Recent editorials published in Nebraska newspapers
Omaha World Herald. February 1, 2019
Legislation promotes a soil health initiative for Nebraska agriculture
Unconventional cultivation methods have taken root in a number of Nebraska farms. These methods, such as no-till farming and use of diverse cover crops, are praised for their promotion of soil health. The benefits of this approach, and whether the state should create a state task force to promote it, were the subject Tuesday before the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee.
This “regenerative farming” approach brings major benefits, including a reduction in fertilizer volume and irrigation. Scott Gonnerman, who farms near York, uses such methods. The approach has enabled him to reduce his nitrogen use by 50 percent to 60 percent, and he has eliminated his use of phosphorous completely, he told the Agriculture Committee. The Upper Big Blue Natural Resources District has pointed to Gonnerman’s methods as exemplary in promoting soil health.
Such production methods provide another important benefit: They reduce the runoff of nitrates into nearby streams, which is the key water quality challenge for Nebraska. Various NRDs are working with farmers to reduce high nitrate levels in creeks and rivers.
These agricultural methods aren’t easy, however, and they’re used at present by a minority of Nebraska producers. Farmers, of course, have the right to decide for themselves how best to manage their operations. At the same time, a range of Nebraska organizations say that no-till and cover crops can be viable options for more agricultural producers if they’re properly informed about the benefits and the ways to make the practices work, including use of government financial incentives.
“There’s a lot of farmers and ranchers that haven’t heard this,” State Sen. Tim Gragert of Creighton told the Agriculture Committee. “A lot of producers do not have a clue about what is going on with conservation practices for soil health.” Current outreach on the issue is fragmented and uncoordinated. Gragert is an expert in this regard, having worked for 31 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Resources Conservation Service.
Under his Legislative Bill 243, the state would create a task force to develop a coordinated educational effort.
Regenerative soil practices currently are used on less than 2 percent of Nebraska’s soil, Tom Hoegemeyer, a professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, told the committee. “We have lots of organizations trying to promote soil health,” he said. “This proposal would help coordinate the efforts and put them in a single package.”
Gragert’s bill received support at the hearing from a wide range of agricultural producers, as well as NRD leaders and organizations including Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, Nebraska Game and Parks Commission and Nebraska Wildlife Federation.
Members of the committee rightly indicated they want to think through specifics such as the task force membership and want to avoid imposing new state mandates on producers. At the same time, the overall point from the testifiers is valid:
Regenerative farming offers major benefits, and it likely can prove a viable method for considerably more Nebraska producers. A coordinated educational and support effort would serve the state’s best interest.
Lincoln Journal Star. January 29, 2019
Urban-rural divide real — but mustn’t define state
Nebraska’s ever-simmering controversy of urban vs. rural boiled over again last week.
After a town hall question on property taxes, Gov. Pete Ricketts asked a farmer: “Why would the people of Lincoln and Omaha raise taxes on themselves to give you guys tax relief?” In response, Lincoln Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks - whose past remarks about farmers and property taxes generated plenty of criticism - slammed the governor for pitting “rural and urban areas of our state against one another.”
Both statements are largely correct. Nebraska’s urban and rural areas often have different priorities and face different challenges. And tax policy, perhaps more than any other topic, exacerbates this distinction.
Yes, the divide we hear so much about certainly exists, but it doesn’t have to be the either-or proposition as it’s so often framed. This is no zero-sum game. Instead, we must realize the benefits brought to the table by both densely and sparsely populated portions of the state and work together - and find compromise on reform all sides can get behind.
Though it sometimes gets lost in heated rhetoric, Nebraskans are all on the same team.
Tensions will occasionally flare in a state where more than 90 percent of the land area is used for agricultural production, yet a majority of residents live in just the three most urbanized counties. However, this diversity is a plus rather than a minus. Let’s treat it as such.
Agriculture is this state’s leading industry, supporting one in four jobs. Its impact is widespread and unmistakable. The more service-oriented economies of urban centers - where the vast majority of Nebraska’s population growth is occurring - also represent a significant piece of the state’s revenue puzzle.
All parties seem to agree that the three-legged stool of taxation - sales, income and property - needs to be rebalanced. Two more points that are hard to argue: Valuations of agricultural land have greatly outpaced farm income, particularly during this time of reduced commodity prices, and Nebraska has one of the highest relative state income tax rates in the country.
Nebraskans know these problems. They’ve just been unable to find enough common ground to fix them - with tax policy marking merely the most prominent example. Inaction means the unpopular status quo continues.
The only answer is for rural and urban interests to work together to solve problems that transcend these artificial divisions. Contrary to popular belief, “compromise” isn’t a dirty word; it means entities are pursuing solutions.
Both urban and rural Nebraskans should get behind those kinds of efforts. This geographic split will obviously persist. But we can close the gap by reaching across it in search of mutually beneficial improvements, rather than widening it by pushing away from the other side.
Kearney Hub. January 30, 2019
Don’t block owners from earning cash with homes
Nebraska lawmakers should resist pressure from the lodging industry and “not in my backyarders,” and support a bill that would prevent local governments from banning private homeowners from earning a little extra cash by offering travelers and occasional visitors a place to stay other than a motel or hotel.
On Tuesday, the Nebraska Legislature’s Urban Affairs Committee heard testimony on state Sen. Adam Morfeld’s LB57, which would protect Nebraskans from local officials and competing businesses that don’t want them to take advantage of new income-earning opportunities using internet platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO and Flipkey.
In some municipalities, it’s unlawful for homeowners to rent extra rooms because bans have been passed with backing from the lodging industry. Hotel operators argue that Airbnb operators are stealing their business. Other opponents of home-sharing fret that guests at Airbnbs might steal parking, be too loud and find other ways to disrupt their neighborhood.
Yes, home-sharing represents competition and there may be an occasional threat to serenity, but home-sharing also represents an alternative for travelers to enjoy new experiences. Staying at an Airbnb means meeting new people, spending time in unique places and making memories they might not receive in commercial lodging.
Also, as some Airbnb proponents argue, travelers may have more money to spend at other local venues if they rent a small space in a local home.
The Hub has written about a number of different Kearney residents who operate Airbnbs. One uses the extra cash to travel — and of course, she stays at other Airbnbs. A couple said that, two years ago, on a lark, they posted rooms in their home to rent during the total solar eclipse. They landed several travelers, but after the celestial event, they forgot to take down their Airbnb posting. They got more inquiries, and over time, used Airbnb income to repay student loans. Retired couples say they are using an asset — their home — that they acquired over their lifetimes, to help produce a little extra cash.
Nebraska isn’t the only U.S. state where lawmakers are protecting home-sharing. Several states are debating how to protect homeowners from laws that might block their right to open their homes to short-term renters.
If Nebraska lawmakers believe restrictions are appropriate, we urge them to exercise restraint and limit the scope of laws to true health and safety concerns. Otherwise, stay out of the way and allow homeowners to use their property as they see fit.