In 2020, one of the last in-person state gatherings — before COVID-19 restrictions — among Nebraska’s agriculture organizations was the Nebraska State Dairy Association convention in Columbus. At that daylong meeting of dairy producers, Gov. Pete Ricketts was one of the keynote speakers.
Fast-forward one year, with plenty of water under the bridge and a myriad of frightening events over the past 12 months, and Ricketts again took the stage as a keynote luncheon speaker for NSDA. This year’s NSDA convention, held March 18 in Columbus, was one of the first among Nebraska’s major ag groups to return to an in-person convention since COVID-19 lockdowns last spring.
For his part, Ricketts set an optimistic tone for the year. “For the past year, we’ve been fighting this pandemic here in the state,” he said. “And I know that you all have been impacted by this just like everybody else in the state, and that you have taken steps to be innovative and creative with regard to how you continue to produce high-quality milk and dairy products for our consumers here in the state and in the nation, helping make sure we can help families across this great country to put food on the table.”
Ricketts noted that it was great to be around people and to be able to start having events again. He reviewed the state’s pandemic efforts, saying, “We tried to take an approach of striking a balance between slowing the spread of the virus, and allowing people to live a more normal life,” he said.
“All the efforts we did were tied to around making sure we could preserve our hospital capacity. Early on, our public health experts said that COVID is a virus. You can’t stop it. But you can slow it down enough to be able to make sure that you can provide a hospital bed and intensive care unit bed or ventilator to everybody who needs that level of acute care. And that’s what we focused on.”
Ricketts also covered his plans for after the pandemic is over. “If we are going to grow Nebraska, we have to grow our No. 1 industry, which is agriculture,” he said. “And we have a three-pronged plan for how we can do that. It starts with making sure that as we think about growing agriculture here in the state that we’re doing it through promoting agriculture, both domestically and internationally to expand markets. The second way is to make sure we’re focusing on value-added agriculture like dairy processors.” He cited property tax relief as the third prong in the plan.
On the dairy production side, Ricketts said that Nebraska ranks sixth among all states in production per capita. “So, we know we have a great place here,” Ricketts said. He mentioned the Grow Nebraska Dairy team that is working to expand dairy production and recruit new dairy processors for the state.
During the annual NSDA business meeting, dairy producer members decided to retain the current officer team with Mike Guenther, Beemer, as president; Bob Larson, Creston, as vice president; and Brooke Engelman, Jansen, as secretary.
During the evening banquet, Lindsey Marotz, a 19-year-old University of Nebraska elementary education major from Hoskins, was crowned as the 2021 Nebraska Dairy princess. Marotz was involved in 4-H and served as president and reporter in the Norfolk FFA chapter.
She also served as a Midwest Dairy Nebraska Dairy ambassador. She will attend promotional events over the next year, primarily consumer-facing public appearances such as the Nebraska State Fair, virtual experiences, county fairs and school visits.
Krysta Harden, CEO of the Dairy Export Council, was the evening keynote speaker for the NSDA convention.
Learn more online at nebraskamilk.org.