Incentives for reducing synthetic fertilizer use clear first round

Nebraska farmers could receive incentives for reducing their synthetic, commercial fertilizer use and incorporating innovative technology into their farming practices under a bill advanced to select file March 20.

Sen. Teresa Ibach
Sen. Teresa Ibach

LB1368, introduced by Sumner Sen. Teresa Ibach, would adopt the Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Act, which would implement a program to incentivize farmers to switch from synthetic fertilizers to sustainable alternatives.

The state Department of Natural Resources would administer the program, in collaboration with the state’s natural resources districts. As introduced, the bill would provide an annual incentive of $10 per acre to qualified farmers who verify a reduction in commercial fertilizer rates of either 25 pounds per acre or 15% by incorporating a qualifying product into the farm’s nutrient plans.

An amendment offered by Ibach and adopted 34-0 would increase the required reduction in commercial fertilizer rates to 40 pounds per acre or 15%. The incentive program would be capped at $5 million annually and would terminate Dec. 31, 2029.

Ibach said the program would take a proactive approach to creating awareness of sustainable technologies that increase yields while managing the amount of harmful nitrates in the state’s aquatic ecosystems through a reduction in fertilizer use.

“Incentivizing the adoption of new, sustainable technologies is key to getting ahead of impending threats to production practices,” Ibach said. “LB1368 encourages farmers to adopt efficient and sustainable practices that help Nebraska protect its natural resources [and] positions our farmers to compete globally.”

Lincoln Sen. Jane Raybould spoke in support of the proposal. She said the state received approximately $1 billion worth of requests to address water contamination issues in 2022, with nearly $400 million of those requests directly related to nitrate and phosphate contamination in drinking water.

“This is an urgent issue facing our agriculture community,” Raybould said. “I think we are way behind the times in making sure that communities all across our state of Nebraska have clean, safe drinking water.”

The bill originally stated legislative intent to appropriate $5 million in general funds in fiscal year 2024-25 for the program. The Ibach amendment instead would authorize a one-time $5 million transfer from the state’s Cash Reserve Fund to a newly created Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Cash Fund. The amendment also would specify that any general fund appropriations could be used for operating expenses only.

Elmwood Sen. Robert Clements, chairperson of the Appropriations Committee, expressed concern that funding the program through the cash reserve would not be sustainable long term. He indicated that he would support the measure if other funding sources are available, however.

Following adoption of the Ibach amendment, senators voted 35-0 to advance LB1368 to select file.

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