Omaha World Herald: 8-hour filibuster in Nebraska Legislature fails to get enough support to keep ban on corporate ownership of hogs & Lincoln Journal Star & AP articles


Below are three news articles about LB176, which is on today’s Select File agenda today. Keep the phone calls and emails coming. The clear difference on the outcome of this issue is the fact Smithfield hired Mueller and Robak, the Legislature’s top lobby firm. Ironically, co-owner Kim Robak’s mother, Jennie Robak ran a strong populist campaign to win a seat in the Nebraska Legislature by campaigning against corporate pork and supporting I-300 in 1989 where she served until 2003. She was one of our champion’s along with Sen. Cap Dierks in establishing the statutory ban preventing pork and beef processors in 1998 that her daughter Kim is now doing her best to eliminate. Senator Jennie Robak received NeFU’s President’s Award for Outstanding Service to Family Farm and Ranch Agriculture for her tireless efforts on our behalf. I helped with Jennie’s first campaign in 1989 against Sen. Lee Rupp, an opponent of I-300. She was an amazing woman and champion of family farm agriculture.

All the best,

John K. Hansen, President

Nebraska Farmers Union

1305 Plum Street, Lincoln, NE 68502

(402)476-8815 Office (402)476-8859 Fax

(402)476-8608 Home (402)580-8815 Cell

John Office

8-hour filibuster in Nebraska Legislature fails to get enough support to keep ban on corporate ownership of hogs

By Paul Hammel / World-Herald Bureau | Posted: Tuesday, May 26, 2015 11:45 pm

LINCOLN — After a sometimes emotional, daylong debate, state lawmakers advanced a bill that would end a state ban on corporate ownership of hogs.

Proponents hailed the proposal as a way to create jobs, increase the number of hogs raised in Nebraska and lure young people back to rural areas.

But opponents, who mounted an unsuccessful filibuster, disputed that, maintaining that it would allow a Chinese-owned company to own hogs in the state and make hog farmers “sharecroppers” to big corporations.

“This bill makes farmers nothing more than serfs,” said State Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids. “You would be totally beholden to the corporate entity that owns the hogs.”

Legislative Bill 176, the priority bill of Ogallala Sen. Ken Schilz, would eliminate a ban on corporate ownership of hogs that was passed back in 1999.

That was when Nebraska still had a constitutional ban on corporate ownership of farmland, Initiative 300, and the ban on hog ownership was seen as an extension of that.

But Schilz said that times have changed. Not only has Initiative 300 been declared unconstitutional, but the senator said that Nebraska has been left in the dust when it comes to hog production.

While Nebraska has matched the national growth rate in hog production over the past decade at 14 percent, the senator said that neighboring states have grown much faster. South Dakota had 53 percent growth; Iowa 30 percent; Minnesota 25 percent; and Missouri, 22 percent, according to Schilz.

“Nebraska is not keeping pace,” he said.

Schilz said that he is concerned that the state’s three hog processors may someday move elsewhere, jeopardizing the 5,000 jobs they now provide. About 40 percent of the hogs they slaughter come from out of state, said the senator, a cattle feeder.

The vast majority of hogs raised in Nebraska are done so through contracts with hog processors, who set timetables for delivery and often provide feed. LB 176 would allow the processors, like Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, the nation’s largest hog processor, to also own the animals.

Critics of the bill said that it lead to the “chickenization” of the hog industry, and could eventually spread and lead to the end of the independent cattle producer.

“Chickenization” refers to how chickens have been raised for years. Large corporations own the animals, the barns and the land, as well as the processing facilities. Workers are employees, not “farmers” in the traditional sense of the word.

Opponents of LB 176 said that just like the price of chickens are now set by the big companies, the price of pork would be established by a few corporations.

John Hansen of the Nebraska Farmers Union said that allowing corporate ownership of hogs would saddle a farmer with all the liability for buildings, taxes and manure disposal, but the company would make most of the profit.

“This bill isn’t for family farming, it’s for corporate farming,” said Scribner Sen. David Schnoor.

Gering Sen. John Stinner said that allowing corporations to own the hogs, and contract with farmers to grow them, might help bring young people back to rural areas. With such a contract, a young person, with just a small plot of land, would have the equity needed to get a loan to build a confined hog operation, said Stinner, who is a banker.

But opponents of LB 176 said that wouldn’t be the case because companies wouldn’t be seeking out startup farmers, but larger, more established hog growers.

Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy, whose family in southwest Nebraska used to raise hogs, said that he was concerned that the profits from hogs would be flowing out of the state and even out of the country, pointing out the Chinese ownership of Smithfield.

But the complaints of opponents never got traction as a series of amendments and motions they pursued over the eight-hour debate never got more than a dozen votes.

Backers of LB 176 included the State Department of Agriculture, the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the State Chamber of Commerce. Gov. Pete Ricketts has also spoken in support of expanding the state’s livestock industry.

When it came time to vote on ending the filibuster and passing the bill, supporters won easily, with most urban senators backing LB 176. The cloture vote to end the filibuster passed by a 34-9 margin, and the vote to advance the bill from first-round debate was 28-10.

Contact the writer: 402-473-9584, paul.hammel


Lincoln Journal Star


Opponents say pig packer bill a win for corporate ag

By Zach Pluhacek | Lincoln Journal Star

A bill in the Nebraska Legislature would allow major meatpackers to own their own hogs.

Pulled-pork sliders were on Nebraska lawmakers’ lunch menu Tuesday, along with a bill one rancher described as a "rotten pork sandwich."

The measure — backed by Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer — would eliminate the state’s ban on meat packers owning their own hogs rather than buying them from independent producers.

Opponents say the move would allow big corporations to effectively muscle families out of the hog business, forcing independent producers to give up their ownership and make long-term contracts with packers rather than sell their hogs for cash at a higher price.

The bill (LB176) advanced from first-round debate on a 28-10 vote after several urban senators helped dislodge it from a filibuster.

Debate could continue tomorrow, and supporters hope the bill will clear two more rounds of voting during the final week of the legislative session rather than linger until next year.

If it passes, the measure would make local hog farmers "nothing more than serfs" who care for the animals but don’t own them, said Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids.

"This is sharecropping," said Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte.

Opponents aimed much of their criticism at Smithfield, which was bought by a Chinese meat processor called Shuanghui Group in 2013.

"It’s troubling to consider the prospects of hogs raised in Nebraska, processed in Nebraska, and that pork going across the Pacific Ocean to feed a nation that isn’t always aligned with our goals as a country," said Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy.

"Yes, they’re a massive trading partner, but it is altogether different to do trade with a nation than it is to have that nation owning a good portion of your economy in a state."

A similar bill failed to advance last year from the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee.

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala, who sponsored both bills, said this year’s effort would help put more pigs in the state’s pens.

The pork industry has evolved in recent years the same way poultry did earlier, with more centralized feeding and processing, he said. Nebraska lost 63 percent of its hog producers from 1997 to 2007, most of which was covered by the ban.

Even family farming dynasties are fading, said Sen. Paul Schumacher of Columbus.

"We’re rapidly moving to a corporate agricultural system, and there’s nothing we can do to stop that," he said.

But Schilz’ bill paves an even quicker path for corporate agriculture to roll over small operations, opponents argued.

Sen. Dave Bloomfield read letters and emails from ranchers who oppose the bill, including one who said it would be "the final curtain call on another industry that once thrived as a family-owned segment of the Nebraska ag economy."

Sen. John Kuehn of Heartwell, who was excused during the vote, recalled how farmers used to use pigs as "mortgage lifters" — an easier investment to help upstart farmers pay the bills.

"The reality is that story is not available anymore," Kuehn said.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7234 or zpluhacek. On Twitter @zachamiLJS


Nebraska One Step Closer to Meatpackers Owning Hogs

BY Associated Press | May 27, 2015

HomeNewsAgricultural News

Nebraska lawmakers moved one step closer Tuesday to lifting the state’s ban on meatpacker-owned hogs, despite objections by senators who say it protects small and independent producers.
The measure won first-round approval on a 28-10 vote after supporters managed to overcome an eight-hour-long filibuster.

Opponents in the Legislature said the bill would allow major corporations, such as the Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, to squeeze out small and independent farmers and control the supply chain. They pointed to the poultry industry, where consolidations have given a handful of processors substantial leverage over producers because of their market dominance.

“Who are we really trying to help here?” said Sen. Kate Sullivan of Cedar Rapids. “… I’d suggest to you this would make producers little more than serfs.”

Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala said he introduced the bill to keep Nebraska’s hog industry on pace with nearby states South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota and Missouri, where it has grown faster.
“Nebraska is not keeping pace with those leading hog-producing states,” he said.

Schilz said the bill lets farmers contract with whomever they wish and follows the trend of farms growing larger to stay competitive. In addition, he said consumers have come to expect the “quality, quantity and consistency” that large companies provide.

Sen. Mike Groene of North Platte, who frequently advocates for smaller government and a free market, said the bill would allow packers to control the market and influence prices.
“You cannot claim that cradle-to-grave livestock farming is free market. It isn’t,” Groene said.

The bill has divided farm groups. The Nebraska Pork Producers, the Nebraska Farm Bureau and the Nebraska Department of Agriculture have endorsed the legislation; the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska, the Center for Rural Affairs and the Nebraska Farmers Union oppose it.

Senators voted 34-9 to end the filibuster, one more than the minimum required. Two more votes on the bill are required before it goes to Gov. Pete Ricketts.

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