Gov. Pete Ricketts headlined the noon luncheon portion of the Nebraska State Dairy Association convention Feb. 25 in Columbus. Ricketts said that the state is working on a three-pronged approach to improve profitability, not only for dairy but also for all of agriculture. These aspects include value-added agriculture products, improvements in trade and reducing property taxes.
“Agriculture is our main industry,” Ricketts told dairy farmers. “It accounts for 1 in 4 jobs or about 20% of the state’s economy, so if we are going to grow Nebraska, we have to grow agriculture.”
The state’s dairy industry is keyed in on adding value to products, Ricketts said. “We have about 58,000 head of dairy cows in the state,” he explained. “But we need to make sure we have processors.”
Recent statistics have pointed to a loss in the number of dairy farms and financial challenges for dairy operations. Nebraska currently has 125 Grade A dairies, with Cedar County topping the list with 19 dairies. Antelope County comes in second with seven dairies, followed by four counties — Wayne, Seward, Jefferson and Richardson — claiming six dairies for a tie for third.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture and Department of Economic Development are focused on bringing more dairy processing into the state to help expand dairy farms and dairy numbers, Ricketts said.
“I am willing to pick up the phone to talk with a company if they are thinking about expansion,” he added. “We have seen some success stories in poultry expansion recently, with Costco and Lincoln Premium Poultry. We have to continue to work for it, so if you know of companies or other leads and things we should follow up on, please let us know.”
Ricketts cited the importance of the “livestock friendly county” program that includes nearly half of the counties in the state, as well as strong support from Nebraska agriculture organizations, communities and farmers in other supporting industries. “We want to pull together all the livestock producers to support each other,” he said.
Ricketts cited trade trips he has made to Mexico, Germany, Vietnam and other countries on behalf of Nebraska farmers and ranchers to open new markets to the state’s agriculture products.
“We go into these countries to expand trade opportunities,” he said. “We are able to work with their governments, promote the high-quality products of the state and promote ourselves.”
While much of the U.S. trade focus is on China, Ricketts noted that the state wants to diversify trade opportunities to gain greater access to other countries as well.
The recently passed United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement will level the playing field with Canada for dairy products, Ricketts said.
“We know that consumers outside the U.S. want our products,” he said. “We have to go to these places and be present. Dairy farms are almost 100% family-owned. Consumers want to know that, because that maybe is not their expectation. Our best ambassadors are our farmers who go on trade missions with us and talk about what they do to conserve the land and how they take care of their animals.”
He told farmers that these missions allow farmers and ranchers themselves to talk personally about their own operations.
As the third aspect of his three-pronged approach, Ricketts discussed three ways he hopes to provide property tax relief to farmers. He proposes maintaining no tax increases, protecting the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund, which has increased by 20% since last year, and encouraging spending restraint by local government entities.
In the awards portion of the Nebraska State Dairy Association convention, state Sen. Dave Murman, who represents District 38 and has farmed for many years in the Glenvil area, was named the Nebraska Dairy Industry Person of the Year.
Over the years, Murman has served as a president of NSDA, and has been a national delegate to Mid-American Dairymen. He also held a post on the National Resolutions Committee for Dairy Farmers of America.
A LEAD IX graduate, Murman graduated high school at Sandy Creek. He received his bachelor's degree in animal science from the University of Nebraska. He and his wife, Kathy, have three children.
Elected to the Nebraska Legislature in 2018, Murman serves on the Health and Human Services and Education Committee. He was instrumental last session in the passage of LR13, which urged the federal government to enforce its labeling standards for milk and dairy products.
Murman continues to serve on the Nebraska Farm Bureau State Legislative Committee, and serves his community as an EMT with Glenvil Fire and Rescue. He also is a member of the Hastings Evangelical Free Church.
Broken Bow Dairy in Milburn ranked first in the NSDA milk quality category with the lowest average somatic cell count among the state’s dairy producers. Ranking second was Tuls Dairy, with Double Dutch Dairy East coming in third. There were 18 qualified entries in the contest.
Dairy Herd Improvement Association awards also were announced for the top herds based on pounds of milk and pounds of protein, with a minimum of 10 tests recorded.
Broken Bow Dairy won first place in the Holstein division, with second place going to Steffview Dairy at Hartington. Roger Sprakel Dairy, Crofton, took third.
Nuttelman Dairy at Stromsburg won the crossbred and mixed breed division. Crook Dairy, Humboldt, took second, and Classic Dairy, Jansen, placed third.