AgricultureSession Review 2019

Session Review: Agriculture

The Agriculture Committee advanced bills this session authorizing the cultivation and processing of hemp, expanding legal protections for agricultural producers and allowing for cottage food sales from a private home.

Agriculture Committee chairperson Sen. Steve Halloran

Nebraskans may grow, process and handle hemp and hemp products in the state under LB657, introduced by Omaha Sen. Justin Wayne and passed on a vote of 43-4.

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress distinguished hemp from marijuana and removed hemp from regulation under the federal Controlled Substances Act. In addition, the farm bill provided for the cultivation and commercial use of hemp under regulation of either the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the states. States that wish to regulate hemp production first must submit a plan to the USDA for approval.

LB657 requires the state Department of Agriculture to establish, operate and administer a program to license and regulate those who cultivate, process, handle or broker hemp, defined as cannabis with no more than 0.3 percent delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the plant’s main psychoactive compound.

The bill also requires the department’s director to submit a state regulatory plan to the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture no later than Dec. 31, 2019.

Prior to the state plan’s approval, a person with a valid licensing agreement with the state Department of Agriculture may cultivate, handle or process hemp as part of a pilot program authorized by federal law in 2014.

The bill requires any person other than a hemp cultivator or processor-handler who is transporting hemp to carry a bill of lading indicating the hemp’s owner, its point of origin and its destination, as well as documentation affirming that it was produced in compliance with federal law.

Another bill advanced by the committee expands legal protections for agricultural producers under Nebraska’s 1982 Right to Farm Act.

Under the act, a farm or public grain warehouse—a grain elevator or receptacle in which grain is held for longer than 10 days—cannot be found to be a public or private nuisance if it existed before a change in the land use or occupancy of land in its locality and would not have been considered a nuisance before the change.

Under LB227, introduced by Sen. Dan Hughes of Venango and passed 46-2, no suit for public or private nuisance may be maintained against a farm or public grain warehouse more than two years after the condition that is the subject matter of the suit reaches a level of offense sufficient to sustain a nuisance claim.

The limitation does not apply to any action brought to determine compliance with or to enforce a previous court order related to the same nuisance claim or to any claims for additional damages or relief available when an operation fails to remediate a nuisance pursuant to the court order.

Nebraskans may sell so-called cottage foods directly from their homes and at certain events under another bill advanced by the committee.

Under the Nebraska Pure Food Act, a person or business preparing, storing or selling food for public consumption is required to be licensed and inspected and to comply with certain food safety regulations.

State law previously had exempted private homes only when preparing nonhazardous food items such as many types of baked goods and uncut fruits and vegetables directly sold to consumers at a farmers market if the consumer is informed by a sign at the sale location that the food was prepared in a kitchen that was not subject to regulation and inspection.

LB304, introduced by Bellevue Sen. Sue Crawford and passed on a 40-0 vote, expands commercial avenues available to cottage food businesses by allowing direct consumer sales of nonhazardous food items at a fair, festival, craft show or other public event or for pickup or delivery at a seller’s private home.

The bill requires producers other than those selling directly to consumers at a farmers’ market to complete a nationally accredited food safety and handling course or a certified food safety and handling training course offered at a culinary school or as required by a county, city or village to obtain a food handler permit.

A producer also is required to follow food safety and handling guidelines for sale at public events, and a producer selling from a private home is required to register with the department before conducting any sales.

A bill advanced by the committee and passed on a vote of 43-0 creates a 17-member task force that will develop a plan to improve soil health in Nebraska.

Introduced by Creighton Sen. Tim Gragert, LB243 creates a healthy soils task force under the state Department of Agriculture.

The task force will develop a healthy soils initiative and a plan to carry it out “using standards for organic matter, biological activity, biological diversity and soil structure as measures to assess improved soil health.”

Members will include the director of the department or his or her designee and others appointed by the governor, including representatives of natural resources districts, production agriculture and agribusiness as well as academic experts and representatives from environmental organizations.

When developing the plan, the task force will examine how to provide farmers and ranchers with research, education, technical assistance and demonstration projects; financial incentives to improve soil health; and information on the contribution of livestock to soil health.

The task force is required to submit its plan, findings and recommendations to the Legislature and the governor by Jan. 1, 2021, when it terminates.

The committee did not advance LB45, introduced by Omaha Sen. Ernie Chambers, which would repeal the Black-Tailed Prairie Dog Management Act.

The 2012 act authorizes county boards to adopt and carry out coordinated management programs to control black-tailed prairie dog colonies on property within the county.

Also remaining in committee is LB382, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, which would bar municipalities from enacting ordinances to regulate pet stores and require sellers to make pet disclosure statements available for customer review.

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