AgricultureSession Review 2024

Session Review: Agriculture

The Agriculture Committee advanced measures this session to provide incentives for reducing nitrogen use in Nebraska farming practices, transfer state regulation of hemp cultivation back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and modernize restrictions on foreign land ownership.

LB1368, introduced by Sumner Sen. Teresa Ibach, establishes a nitrogen reduction incentive program to be overseen by the state Department of Natural Resources. The program will provide an annual incentive of $10 per acre to qualified farmers who verify a reduction in commercial fertilizer rates of either 40 pounds per acre or 15% by incorporating a qualifying product into the farm’s nutrient plans.

The program is funded through the newly created Nitrogen Reduction Incentive Cash Fund, which will receive a one-time transfer of $1 million from the Water Resources Cash Fund and $100,000 in general funds in fiscal year 2024-25 and FY2025-26. The department may apply for additional state, federal or private grant funding.

The measure includes provisions of Columbus Sen. Mike Moser’s LB1199, which eliminate certain fees collected by the department for performing administrative duties, including those for particular surface and groundwater use permit applications.

LB1368 passed on a vote of 42-0.

LB1301, introduced by Niobrara Sen. Barry DeKay on behalf of Gov. Jim Pillen and passed 46-0, adds several conditions to the right of foreign individuals or foreign-owned companies to own land in the state.

Under the bill, individuals and entities are subject to greater scrutiny and restrictions on land ownership in Nebraska if they are on the sanctions list maintained by the federal Office of Foreign Assets Control of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. Additionally, individuals determined by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce as having engaged in a long-term pattern or serious instances of conduct significantly adverse to U.S. national security also could be restricted in their ability to own land.

Among other provisions, LB1301 also allows individuals to report suspected foreign ownership of land by a restricted entity. The state Department of Agriculture must investigate suspected violations and refer them to the state attorney general or, if necessary, retain outside counsel.

The court may terminate a lease that is in violation of the measure and the state may sell any real estate acquired under the bill’s divestment provisions.

Lawmakers also approved a bill clarifying how seed corn companies solicit contract labor for roguing and detasseling in Nebraska.

LB844, introduced by Bayard Sen. Steve Erdman, directs the state Department of Agriculture to maintain a registry of local detasseling contractors and share that information with seed corn producers.

Beginning Jan. 1, 2025, any producer who wishes to hire detasseling and roguing labor must file a notarized report with the department containing the number of acres of hybrid seed corn produced, among other relevant information. Individual reports are not subject to disclosure under the Public Records Act but the department must publish an annual report of data aggregated from reports filed by seed producers.

Lawmakers passed LB844 on a 45-0 vote.

Under LB1313, introduced by Sen. Robert Dover of Norfolk, health benefit plans that are sponsored by certain nonprofit agricultural organizations and provide benefits under a self-funded arrangement administered by a licensed third-party administrator are not subject to insurance regulation.

An organization sponsoring a plan must have been created primarily to promote programs for the development of rural communities and the economic stability of Nebraska farmers, among several other requirements.

Before providing health benefits, an organization must file a certification with the state Department of Insurance verifying that the organization meets the bill’s requirements.

LB1313 passed on a 45-0 vote.

A bill intended to provide financial assistance to small, locally owned grocery stores did not advance from committee this session. LB1116, introduced by Ibach, would have adopted the Grocer Reinvestment Option Act to provide loans and grants to small, Nebraska owned grocery and convenience stores located in low- to moderate-income communities.

Omnibus bill

LB262, introduced by the committee as a cleanup bill in 2023, served as an omnibus measure for the 2024 session. The bill defines and combines terms within the Nebraska Pure Food Act to help clarify permitting categories, adopt standards for use of bottled water consistent with the federal Food and Drug Administration Food Code and add additional options to qualify to serve as a food inspector.

The bill includes provisions of several other measures considered by the committee.

Provisions of Ibach’s LB999 transfer licensure and regulation of hemp cultivation from the state Department of Agriculture to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beginning Jan. 1, 2025. The provisions also 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 state will continue to regulate hemp transportation within Nebraska.

Provisions of Ibach’s LB1061 increase the checkoff assessment collected under the Nebraska Corn Resources Act at the time corn enters commercial channels from 0.5 cents per bushel to 1 cent per bushel, beginning Oct. 1. Additionally, the measure reduces the percentage of the Nebraska Corn Board’s budgeted expenditures that can be used to influence federal legislation.

Provisions of Hastings Sen. Steve Halloran’s LB305 remove the duty and authority of the Nebraska Public Service Commission to establish grain storage rates. Warehouse licensees, however, must prominently post storage rates and related charges on signage issued by the commission.

New license applicants must file a schedule of storage rates and charges with their application. Warehouse licensees can adjust such rates and charges by filing notice with the PSC and all grain owners of record at least 30 days prior to any adjustment taking effect. The provisions also makes it a Class IV misdemeanor to charge storage rates other than, or in addition to, those filed and posted.

LB321, sponsored by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, modifies Nebraska Pure Food Act regulations regarding the cottage food industry, which allow the sale directly to consumers of foods prepared in private homes. The provisions allow producers to sell certain time- and temperature-controlled items, such as cheesecake and cream filled pastries, to consumers in person.

Provisions of LB264, introduced by the committee, make a series of changes to the state Grain Dealer Act and Grain Warehouse Act, including revising the definition of “grain” to remove an ambiguity regarding whether grain excludes segregated commodities such as certified organic. The measure also updates grain dealer licensure requirements, including increasing the maximum bonding requirements grain dealers and warehouses must carry to secure obligations to sellers and storers of grain.

Finally, LB1207, sponsored by Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht, adds insect production to the definition of agricultural products for purposes of the Agricultural Marketing Act.

LB262 passed on a 47-0 vote.

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