By Governor Dave Heineman
As I’ve traveled the state over the past decade, much of my time has been focused on Nebraska’s number one industry – agriculture. I have greatly enjoyed working with, and for, our Nebraska farmers and ranchers. What they do on a daily basis influences every part of our lives, from the food on our plate, to the fuel in our vehicles and countless everyday products.
A strong agriculture industry is very important to main street Nebraska. Agriculture is responsible for more than a quarter of our economic activity. This simple fact has helped me focus my activities over the past 10 years on the issues that bring the most value back to the state. We have had agriculture success stories in the areas of trade, value-added agricultural production, and growth in the number of youth interested in agriculture.
One of the first things I did as Governor was to lead an agricultural trade mission to Cuba. At the time, our dry bean industry was struggling with the negative impact of a backlog of product that didn’t have anywhere to go. After great discussion and negotiation, we were able to secure an agreement with Cuban officials for $30 million in sales of dry beans and other Nebraska goods.
During my first year, international markets for U.S. beef were also just beginning to reopen after countries shut their borders to our products in 2003. I sent Director of Agriculture Greg Ibach to Japan that December, wanting to signal our strong intention to re-establish our presence in what had been our most important market for Nebraska beef. Japanese officials told us we were the first U.S. beef exporter to re-enter the country. Today, Japan is our strongest Asian market, with $230 million in beef sales in 2013.
These early examples set the stage for my Administration’s decade-long emphasis on moving Nebraska agricultural goods into the international marketplace. Our state’s growth in exports has been impressive. For example agricultural exports from Nebraska to Asia have grown from $331 million in 2004 to $1.5 billion in 2013. Cumulatively, we’ve sold almost $8.4 billion in products there during my tenure, with over half of that total coming from the sale of beef and pork. We’ve also experienced very positive growth in the European Union, with agricultural exports increasing from almost $35 million in 2004 to $272 million in 2013.
Value-added agriculture has been an emphasis of mine, and we reached two important milestones during my time as Governor. In 2005, Nebraska was producing 520 million gallons of ethanol annually at 11 ethanol plants, and I was promoting the fact that we had 15 E-85 fueling stations across the state. I was encouraging legislative support for state incentives to support continued ethanol plant development. Today, we are the number two ethanol producer in the nation, with 24 plants producing 2 billion gallons of ethanol annually. Just last month, I announced that we now have 86 E-85 fueling stations in Nebraska. Ethanol plants employ approximately 3,000 people across the state, adding good-paying jobs to our rural communities.
The co-product of ethanol production, distillers grains, has helped Nebraska reach another key milestone. Distillers grains has become an important ingredient in beef rations, and earlier this year Nebraska became the number one cattle feeding state in the nation. With our strong corn and ethanol production, and important beef processing operations, Nebraska will continue to be a key state to send animals for finishing.
As value-added agriculture has grown in Nebraska so too have the opportunities for our young people. When the most recent Census of Agriculture was released earlier this year, it showed Nebraska had growth in the number of farmers age 34 and younger, bucking the national downward trend.
Growth in the interest of youth in agriculture isn’t just being felt on the farm. Attendance is up at post-secondary institutions with agriculture-related programming across the state. The Nebraska Department of Agriculture this year marked its largest Agricultural Youth Institute attendance in the event’s 43-year history. Our youth are realizing that agriculture provides job opportunities for farmers and ranchers as well as veterinarians, banking, marketing and logistics, ethanol plants and much more.
Agriculture is on the move and it has a very bright future. This is great news for our state.