Each spring, Nebraska farmers head to their fields to plant and prepare for their fall harvest. Their individual success depends on many factors and is a key part of our state’s overall economic success. Our farm and ranch families are the foundation of our state’s No. 1 industry. To grow Nebraska, we have to continue to grow opportunities for those families.

In 2017, I’ve continued to make growing agriculture a top priority for my administration by expanding trade, encouraging livestock development and promoting the biofuels industry.

Growing demand for Nebraska’s quality ag commodities through trade generates over $6 billion annually for Nebraska’s ag economy. Our efforts to expand trade led our trade delegation to Canada this year. Our neighbors to the north have been one of our best export customers over the years, and it’s important for us to thank them for their business so the relationship can continue to expand. On the trade mission, I met with Agri-Plastics to encourage them to choose Nebraska. This fall, Agri-Plastics announced they will be expanding their calf-housing line by opening a production facility in Sidney — their first in the United States.

In September, we had a similar opportunity to maintain and build trade relations with Japan. Japan is already our largest source of direct foreign investment and we’re eager to grow that relationship. During that trip Sagami Restaurant Chain signed a letter of intent with Smithfield to source more of their pork from Nebraska farmers.

We’ve been able to open new markets as well as expand opportunities with current partners. This year, China agreed to open its beef market to the United States for the first time since 2003. For years, Nebraskans have been working together with federal officials to reopen this market, and my administration continued that work with two visits to China in 2015 and 2016.

Federal trade agreements can have a big impact on growing Nebraska agriculture. This year, I led a coalition which urged the Trump Administration to continue to focus on growing market access as they negotiate NAFTA. I have also advocated for immediate negotiations on bilateral agreements with some of our key trading partners such as Japan.

Our efforts to create state and regional demand for Nebraska’s quality commodities are just as important as our international work.

One of the best ways to grow our industry here at home is through livestock development. Livestock development provides a way to add value to the billions of bushels of feedstocks our farmers produce each year. Our work this year included breaking ground on the $300 million Costco chicken processing project near Fremont and the opening of Hendrix-ISA’s chick hatchery in Grand Island and turkey hatchery in Beatrice. When you consider additional investments from Cargill, Novozymes and Evonik this year, Nebraska has seen over $650 million invested in value-added ag and biofuels operations just from these projects.

We’re also expanding programs that make investment and growth in the agriculture industry accessible and easy. The Livestock Friendly County program and the livestock siting assessment matrix are both administered by the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. In 2017, the Livestock Friendly County program added Thurston and Hall counties. This brings the total number of Livestock Friendly Counties in Nebraska to 43. The program provides the counties a tool to let the livestock industry know they are open for business. Additionally, Dodge and Merrick became the first two counties in the state to voluntarily adopt the livestock siting assessment matrix to bring greater predictability to decisions on livestock siting applications.

Biofuels also play a critical role in the state’s agriculture industry. Nebraska is the second-largest producer of ethanol in the country. In the past two years, ethanol plants in Jackson, Fairmont and Adams have invested approximately $190 million in new technology. These investments have increased the capacity and product diversification of their operations. The synergistic relationship between corn, ethanol and livestock encourages the success of all three industries.

In 2017, I have had the privilege of serving as chairman of the Governor’s Biofuels Coalition. Serving as chairman gave me the opportunity to encourage the EPA for a timely release of the 2018 proposed targets under the Renewable Fuel Standards. Last week, the Trump Administration announced the final volume levels in a timely manner with minimal changes. Their decision provides much-needed predictability, which helps ethanol producers plan for their businesses and spur growth in the biofuels industry.

More work lies ahead as we rise up to seize the opportunities and face the challenges our farm and ranch families work through to feed a growing world. We will continue to build on the momentum we’ve experienced in 2017.

Gov. Pete Ricketts can be contacted at pete.ricketts@nebraska.gov or 402-471-2244.

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