Incentives for reducing synthetic fertilizer use discussed

Nebraska farmers could receive incentives for reducing their synthetic, commercial fertilizer use and incorporating innovative technology into their farming practices under a bill considered Feb. 13 by the Agriculture Committee.

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, such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

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

The bill states legislative intent to appropriate $5 million in general funds in fiscal year 2024-25 to the department to fund the program and incentives would be capped at $5 million annually. The incentive program would terminate Dec. 31, 2029.

Ibach said the aim of the bill is to encourage and assist farmers in adopting “efficient and sustainable practices” that reduce nitrate contamination of groundwater.

“LB1368 isn’t just about protecting and enhancing our natural resources, which is paramount,” she said. “It’s also about retention to ensure our good life remains for the next generation.”

Under the bill, the department would be responsible for:
● reviewing the necessary commercial fertilizer reduction rate for the program biennially to determine if higher reduction targets are necessary;
● collaborating with natural resources districts to add any new technology to the program as it becomes available;
● identifying geographically beneficial target areas while keeping the program open to all farmers in the state;
● consulting with farmers and commercial entities in the agriculture industry to determine a per-acre payment rate tied to the commercial rate reduction; and
● reviewing the per-acre payment rate based on inflation or emerging technology in renewing years.

Representing the Nebraska Association of Natural Resources Districts, Lyndon Vogt testified in support of the bill. He said NRDs educate producers and farmers on best practices when utilizing fertilizer, such as proper timing, placement and amount. NRDs need additional assistance, however, to convince producers to adopt new practices, he said, which can be accomplished through either incentivization or regulations.

“In my opinion, regulations are much more expensive than incentives and, once implemented, regulations seldom go away,” Vogt said. “Financial incentives will be imperative to getting producers to change their current practices and help protect our water quality.”

Speaking on behalf of the Full Value Agriculture initiative through the Aksarben Foundation, Hank Robinson supported the bill. Reducing the use of artificial fertilizer in corn production will help decrease its carbon intensity, he said, which increases the inventory available for producers to leverage price supports and negotiations with the ethanol industry.

Katie Torpy testified in favor of the measure on behalf of The Nature Conservancy. Many farmers in the state are advised by agronomists to apply fertilizer at a rate that will result in the highest yield, she said, which often leads to using more fertilizer than necessary, causing excess fertilizer runoff in fresh water. The bill would help farmers financially who are considering changing their operations, she said.

“Many farmers are transitioning away from pure yield optimization and require technical and financial assistance,” Torpy said. “Because current practices are deeply ingrained into Nebraska farm culture, such assistance is critical in mitigating the risk associated with this operational change.”

No one testified in opposition to the bill and the committee took no immediate action on it.

Bookmark and Share