Op-Ed: Growing agriculture

Source: By Nebraska Govrenor Pete Ricketts, York News Times • Posted: Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Agriculture is Nebraska’s number one industry, and every day it’s helping to grow our state. Over the years, our farmers and ranchers and ag equipment manufacturers have grown food and created equipment that is helping feed the world. In more recent years, biotechnology, biofuels, and other value-added ag operations have also helped to grow the industry, and keep Nebraska on the forefront of ag innovation and production. The last two weeks, Nebraska has received a lot of very exciting news from our number one industry that is helping grow our state and create new good-paying jobs.

Last week, the United States and China finalized a protocol, reopening the Chinese market to American beef. This is big news for our state. Nebraska is the country’s top beef processor as well as beef exporter, and China is the second largest importer of beef in the world. Within 48 hours of the news that the market had reopened, I visited Greater Omaha Packing to load the first shipment of beef from Nebraska to China since 2003. Access to the Chinese market allows Nebraska farmers and ranchers to sell our quality beef to 1.4 billion new customers, helping to grow our state for years to come.

The China announcement is particularly significant because we know the country’s growing middle class has an increasing appetite for high quality beef. At the time the market closed in 2003, Chinese beef imports were $64 million, which has since grown to $2.5 billion in 2016. Overall, Nebraska exports 18 percent of the beef leaving the United States. If we captured the same market share in China, we would export $200 million to China annually. Additionally, our success right next door in Japan is another reason to push hard in China: Between 2015 and 2016, our beef exports to Japan jumped 36 percent. Thank you to the countless federal, state, and industry partners who worked together to reopen the Chinese market.

While Nebraska is known as the Beef State, other commodities continue to help grow our state as well. This week, I helped break ground on a new chicken plant in Fremont that will provide chickens for Costco. This project will create 800 new jobs and have an estimated annual economic impact of $1.2 billion, which is about 1 percent of our state’s GDP. Projects like this are so important because they help provide Nebraska’s ag producers with additional opportunities to grow their income. It also gives a new entry point for young Nebraskans seeking a career in agriculture.

Nebraska is seeing significant investments in the area of agriculture biotechnology as well. Just this past week, Germany-based Evonik announced a new $200 million investment in Blair where they plan to develop a manufacturing facility to produce omega-3 fatty acids for aquaculture. This comes right on the heels of the announcement of a $36 million expansion by Novozymes of their biofuels plant, which is also located in Blair. This announcement follows a 2015 trade mission to Denmark during which I visited Novozymes’ headquarters to urge them to consider Nebraska for future expansions.

Other biofuels operations have also experienced growth in the last year. Last week, I visited Beatrice to celebrate a $100 million investment in the Duonix biodiesel plant. In September, KAAPA Ethanol will complete a $40 million expansion of an ethanol plant they operate in Ravenna. As the second largest ethanol producing state in the nation, this renewable fuel is not only providing clean fuel for drivers around the world, but it is also adding value to our corn and growing Nebraska. Overall, Nebraska’s 25 ethanol plants carry 2.2 billion gallons of capacity and directly employ 1,300 Nebraskans.

These are just a few of the big investments in Nebraska’s number one industry that are helping to grow our state. While this is a lot of great news, we must continue to work together to grow agriculture. This fall, I will be leading a trade mission to Japan to promote our commodities and attract new investment to our state. Since our last trade mission in 2015, we’ve already seen a lot of success in the Japanese market from growing beef exports to a new $12.5 million investment from Kawasaki in Lincoln.