to quantify the fiscal impact of a regulatory proposal, and provide in-depth examination of key issues affecting Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers.

Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Maintain Optimism in the Face of Tougher Economic Times

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Left to right: Matt & Elizabeth Albrecht, Brian & Amy Gould, James & Katie Olson, Todd & Julie Reed

The future of agriculture relies upon the ability of young people to maintain and grow their farms and ranches. While the recent downturn in the agricultural economy could lead one to be pessimistic about the future, after a recent National Affairs visit to Washington D.C., the Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee, continue to remain optimistic about the years ahead.

“Given the importance of agriculture to the overall health of Nebraska’s economy, it isn’t hard to see why Nebraska has successfully weathered and even prospered through the economic uncertainty of the past. Yet, recent USDA projections of an over 30 percent reduction in net farm income, as compared to 2013, along with continued tax and regulatory challenges, could signal trouble on the horizon. These continued challenges make it more important than ever for our state’s young farmers and ranchers to speak out about the challenges they face on their operations,” Steve Nelson, president of Nebraska Farm Bureau said.

“Of particular concern is a 33 percent rise in operating debt since 2012. As farmers and ranchers are adding debt, they have also been drawing down financial assets, such as cash or equity. Young and new farmers and ranchers are of particular concern as their ability to handle such a downturn is significantly less than a well-established farmer or rancher,” Nelson said.

However, with great challenges comes even greater opportunities. Throughout the trip, increased agricultural trade, Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), was highlighted as a way to provide a necessary boost to the agricultural economy. Passage of TPP continues to be a Farm Bureau priority. According to analysis conducted by the American Farm Bureau (AFBF), the TPP will increase annual net farm income by $4.4 billion and increase U.S. agricultural exports by $5.3 billion per year.

“Nebraska also stands to make significant annual gains from the TPP with a $378.5 million increase in ag cash receipts and a $229.2 million boost to ag exports. According to the Nebraska Farm Bureau analysis, Cuming, Custer, Platte, Dawson, and Lincoln counties would be among the biggest winners under TPP, as those counties would each experience more than $10 million in additional cash sales of agriculture commodities per year once TPP trade protocols are fully enacted. Congress needs to pass the TPP quickly as we continue to lose market share in many of the TPP member nations each day this agreement is not in place,” Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers Committee Chairman Todd Reed said.

Another issue front and center during the trip was the GMO Labeling bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives while the group was in town. This important piece of legislation will help provide certainty to food companies who would have been unable to work through a patchwork of state GMO labeling laws.

“As with all compromises, there are pieces we like and pieces we don’t. The bill’s mandatory nature continues to be a problem for us, however we simply could not allow a system of state-based GMO labeling to occur. While not perfect, the Roberts-Stabenow compromise bill will set a national standard on GMO labeling utilizing digital disclosure technologies,” Reed said.

Besides visiting with Nebraska’s Congressional Delegation, the Nebraska Farm Bureau Young Farmers and Ranchers met with the Federal Aviation Administration to discuss recently released rules regarding the commercial use of “unmanned aircraft systems”, or “drones”, and met with CropLife America and Syngenta to discuss the latest efforts to remove the well-known product Atrazine from their toolbox of crop protection products.

“The list of challenges young farmers and ranchers face is no doubt long. However, the need for young producers to answer the call of growing food for our nation and world remains as strong as ever. Continuing to communicate our message to key decision makers is vital to the future success of our nation as well as for farm and ranch families,” Reed said.

Those attending the National Affairs visit are:

Steve Nelson, president Nebraska Farm Bureau – Kearney/Franklin County

Todd and Julie Reed, chairman YF&R Committee – Lancaster County

Brian and Amy Gould, District 3 representative YF&R Committee – Cedar County

Matt and Elizabeth Albrecht, District 7 representative YF&R Committee – Dawson County

James and Katie Olson, District 6 representative YF&R Committee – Holt County

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

Husker Walk-Ons, Ag Economy – Strikingly Similar

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Whether you’re a passionate fan or simply a bystander, it’s hard to escape the hype that surrounds college football recruiting today. If you somehow managed to missed it, Feb. 6 was national letter of intent day, where high school senior football players from across the country signed on the dotted-line to let colleges and die-hard followers know where they will be taking their lightening quick and physically gifted talents over the course of the next four or five years.

It’s the day ESPN and others put the hype machine in gear to try and generate drama from decisions made by 17-18 year old kids that have never so much caught a pass, made a tackle or much less scored a touchdown on a Division 1 college football field. The popping of flash-bulbs, talk of three-, four- and five-star prospects and efforts to compare this new crop of athletes to college football legends is all in full swing. That of course all leads to the talk of what schools did well, and which schools have been seemingly left with little hope for the future. It’s simply a sign of the times.

TRUE HUSKER FAN

Being a true-blue (or red) Husker fan, we all want to do well in the recruiting game. But not that long ago there was a time when the average Nebraska fan didn’t worry quite so much about whether a Husker class was loaded with four- and five-stars. Nebraska had a secret weapon, one that replenished every year. This weapon didn’t draw attention from national pundits, but was widely known even in the smallest communities across our state. Our secret weapon was the walk-on. The blue collar, lunch pail carrying kid, who showed up in Lincoln maybe not with the most talent, stars or hype, but simply a whole lot of pride, passion and old-fashioned want to.

On numerous occasions I’ve heard past Husker greats talk about what it was like to come play at Nebraska and the impact the walk-ons had on them as they watched the dedication in action and witnessed it carry some of these determined kids from relative obscurity into the starting rotation. The walk-on was and is the foundation of something bigger. While they don’t necessarily get the headlines, their contributions over the years have been unmistakable and reflected in decades of winning and championships.

It hadn’t struck  until recently just how much Nebraska’s agriculture economy had in common with the tradition of the walk-on program. Certainly many of these athletes come from rural communities, but the comparison was more so in agriculture’s broader public perception.

CREATING THE RIGHT CLIMATE

As a state we don’t often publicly celebrate or acknowledge the decision of a young farmer or rancher to return to their community to reinvest in the family farm or ranch like we do the placement of a more prominent, well-known company. The scope of investment and job creation between the two are most likely different, however, for the vitality of a rural community that decision by a young farmer or rancher is equally important. As a state we are always aggressively looking to create a climate to land that next four- or five-star business that will bring with it hundreds of new, high-paying jobs. And we should. But it would be a mistake to lose sight of the economic importance and role agriculture plays in our economy.

A UNL study released this past June shows agriculture accounted for more than 40 percent of our state’s total economic output and created more than 289,000 jobs (one out of every four in the state). That’s enough jobs to employ every man, woman and child in Kearney, Neb., more than nine times over. Certainly agriculture is an economic player.

Not so long ago we had a coach who was in charge of the Husker football program who chose not to embrace the value and culture of the walk-ons, ignoring history, and instead choosing to focus solely on the more flashy four- and five-star recruits. The results were less than stellar and a foundation built on decades of commitment and passion crumbled. The winning simply stopped. It was a tough lesson for coaches and fans alike.

As a state we would be well served to make that connection when it comes to our economy. Just like the Huskers we should continue to grow and bring in the best to fill Nebraska’s business roster, but it would be a mistake to forget the farmers, ranchers and other associated agriculture businesses that the foundation of our state’s economy is built upon.