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Agriculture is the undisputed foundation of Nebraska. The economic engine of our state, Nebraska agriculture represents one in every four jobs and over $23 billion in economic impact. The vitality of our rural communities, the conservation of our natural resources, and the protection of our defining culture as Nebraskans is inextricably linked to the success of the 50,000 Nebraska farm families who provide food, fiber, and fuel for every Nebraskan and millions more globally. Protection of Nebraska agriculture is my highest priority. It is for that reason my legislative priority bill for the 2016 session will be LR 378CA, a resolution to establish a constitutional Right to Farm and Ranch in Nebraska.
Nebraska’s farm and ranch families are producing higher quality crops and meats with greater sustainability and a smaller environmental footprint than ever before. Modern stewardship practices and the use of technology for crop protection and promotion of animal health have enabled family farms and ranches of every size to thrive in a competitive global commodity market. As a national leader in agriculture and natural resources research, the opportunities for Nebraska to be home to new agricultural innovation are limitless.
Unfortunately, as fewer and fewer consumers have a direct connection to agriculture and food production, misconceptions about modern agriculture created by activist groups take root. In the social media age, anyone with an anti-agriculture agenda can quickly undermine Nebraska’s farm families, even using the guise of “pro-farmer” or “pro-food” groups. Activist groups also promote increasingly restrictive legislation and regulation that impairs the right of family farmers and livestock producers to use accepted, safe practices on their farms and ranches.
Nebraska’s farm families do not have the resources to defend legal challenges in response to suits filed by deep-pocketed, anti-agriculture activist groups. Even incremental adoption of their agenda is crippling to Nebraska’s rural communities and to our entire state. With constitutional protection provided by LR 378CA, Nebraska’s family farmers and ranchers will have certainty as they build their operations and invest in our rural communities.
Proposing an amendment to the Nebraska Constitution is no trivial matter. The significance of Nebraska agriculture, economically and culturally, raises it to the level of inclusion in the guiding principles of our state. Doing so clearly codifies the role and significance of agriculture as the foundation and stabilizing force of Nebraska. Placing the protection only in statute, which can be amended, fails to provide adequate protection. The amendment process in the Unicameral will require a super-majority of 30 votes on Final Reading to be placed upon the general election ballot. Then people of Nebraska have the final voice.
In the past year Nebraska has seen the disruption that can be caused by anti-animal agriculture extremists targeting producers. Misinformation about the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and animal health practices is rampant on social media. Activist anti-agriculture legislation in California, Ohio, and Rhode Island has been crippling to agriculture not only in those states, but has had far reaching impacts on states nationally due to the interconnected nature of agriculture. The threat is real. The time to proactively protect Nebraska agriculture is now.
Constitutional Right to Farm already exists in North Dakota and Missouri, and the Oklahoma legislature has placed the issue before the voters this November. As the national leader in crop and livestock production, Nebraska needs to provide a similar level of protection to our farm families, now and for generations of future farmers and ranchers.