It’s no secret that 2019 has been a tough year for Nebraska due to historic flooding. For our farmers and ranchers, damage from the floods was compounded by additional hardships. Commodity prices remain low. A major canal failed along the Nebraska-Wyoming border. And the Green New Deal and “meat is murder” movements pose a looming threat to our way of life.
Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry. One in four jobs is tied to farming and ranching in our state. If we want to grow Nebraska, it’s critically important that we grow agriculture. Even under tough circumstances this year, we have partnered with Nebraskans across our state to do just that. Over the past several months, my team and I have worked to expand opportunities in value-added agriculture, open new international markets to our ag products, and deliver property tax relief.
From biotechnology to livestock, value-added agriculture is a growing opportunity and helping bring the next generation home to the family farm. This summer, Veramaris, a Dutch-German joint venture, cut the ribbon on a brand-new production plant in Blair. The plant is producing omega-3 fatty acids using fermented algae and dextrose from Nebraska-grown corn. The omega-3’s will be used by fish farmers to give salmon the nutrition they need without having to use wild fish as feed.
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In October, we celebrated the launch of Costco’s historic investment in Nebraska’s poultry industry. Costco sells 90 million rotisserie chickens at its stores annually, and the plant in Fremont will help meet this demand. At full capacity, the facility will process over 2 million chickens each week. In addition to the 1000 jobs at the plant in Fremont, this new poultry operation is creating opportunities for many farm families. Costco is partnering with about 100 farm families to build new chicken barns in Nebraska. This has allowed next-generation farmers, like Hannah Borg of Wakefield and Joe Schulz of Seward, to return home to carry on their family’s legacy in agriculture.
With 95 percent of the world’s population outside our borders, trade is key to growing demand for our quality ag products. This year, I led trade missions to Mexico, Vietnam, Japan, and Germany to promote Nebraska’s ag products and to encourage investment in our state. Throughout our missions, we promoted Nebraska beef. We have seen tremendous growth in beef sales to these markets recently. In fact, 2018 was a record year for Nebraska beef exports. Exports to Japan, our largest market for beef, grew 11 percent to $412.1 million, and exports to Vietnam jumped 127 percent in the last year. Nebraska has expanded our share of American beef exported to the European Union (EU) from five percent in 2005 to 53 percent in 2018. President Trump recently struck a new deal with the EU that will allow the U.S. to more than double the amount of beef we export there in the coming years—a big win for Nebraska!
Finally, property tax relief is a top concern for Nebraskans, and it remains my number one priority. This year, the Legislature and I worked together to increase the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund by $50 million to $275 million annually, an increase of over 20 percent. When you receive your local property tax bill, be sure to look for the increased property tax credit on the line that says “credit from the state.” We know that there’s more to do to deliver significant relief for Nebraskans. That is why I am working with Senators on new property tax relief plans as we head into the 2020 legislative session.
Over the summer and fall, state revenues exceeded projections. In October, the Nebraska Economic Forecasting Advisory Board raised the revenue forecast by $161 million for the current fiscal year and $105 million next year. This $266 million of extra revenues will allow property tax relief to move full steam ahead during the upcoming legislative session. However, we cannot take for granted that the surplus revenues will go toward tax relief. Some special interests would rather spend the money on big government. This doesn’t need to happen. The state’s two-year budget has been set. With the exception of a couple urgently needed priorities, such as flood recovery funding, growth in revenue should go towards property tax relief. We will need the united support of families, farmers, ranchers, businesses, and other like-minded Nebraskans to make sure the Unicameral delivers property tax relief in 2020.
While 2019 has been a tough year, the state of agriculture in Nebraska is strong because of the grit and tenacity of our people. This legislative session, we will fight for property tax relief for you, and we will continue to create opportunities in value-added agriculture and trade. If you have thoughts on how we can grow agriculture in 2020, I hope you will email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 402-471-2244. We look forward to hearing from you.
Pete Ricketts is the governor of Nebraska