It is well known that agriculture is Nebraska’s top industry and the backbone of our economy. Even through extreme weather and low commodity prices, our farmers and ranchers have shown remarkable resilience in recent months and years. To help our ag producers grow and thrive, it is important that we build on our strengths. To that end, we have been working to grow agriculture by adding value to our quality ag products, delivering property tax relief and boosting Nebraska’s ag exports.
In the area of value-added agriculture, we have been pushing for E-15. Nebraska is the second largest producer of ethanol in the nation. Ethanol helps consumers save money at the pump, cleans up the environment and helps our farmers and ranchers. Last fall, I joined President Donald Trump in Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he announced the beginning of the rule-making process to allow E-15. We received more good news on May 31 when the federal government fulfilled its promise to authorize the year-round sale of E-15. Now, all 12 months of the year, consumers have the option to choose fuel that’s better for Nebraska’s environment and economy. E-15 can be used in any vehicle manufactured starting in 2001 or later. Last week, I joined President Trump in Council Bluffs again to celebrate the final approval of year-round E-15.
The State of Nebraska is already paving the way for the introduction of even higher ethanol blends into the nation’s fuel supply by working to dispel misconceptions about the fuel. On June 3, Nebraska started an EPA-approved program to study the use of locally sourced E-30 in conventional state-owned vehicles. The research on these vehicles’ mileage and maintenance needs will help demonstrate that E-30 can both reduce consumers’ costs and contribute to a cleaner environment. As more drivers fill their tanks with E-15 and E-30, Nebraska’s farmers and ethanol plants will enjoy increased demand for their products.
While expanding ethanol products helps Nebraska’s ag producers sell more, we’re also working on property tax relief. Every year, I have made property tax relief my top legislative priority. In the recent legislative session, we took positive steps to provide property tax relief. First, we controlled spending which allowed us to deliver additional direct tax relief to Nebraskans by increasing the Property Tax Credit Relief Fund by 23 percent to an annual total of $275 million. Second, I worked with the Legislature to pass LB 103 which protects Nebraskans against automatic property tax hikes. Previously, as property valuations went up, property taxes would often soar higher — even as tax rates remained the same. This meant Nebraskans paid more in property taxes without ever debating or approving the increased amount. LB 103 requires taxing entities — like school districts, cities and counties — to hold a public hearing and vote before they can raise property taxes. This ensures that Nebraskans are fully informed and have a fair say before paying more in property taxes. Third, I signed LB 512 into law to give property tax relief to Nebraskans who experienced significant property damage as a result of the extreme weather this spring.
While these accomplishments are good progress, we still have work to do. Most urgently, we need to make structural property tax reforms to achieve long-term relief. Nebraskans deserve a chance to vote on LR 8CA, which is pending in the Legislature, so we can cap property tax increases. Property tax relief remains my top priority, and I’m working with senators on tax relief for Nebraska’s farmers, ranchers and homeowners by controlling spending.
Finally, we’re strengthening international trade relationships to promote Nebraska’s high-quality ag products around the globe. More than 95 percent of the world’s population lives beyond our borders and international trade is key to developing new markets for our ag products. We’ve recently seen rapid growth in our state’s exports. For instance, from 2017 to 2018 beef exports jumped 14 percent. This increase represents a surge of more than $175 million in beef exports for the Beef State.
The exciting news is that we’ve only scratched the surface of our potential to sell Nebraska-grown commodities overseas. In September, I will embark on trade missions to Vietnam and Japan. With nearly 100 million people and a growing middle class, Vietnam is poised to become a lucrative market for our state’s agricultural exports. Japan is already the top international destination for Nebraska beef with $412 million of exports in 2018. In May, we received good news that Japan has eliminated all remaining non-tariff barriers limiting the import of American beef. This announcement positions Japan to be an even bigger trading partner.
In November, I’ll also lead an international trade mission to Germany. While there, our delegation will attend Agritechnica — the world’s largest international trade fair for agricultural technology. We’ll also meet with federal officials in Berlin to discuss trade policy and visit the headquarters of German companies that have invested in Nebraska.
Growing ethanol options, delivering property tax relief and expanding international trade are just three of the ways we’re ensuring a fruitful future for Nebraska agriculture. If you have ideas on how we can continue to grow agriculture, I hope that you will contact me by emailing pete.ricketts@
nebraska.gov or call 402-471-2244. Together we can keep Nebraska agriculture strong.