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.

Almond Pork Chops with Honey Mustard

almond-pork-chops-with-honey-mustard3Ingredients
½ cup smoked almonds
½ cup dry bread crumbs
2 eggs
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
4 boneless pork loin chops (1 inch thick, approx. 6 oz. each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
½ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

Directions
1.    In a food processor, process the almonds until finely chopped.  Transfer to a shallow bowl; add bread crumbs and combine.
2.    In another shallow bowl, beat eggs.
3.    In a large resealable plastic bag, combine flour, salt, and pepper.  Add pork chops, one at a time, and shake to coat.  Dip in eggs, then coat with almond mixture.
4.    In a large skillet over medium heat, cook chops in oil and butter for 5 minutes on each side or until juices run clear.
5.    Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise, honey, and mustard.  Serve with pork chops.

Yield:  4 servings

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

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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Healthier Times: Packing a Healthy Lunch

Pg A13 - Amber Pankonin PhotoIt’s back to school season and for many parents and caregivers that means back to packing lunches. It’s a very exciting time, but can also be a stressful time for parents and caregivers. How can you save time and pack a healthy lunch?

First, be sure to have the right tools on hand for packing a safe lunch. Purchasing an insulated lunch bag, ice packs, and containers with lids are important for keeping food tasting fresh and also safe.

The second step is making sure that you have planned ahead by completing a shopping list. It’s best to have a list when shopping so that you’re not tempted to fill the cart with items that might not be necessary.

When making that list, think about what a healthy lunch should consist of – fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low fat dairy. Many fruits and vegetables like apples, bananas, and baby carrots are easily portable. And roasted deli meats paired with cheese slices and whole wheat crackers are always kid friendly.

A Fair is a Veritable Smorgasbord

Paramount Pictures

Charlotte’s Web — Paramount Pictures

“A fair is a veritable smorgasbord.” At least according to the rat, Templeton, from Charlotte’s web. If you’re not familiar, it’s the scene where the rodent sings about all the wonderful food he finds after the lights of the fair go down.

In this case, I’m not talking about food but rather all the wonderful agricultural products you can find at county fairs and the Nebraska State Fair, which wraps up this weekend. From the Milking Parlor to the Avenue of Breeds to the Antique Tractor Display, the Ag exhibits are endless, and for FFA and 4-H exhibitors, the end of a year of hard work on their projects.

"Tiny" - Nebraska's Largest Steer

“Tiny” – Nebraska’s Largest Steer

This year we heard reports of space running out in the sheep and goat barn because of so many producers wanting to show their product. And the hog and cattle barns are just as full. It’s exciting to see so many kids taking their projects to the next level. Now, I call on them to go even further.

For many people, the Nebraska State Fair or the local county fair is their first, and maybe only, interaction with agriculture. Hundreds of grade school students in matching T-shirts are paraded through the state fair every year.

Savannah Peterson GothenburgThey are excited to see and interact with the animals. But what are they really seeing? A large pet? Do they know why a farmer raises cattle or sheep? It is our job as livestock producers, farmers and Ag experts to go that extra step and explain why a heifer or steer exists. Why we shear sheep. How we bring only one or two hogs to the fair, while the rest stay home. And, ultimately, the fact that Nebraska farmers and ranchers are raising the world’s food supply.

 

 

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How to Pick the Best Ear of Sweet Corn and Cook It Perfectly

DSC_3330We’ve all been there. Walking around the farmers market, or grocery store, hundreds maybe even thousands of ears of sweet corn piled in a bin waiting for the luck of the draw. Yes, you could rip each husk open, peer inside and make your choice that way. Or, utilize this simple and accurate way to choose your staple for summer dinner.

  1. Look for corn with silks that are brown and sticky to the touch. If the silks are black or dry, the corn is old. The more silks, the better that means there will be more kernels of corn.
  2. Feel through the husk, without peeling it, checking for plump, even kernels. And the husks should be a nice green color, not brown.
  3. Check the bottom on the ear of corn where it was broken off the stalk. If it has turned brown, it’s probably at least two days old.

You must remember, when buying fresh sweet corn, the tasty sugars start turning to starches the moment it is picked, so you will want to cook it the same day you buy it, if possible. But, sweet corn will keep in the fridge longer if you leave the husks on. Page 5 - bigstock_Corn_On_The_Cob_4473454If you buy your sweet corn from the farmers market, don’t be surprised if you find a bug, but don’t expect to see them. Delicious sweet corn starts in the field (where there are bugs). Nebraska farmers are proud to provide high-quality foods and they’re using the latest in technology to do so. Sweet corn hybrids have been grown by farmers for more than a decade. Technology has allowed a protein found in naturally occurring bacteria to be combined with sweet corn seed. It protects the sweet corn from insects that are drawn to the sweet sugar in the crop. Even some organic farms will use this bacteria to control certain insects. By building the protein into the seed, farmers can raise much more of the crop to meet demand while using about 85% less insecticide, fuel and energy (tractor trips across the field). 4H notecard2Overall, it’s a win-win for the farmer and consumer. But all this work can go to waste by overcooking that ear of corn. There are so many ways to prepare sweet corn. Boil it. Grill it. Microwave it. This is the most basic method to cook an ear of corn perfectly.

  1. Start with a pot of water on the stove.
  2. Add husked corn. When the water comes to a rapid boil, the corn is done. About 5-10 minutes.
  3. That’s it! Enjoy with butter!

For bonus, I’ll give you a couple things to avoid in the cooking process.

  1. Do not add salt to the water. It will toughen the corn as it cooks.
  2. Don’t cool the corn under cold water, unless you like soggy sweet corn.
  3. Overcooking will cause the kernels to become hard and reduce the sweetness.

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