Agriculture proposal amended, advanced

An omnibus Agriculture Committee measure was amended and advanced from select file March 15.

Sen. Steve Halloran
Sen. Steve Halloran

LB262, as introduced last session by the committee, would clarify and combine terms within the Nebraska Pure Food Act to align with the federal Food and Drug Administration Food Code. The bill was amended on general file to include the provisions of four additional bills considered by the committee this session.

Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran, chairperson of the committee, offered an amendment on select file that would strike most of the provisions amended into the bill on the first round of debate that were intended to remove conflicts between state law and the USDA Final Rule implementing the hemp provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Halloran said his amendment would incorporate portions of Sumner Sen. Teresa Ibach’s LB999 that instead would transfer licensure and regulation of hemp cultivation from the state Department of Agriculture to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beginning Jan. 1, 2025.

Hemp production in Nebraska has declined significantly in recent years, Halloran said, and the few Nebraskans who are engaged in hemp cultivation would be better served by federal regulations — including a lack of licensure fees.

The amendment would require the state to continue to regulate the transportation of hemp. It also would terminate the state Hemp Commission and the Hemp Promotion Fund, and transfer any money in the fund to the state’s Noxious Weed Cash Fund.

The Halloran amendment was adopted 34-1.

Ibach also offered an amendment, adopted 29-1, to add provisions of her LB1061 that would change the Nebraska Corn Resources Act. The amendment would increase the checkoff assessment collected at the time corn enters commercial channels from 0.5 cents per bushel to 1 cent per bushel, beginning Oct. 1.

The current levy has not increased since 2012, Ibach said, and higher than average inflation rates and two years of drought has “significantly diminished” the actual value of the checkoff. She said the increase would bring Nebraska in line with other states and provide more resources to the Nebraska Corn Board to encourage producers to engage in research, education, market development and promotional programs.

Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman questioned the need for the increase. He opposed the amendment, saying Nebraska corn growers currently sell all of their product, which does not indicate a need for more money for the corn board to engage in promotional activities.

“I’m trying to figure out how this enhances more sales of corn that we already sell every year,” Erdman said.

North Platte Sen. Mike Jacobson supported the amendment, saying greater promotional efforts could increase the price at which corn is sold and create stronger local demand.

Among other changes, the amendment also would reduce the percent of budgeted expenditures of the Nebraska Corn Board that could be used to influence federal legislation.

An amendment offered by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, adopted 34-0, added provisions of his LB321. The amendment would change regulations under the Nebraska Pure Food Act related to the cottage food industry — which authorizes the sale of foods prepared in private homes and sold directly to consumers.

The amendment would expand the cottage food exemption to include additional foods. Brandt said the changes would allow producers to sell certain non-refrigerated foods and other specific time and temperature-controlled items.

“One of the benefits of cottage foods is that they provide a way for individuals to start their own small business from home,” Brandt said.

Finally, an amendment offered by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht and adopted 31-0, would add insect production to the definition of an agricultural product in state law.

Lawmakers then advanced LB262 to final reading by voice vote.

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