There are few better ways to discover the heart of Nebraska than to visit our state fair. It’s a reminder of what makes our state so special. We continue our longstanding traditions of horse and livestock shows, marching bands, concerts, and the Ferris wheel lighting up the evening sky.
It also serves as a good opportunity for me to hear what’s on the minds of our farmers and ranchers.
On the opening day of the fair, I led in a roundtable discussion on disaster relief with Governor Ricketts and other members of the Nebraska congressional delegation. I’ve worked hard and across party lines to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in disaster relief funds for our state, but there is more work to do.
As we’ve seen this year, the faith and resilience of our ag producers sometimes is unrewarded. On top of a year with catastrophic weather events and looming uncertainty with trade, the past few months have presented even more obstacles for our farmers and ranchers.
This July, a 2,200-foot tunnel and canal partially collapsed at Gering-Fort Laramie-Goshen irrigation plant. The canal was built in the early 20th century and transported water to nearly 107,000 acres of corn, sugar, beets, dry beans, and alfalfa crops in the western parts of Nebraska and eastern Wyoming.
The irrigation canal has since remained inoperable, cutting off the water supply to farmland during the driest time of the year. Farmers are forging on, caring for their crops the best they can, but the lack of water and rainfall is taking a significant toll on both crop quality and crop yields.
That’s why I joined a letter led by Senator Sasse along with Senator Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Senator John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Representative Adrian Smith (R-Neb.), and Representative Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue requesting crop insurance protection for ag producers hurt by the collapse. A day after receiving our letter, the Risk Management Agency reported that this will be an insurable event because the collapse was the product of natural causes.
I appreciate Secretary Perdue working quickly with Nebraska and Wyoming to provide a bit of relief in the wake of this disruption. Now, our farmers will have more certainty and peace of mind, knowing the effects will be addressed under their insurance plans.
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Unfortunately, this irrigation tunnel collapse isn’t the only challenge Nebraska ag producers are confronting right now.
Earlier in August, a Tyson beef processing plant in Holcomb, Kansas, caught fire causing major disruptions in the cattle and beef markets. The plant processed 6,000 head of cattle every day, which accounts for roughly six percent of the processing capacity in the United States. The plant’s closing sent shockwaves throughout the beef industry, resulting in multi-year lows for live cattle and feeder cattle contracts. Processing locations in the surrounding areas have stepped up to account for this loss, but volatility and uncertainty will remain until the Holcomb plant is fully operational.
In response, I penned letters to both Heath Tarbert, chairman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), and Raymond Martinez, administrator of the U.S. Department of Transportation.
During this time, cattle cannot wait in feed yards. Drivers will need to haul live cattle to alternate facilities located hundreds of miles away. I’m urging the Department of Transportation to suspend Hours of Service until the Holcomb plant is rebuilt. I’m also encouraging the CFTC to remain vigilant in their oversight of the markets to ensure there are no efforts of price gouging or manipulation during this vulnerable time.
Ask any Nebraska farmer and they’ll tell you their life’s work is rewarding – but it doesn’t come without overcoming setbacks along the way.
The 150th State Fair is a celebration of their daily resilience, determination, and faith. One of the highlights of my job is listening closely to our producers’ needs and enacting policies to ensure they can continue their vital role of feeding and fueling our world.
Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.