Let’s Get Nebraska Agriculture Growing
By Governor Pete Ricketts
June 12, 2020
Governor’s official photo here.
Here in Nebraska, June is both Renewable Fuels Month and Dairy Month, so it’s a fitting time to talk about how we’re working to get Nebraska agriculture growing. 2020 has been another challenging year for our state’s largest industry. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted commodity prices and caused significant changes to the nation’s food supply chain. Through it all, our farmers, ranchers, and food processor workers have delivered the food our nation and the world need.
Over the years, Nebraska’s ag producers have defined Nebraska grit and determination, and they have once again responded well to adversity. As they navigate difficult circumstances, we’re dedicating federal and state assistance to keep our farms and ranches growing.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has rolled out the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) to aid the nation’s agricultural community. CFAP is making $16 billion in direct payments to farmers and ranchers to compensate them for coronavirus-related price drops and market disruptions. USDA has just begun to issue the first CFAP payments. As of June 8th, the program has already disbursed about $100 million to ag producers in our state. Nebraskans interested in CFAP should contact their local Farm Service Agency to inquire about submitting an application. Details of the program are available online at farmers.gov/cfap. The USDA is accepting applications through August 28, 2020.
The State of Nebraska has also received over $1 billion from the federal government through the Coronavirus Relief Fund to assist with our recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. As part of our plan to get Nebraska growing, we are allocating $330 million of these funds to assist small livestock producers employing 1-10 persons and small businesses with 5-49 employees. Grant applications are available by visiting getnebraskagrowing.nebraska.gov.
The coronavirus has been especially challenging for the ethanol industry. People have been driving significantly less over the last few months, which has reduced the demand for ethanol and other fuels locally and worldwide. At one point, 42% of ethanol production in Nebraska was offline. The good news is that as drivers return to the road, demand is coming back.
To support the farmers, ranchers, and production facilities in the ethanol industry, we’re successfully advocating for higher ethanol blends—E15, E30, and E85. Ethanol fuels save consumers money, benefit the environment, and create more opportunity for Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers. A year ago, the ethanol industry celebrated news that E15 had been approved for sale all year long. This February, the USDA announced a new initiative—the Higher Blends Infrastructure Incentive Program. It represents a real commitment to expand access to higher blends of ethanol fuel throughout the United States. The USDA will award $100 million in grants this year as part of the program. Through August 13th, gas stations and other fueling facilities can apply for funds to install or upgrade fuel pumps, storage tanks, and other infrastructure.
International trade continues to be a key to growing agriculture. The new USMCA trade deal officially takes effect on July 1, 2020, which is great news for our ag community. Mexico already ranks as Nebraska’s top export destination for corn and dairy, while Canada is our second largest market for ethanol and dairy. The more advantageous trade terms of USMCA will give Nebraska’s ag producers even better access to these North American markets. This is especially true for our dairy farmers, who will face fewer restrictive trade barriers when selling to Canada.
While travel restrictions have put a temporary pause on trade missions, our economic development team continues to be in contact with international partners. As travel opens up, I’ll lead additional trade missions to promote Nebraska’s high-quality crops and livestock. We’ve seen great results from these missions. For example, in September I met with top trade leaders in Japan and Vietnam to talk about the premium ag products grown in Nebraska. From January to April of 2020, Nebraska’s combined beef and pork exports to Japan have been over $50 million higher than they were during the same period last year.
In early March, Vietnamese trade officials visited Lincoln as a follow up from our 2019 trade mission to Hanoi. They committed to buy $3 billion of cattle, corn, distiller’s grains, soybeans, and wheat from Nebraska in the next two to three years. We’re already seeing exponential growth in the Vietnamese market. Beef exports to Vietnam have risen 119% and pork exports are up 136% in the first four months of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
True to character, Nebraska’s ag community has found ways to help their neighbors in their hour of need even while facing difficulty themselves. After the coronavirus outbreak, the Green Plains plant in York quickly found new uses for the industrial ethanol it manufactures. The company has donated the ethanol for use in the production of hand sanitizers to aid communities in Nebraska. The Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) also stepped up to launch a grant program to supply food pantries around the state with cold storage. Milk is typically the most requested item from food pantries, but many of them do not have the ability to store non-perishables. Nebraska’s ag community is donating milk as well as contributing funds so that food banks can purchase refrigerators.
For all the latest information, I encourage you to visit my website, governor.nebraska.gov, and to subscribe for updates. Agriculture is the backbone of the Cornhusker State, and we are working every day to grow opportunities for the farmers and ranchers who help feed the world.