An Ag Open House last Wednesday in Lexington at the Dawson County Fairgrounds brought local and state officials together to celebrate National Agriculture Week.
Among the dignitaries in attendance were Gov. Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Director of Agriculture Steve Wellman. “With one in four jobs in Nebraska tied in to agriculture it is important to note if we are going to grow Nebraska we have got to grow agriculture,” noted Ricketts.
Spotlighting the hard work involved with agriculture was a tour of Lexington’s Tyson facility before the reception for Ricketts, Wellman and other Dawson County ag leaders.
The tour allowed Tyson officials to show how they process specialty beef that will be shipped to the European Union. Exports are key to keeping Nebraska’s agriculture profitable, noted Ricketts. “Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside U.S. borders. The most innovative and productive farmers and ranchers live here in Nebraska.”
Keeping Nebraska products before international consumers is important and Ricketts noted that is why he has participated in a variety of trade missions. “I was the first Governor from Nebraska to go to Canada to say thanks for being a great trading partner. Last year Nebraska exported $1.26 billion in beef, an increase of 12 percent over the previous year.”
Nebraska currently represents over half of the U.S. beef exports to China. Pork exports from Nebraska were valued at $475 million in 2017, with Argentina being a new customer, having opened their market to U.S. pork.
Agriculture continues to grow with value-added plants, added the governor. Among the early arrivals was Frito-Lay with their Gothenburg facility. More recently Costco has invested $300 million in a poultry processing facility in Fremont with 125 farmers ready to invest in poultry barns that will supply meat birds for the plant.
In all there has been $1.1 billion invested in new industries and facilities in Nebraska last year, noted Ricketts, with over half of that in ag-related industries.
Nebraska Farm Bureau’s first vice president Mark McHargue also attended and noted that with more than $6 billion in export dollars on the line, maintaining trade access to international trading partners will be key to the state’s bottom line.
Property taxes are another issue that needs to be addressed, McHargue said. “We have the fifth highest property taxes in the country,” adding he was happy that LB 947, the Nebraska Property Tax Cut and Opportunity Act had been voted out of committee. “We’d rather have a legislative fix than have to rely on a ballot,” referring to the initiative petition drive by Reform for Nebraska’s Future, which would place property tax reform on the November ballot.
Finally, Wellman praised local ag groups and producers. “Dawson County is a great example of the agricultural diversity in Nebraska. All the way from the raw product to value-added products.”