Property taxes, renewable energy top Nebraska Farmers Union agenda

Source: By Robert Pore, Grand Island Independent • Posted: Thursday, December 7, 2017

State tax reform and renewable energy are topics this weekend for the 104th Nebraska Farmers Union State Convention at the Hotel Grand in Grand Island.

“Harnessing the Power of Cooperation Since 1913” is the convention’s theme.

“Our theme this year is to focus on how we can better partner with other stakeholders to solve problems and represent the interests of family farmers and rural communities,” said John Hansen, Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) president. “Agriculture is facing very difficult economic times. We owe it to our members to work together for the common interests of our rural communities.”

 National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson will speak at the noon luncheon Saturday. He will discuss the Farm Bill, trade policy reforms, tax policy and health care.

“We will cover a host of national and state issues, but we will focus on property tax relief, renewable energy issues, harnessing the power of cooperation and ways to increase the resiliency of our soils,” Hansen said.

At 10:30 a.m. Friday, Anne Steckel, NFU biofuels adviser, and Todd Sneller, Nebraska Ethanol Board administrator, also will speak.

Last month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced final 2018 renewable volume obligations for the Renewable Fuel Standard. The EPA will maintain the corn ethanol need at its current levels. It will increase cellulosic and advanced biofuel requirements from the July 2017

proposal, and keep the biodiesel requirement at 2.1 billion gallons.

“While it’s clear EPA made an attempt to reverse some of their flawed proposals from earlier this year, the improvements to the finalized volume obligations are meager and deeply disappointing,” said Johnson. “The agency missed a significant opportunity to follow through on the administration’s promises to advance the interests of American family farmers, their communities, and the biofuel industry.”

 According to Johnson, “The RFS was written to promote expanded use of homegrown, renewable biofuels. So long as EPA continues to fail to meet that congressional intent, they’ll continue to shortchange our nation’s family farmers, rural communities, consumers and the environment.”
 Hansen said the state’s renewable energy industry is vital to agriculture and rural communities.

He said wind energy and ethanol production are multibillion-dollar investments for Nebraska. And 43 percent of the state’s corn crop goes to ethanol production, he added.

“It is by far the most successful economic development strategy our state has ever pursued,” Hansen said. Farmers Union supports increasing the RFS requirements to help the farm economy, he said.

At 1:30 p.m. Friday there will be a discussion on state tax policy. Hansen said NeFU wants to increase education funding and provide property tax relief.

The discussion will include Open Sky Policy Director Tiffany Seibert Joekel; Trent Fellers, executive director of Reform for Nebraska’s Future; Mike Lucas, superintendent of York Public Schools; Bruce Rieker, vice president of government relations for the Nebraska Farm Bureau; and Al Davis, a board of directors member of Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska and NeFU.

“What we are doing right now is not good economic policy and not good tax policy,” Hansen said.

The state’s “failed” tax system, he said, “becomes more painfully evident when you have a period of four years of below-the-cost-of-production commodity prices.”

“When you look at the costs you are paying, property taxes and health care leap out at you quickly,” Hansen said. “We have a lot of farm families who are paying between $18,000 to $25,000 per year for health-care coverage. When you are paying the kind of property taxes we (farmers) are and you have this kind of commodity prices, that just doesn’t cut it.”

Hansen said wind energy and ethanol are value-added, renewable energy-based opportunities. They use natural resources and agricultural commodities available or grown in Nebraska. The state has more than a $7 billion investment in ethanol and wind energy resources.

“It is not the total answer, but it is a big deal,” Hansen said. “It is a tremendous opportunity that stares us in the face in a time of great financial need.”

He said the continued economic crisis is driving families off farms and ranches. It is also causing rural communities to lose population.

“We need to take a hard look at what’s positive to offset those things,” Hansen said. “We look at renewables as a kind of self-help program. We can support more ethanol and wind energy development. These help counter $3 corn.”

Other convention highlights include Friday noon luncheon keynote speaker Alan Guebert, a national, syndicated agricultural columnist. State Sen. Bob Krist, a candidate for governor, and Chuck Hassebrook, a candidate for Legislative District 16, will also speak Friday. Krist, along with state Sen. Dan Quick and Edward Boone, legislative aide for state Sen. Tom Briese, will also preview issues facing the 2018 Legislature.