LINCOLN, NEB. – The ongoing struggle in Nebraska’s agriculture economy is among the top agriculture stories of 2017, Nebraska Farm Bureau said Thursday, Dec. 28, in releasing its annual list of the top five agricultural news stories of the year. Also included is a growing call for tax reform and property tax relief, trade and its impact on Nebraska agriculture, the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) withdrawal, and new leadership in the state and federal Department of Agriculture.
“A stagnant farm economy has slowed Nebraska’s income growth to one of the lowest levels in the nation,” Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau said. “Net farm income is projected to stabilized for 2017 but that’s mostly due to farmers reining in spending, which is negatively affecting related industries and the greater economy,” Nelson said.
Weather also brought significant losses to some farmers. Late planting made for late harvest, then, in October, there were high winds that reduced yields. Low precipitation in part of the state also affected hay production and reduced yields as well.
Making the list is the action on the final federal tax reform bill. “This legislation addresses numerous tax related issues of interest to Nebraska farm and ranch families. Lower rates for pass-through businesses, expansion of Sect. 179 business expensing, as well as unlimited immediate expensing, were needed. Equally important is the fact that farmers and ranchers will continue to be able to fully deduct property taxes on agricultural land as a business expense,” Nelson said.
“While we would have preferred immediate repeal of the estate tax, the legislation doubles the estate tax exemption indexed for inflation, and continues the allowance for spousal transfer. These measures are a positive and immediate step that will ease the estate tax burden on farm and ranch families,” he said.
In addressing state property tax challenges, Nelson pointed to the organization’s ongoing efforts to address high property taxes in 2018.
“We continue to work to find a legislative solution to the property tax problem and I still believe there’s an opportunity to work with Gov. Ricketts and the Nebraska Legislature to deliver tax relief and get us on the right track with property taxes into the future,” said Nelson.
Nelson pointed out the importance of international trade to the bottom line of Nebraska farmers and ranchers, specifically, President Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and his threats to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“The TPP reflected a major opportunity for the farmers and ranchers who grow and raise Nebraska’s top commodities. Economic analysis conducted by Nebraska Farm Bureau showed that virtually every county in Nebraska would have been positively impacted by the TPP agreement, with the state as a whole projected to see increased agricultural cash receipts by more than $378 million annually,” Nelson said.
There were several bright spots in 2017. One was stopping implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “Waters of the U.S.” rule to expand federal regulatory authority over private land. Forcing the EPA to withdraw or vacate this far reaching federal regulation is welcomed news to Nebraska farmers, ranchers, and other landowners.
“The other was the changing landscape in agriculture with President Trump’s appointment of Sonny Perdue as head of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), then Nebraska’s former Director of Agriculture Greg Ibach being selected to serve in the role of USDA Under Secretary for Marketing and Regulatory Programs, and the selection of Steve Wellman as the next State Director of Agriculture. These changes are all positive for agriculture across the state and the nation,” Nelson said.
Looking ahead to 2018, Nelson predicted the Top Five Agriculture Stories of the New Year will be property taxes, the future of NAFTA, the next farm bill, regulatory concerns, and health care.
- The farm bill. “Our members don’t want the government to guarantee a profit, but they want to maintain a strong crop insurance program,” Nelson said.
- Property taxes. Farm Bureau will continue to work on a variety of ideas to reduce property taxes. “Our preference is to pass a relief bill in the Legislature, but we haven’t ruled out other means like a ballot initiative,” Nelson said.
- Uncertainty of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA would not only undercut Nebraska’s farm and ranch families, but harm the underlying foundation of Nebraska’s agriculture based economy, according to a new report released by Nebraska Farm Bureau entitled “North American Free Trade Agreement and Nebraska Agriculture”. “The report shows that NAFTA could cost individual farmers and ranchers up to $55,000 annually,” Nelson said.
- Regulatory concerns specifically ELD and CERCLA. Livestock transportation has been a point of concern in the light of recent U.S. Department of Transportation electronic logging device (ELD) regulations that failed to adequately recognize the uniqueness and challenges of transporting lives animals. Another concern is the mandated Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) emissions. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a decision to stay a mandate that agricultural entities file reports under the CERCLA and the EPCRA until Jan. 22, 2018. This is burdensome and unnecessary regulations on farmers and ranchers.
- Health care. The majority of livestock and crop producers go to either the open market or health insurance exchanges to purchase health insurance, and they continue to bear the brunt of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) failure to actually make health insurance more affordable. Farm Bureau urges Congress to work on a plan that helps reduce the cost of health insurance and re-establish market fundamentals to the health insurance marketplace.