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Unicameral overturns ban on packer ownership

Unicameral overturns ban on packer ownership
Nebraska legislature votes to overturn ban on packer ownership; Nebraskans somewhat divided over LB176.

Friday marked the turning of a new page for Nebraska pork producers, and the next stage for a debate that's been going on for over a year now, since LB176 was first introduced by Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala. Last week, the Unicameral voted 34-14 to overturn the ban on packer ownership in the state of Nebraska – a ban that had been in place since 1998.

The debate has been divided among different agriculture groups as well as senators.

Opponents, including the Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Farmers Union and Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, argue the LB176 will weaken Nebraska's Competitive Livestock Markets Act, taking away the competitiveness that allows livestock producers to stay in business, and doesn't offer opportunities for the producer. Many also argue that the bill will eventually lead to packer-ownership of cattle as well. "In a world where packers own all the livestock, what place is there for farmers and ranchers?" Traci Bruckner, senior policy advocate at the Center for Rural Affairs, said in a press release earlier this year.

"Just when our nation's livestock markets are crying out for more effective anti-trust enforcement to expand competition, and market access and limit punitive retaliation against producers and non-competitive marketing practices, the Legislature votes to partially gut Nebraska's Competitive Livestock Markets Act that has been the most effective state competition act in the nation," Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen said in press release last week.

Proponents, including Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Pork Producers Association and Nebraska Soybean Growers Association, point out that Nebraska is the only state in the U.S. that still bans packer ownership of hogs, and also point out the loss of packers in the state since the ban was put in place.

"This bill has always been about giving farm families the opportunity to partner with Nebraska pork processors to produce pigs here at home. For far too long, Nebraska farmers could only watch their neighbors in surrounding states take advantage of these opportunities," Al Juhnke, Nebraska Pork Producers Association executive director said in a press release following the bill's passage. "This is about opportunities for Nebraska farm families and giving them the tools to compete in today's world."

"This is an important step forward for Nebraska agriculture," said Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson. "Pork production is a critical part of our state's agriculture economy, but our pork sector has struggled to keep pace with neighboring states because we've limited these type of opportunities. We have to provide opportunities for future generations and this bill does that for pork producers."

One thing that's been pointed out is that contract pork production is nothing new in Nebraska – several producers in Nebraska have gotten started raising hogs through non-packer contracting opportunities. Meanwhile, some have noted that in other states, like Iowa, allowing packer ownership did not lead to the elimination of independent pork producers, and it won't here.

While the law banning packer ownership of hogs in Nebraska is now overturned, the discussion is ongoing, as both sides voice their concerns and opinions on the impacts or benefits to livestock producers moving forward. Be sure to check back in for more updates at www.NebraskaFarmer.com.

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