If you observe the goings-on for any length of time in our Legislature, you will notice there are many recurring conflicts or deep discussions we deal with on a very regular basis. Big city-small city, east side of the state-west side of the state, and of course, rural-urban, which also quickly includes big, corporate farming vs. the small farmer, rancher, producer trying to make a living on his own for his family. Once again we revisited this issue during the debate and ultimate passage of LB176, the "Packer Bill,” this past week.
Nebraska has been one of the few states that have not allowed packer ownership of hogs. I will quote the Feb. 1, 2016, edition of the Unicameral Update to best describe the bill. “Under LB176 ... a person who owns, leases or holds a legal interest in a swine production operation can enter into a contract to produce swine for a packer. The producer, or contract grower, will own the land and facilities used to raise the livestock and the packer will own the swine.” Hog growers in several surrounding states have been allowed to engage in this practice for many years. Nebraska has held firm in outlawing the practice. Supporters of LB176 argued that passage of this measure would give the Nebraska farmer another tool to compete in today's economy. It was said that young farmers would be helped by this bill as providing a source of income in an otherwise volatile industry with less risk. It was also said Nebraska farmers contract now with big corporations like Smithfield or Tyson, but ship their animals out of state for processing. Under this bill, processing will take place in the state. Jobs will be created and economic advantages will result.
Opponents of this offering stated, sometimes emotionally, that this bill will be devastating for the family farm. The result, opponents said, will be fewer farms, declining rural populations and shrinking rural opportunity in general. I respectfully disagreed with this approach.
I feel we need to promote agricultural development any way we can. If LB176 is one part of the equation then perhaps we have to look forward and take this opportunity. I will be offering a bill this session, LB968, that will ask the Department of Agriculture to develop and expand agriculture promotion. This bill adds to statute and allows the department to cooperate and coordinate with producer organizations, state and local governments and public and private economic development entities to identify opportunities for private sector investment in new livestock, dairy and agricultural commodities processing facilities within the state, to actively recruit such processing investment, and to advise and assist local communities where such investment may be sought or considered.
As I said earlier, I respectfully disagreed with the opponents of LB176, but I am not stopping there. I want to help prevent the decline of family farms and small-town economies. I hope to help move the state, and I mean all of the state, forward. LB176 and LB968 are just early pieces of this forward growth, but it is a beginning.