Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Oct. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Nebraska cattle sector can build on its tradition of innovation to tackle its challenges

Modern agriculture is constantly innovating. Nebraska’s $10 billion cattle industry must draw on that forward-looking spirit now to address multiple challenges. Successful innovation can boost producers’ revenues and promote environmental sustainability.

Such adaption — opening up new retail opportunities, addressing environmental concerns — can set Nebraska’s cattle industry on a strong long-term path.

The World-Herald series The State of Beef is examining the current struggles facing the cattle sector. Producers have seen their average share of the retail beef price fall — from a 55% share in 2014 to 37% now. Meanwhile, the share for packers has leaped from less than 1% in 2014 to 22% now. The largest packers have consolidated into four corporate behemoths commanding great control over prices and reducing producers’ ability to determine and receive a fair price.

Meanwhile, as the latest World-Herald examination shows, scientists point to the the cattle industry’s need to reduce its methane emissions, which contribute to climate change. Cattle burps may seem like a humorous topic, but in terms of environmental effects, they’re quite a serious matter. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, warms the climate 28 times more than carbon dioxide.

The encouraging news is that methane is relatively short-lived in the atmosphere. As a result, a reduction in methane emissions, scientists explained to The World-Herald, can provide one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce climatic warming. Nebraska cattle producers have an important opportunity to contribute to this environmental progress.

To address these multiple challenges, producers must embrace innovation. Such a course will be nothing new for the industry. Adaptive change has been the story of Nebraska cattle production for generations. That’s why the beef sector is generating more product today than in 1975 but with 29% fewer cattle. It’s why U.S. cattle producers as a whole use 19% less feed and 12% less water per pound of beef compared with production 30 years ago. And it’s why, over the past three decades, the the beef sector has increased its water efficiency rate by about 80%.

That innovative spirit is needed now to help producers move past the current challenges. On the environmental front, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is a vital partner. UNL has long been in the forefront of natural resources analysis, and its current field work on cattle methane reduction offers great promise. Through this collaboration between university and producers, Nebraska can be a global leader in demonstrating the beef sector’s significant help on the climate front.

To address the revenue challenges, some Nebraska producers are pursuing options including creation of local processing plants and “pasture to plate” direct-marketing arrangements. Such strategies face multiple complications but deserve support. State and federal officials and agencies must explore options to support these entrepreneurial efforts. Nebraska state senators, for example, should consider the proposal for a state inspection system that could remove one of the obstacles for local packing plants.

Nebraska’s governmental leaders can contribute in an additional way, through their public messaging. This isn’t a time for our leaders to tout status quo thinking. Our leaders must be champions for agricultural innovation.

By drawing on its tradition of smart adaptive change, Nebraska’s cattle sector can move past its current challenges. Nebraskans can be united in supporting such a forward-looking strategy for our state’s largest agricultural sector.

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Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 21, 2021.

Editorial: Racial disparity in state prison population will take reforms

Nebraska’s stunningly overcrowded prisons – among the nation’s worst – deserve all the headlines they receive after decades of growing steadily more packed.

Drilling down deeper into the numbers is an even more troubling figure: Nearly 2% of all Black Nebraskans are incarcerated, according to The Sentencing Project, which regrettably ranks in the top 10 nationwide.

A disparity that stark must be addressed. But something of this magnitude can’t be remedied with the same old song and dance that got us here.

As Sen. Terrell McKinney, one of two Black senators in the Nebraska Legislature, correctly noted: “We keep doing reports, and nothing ever changes. It’s now time for us to put some policies on the table that would change that dynamic on the front and the back end.”

Such policies must begin at the legislative level, where too many senators have seemed indifferent about the plight that disproportionately affects Nebraskans of color, who make up almost half of the state’s prison population despite accounting for about 20% of its total population.

Sentencing reform, particularly as it relates to mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent offenses, remains imperative.

As of the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services’ last count from June, more than 14% of the incarcerated population has a drug offense as their most serious crime. They’re among the roughly one-quarter of people in prison who committed no violent crime and need treatment and rehabilitation as much as, if not more than, punishment.

That alone cannot solve prison overcrowding or the disparity, but the penalties for these fall harder on poorer and minority communities.

Because while Lady Justice is supposed to be blind, her scales are tipped against lower-income defendants.

People who can afford private attorneys often enjoy better outcomes than those who rely on the admirable efforts of overworked public defenders. And while judges typically consider job and school schedules for sentencing purposes, the report notes those who are unable to afford bail before trial may not have those commitments and are more likely to face conviction and lengthier sentencing.

Lastly, investing in education helps to stem this tide long before it starts.

A Department of Education study noted that investing more in education improves student behaviors and graduation rates, with a 10% increase in the high school graduations expected to produce a nearly identical decline in arrest rates. In Lincoln Public Schools, Black, Native and Latino students graduate at a rate at least 20% lower than their white peers.

The rampant over-incarceration of Nebraskans comes at great cost to the state, both monetarily (Corrections had a nearly $291 million budget last fiscal year) and societally (the Economic Policy Institute reports children of inmates have worse health and educational outcomes).

Therefore, the decades of talk and inaction that produced this inequity simply won’t suffice. Action to address Nebraska’s racial disparity is the only appropriate path forward.

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North Platte Telegraph. Oct. 24, 2021.

Editorial: Tough jobs, but somebody local has to do them

Here’s to our local elected officials. And the people who elect them.

What follows shouldn’t be taken to reflect any particular Nebraska local government. It’s derived from things observed at public meetings of various governments over a number of years.

It seems timely with Nebraska’s next regular election (the May 10 primary) just over six months away and the 2022 candidate filing period set to open Jan. 5.

These aren’t times that encourage people to seek office at any level of government. Just consider recent stories of political strife at local government meetings in other states.

Such instances have been rare in North Platte. But even here, we’ve heard angry accusations — undeserved, we think — during meetings of untoward, secret motivations in this matter or that.

Please remember this about your local elected officials: Most of them, if not all, are simply doing the very best they can. For you.

They’ve got day jobs, or they’ve retired from them. Most have families, too. Most of their personal energy goes to those jobs and their families. You’d do the same.

Most aren’t paid more than a token amount to sit in those public meetings, gather information and visit with you to do the jobs we elect them to do.

We elect a handful of officials to run particular departments in our county governments. They’re the only full-time elected officials in our towns and counties. (Even county commissioners usually have farms or ranches, day jobs and families.)

Nebraskans have designed our local governments and even our Legislature to discourage officeholders from trying to make them careers.

That’s a good thing, mostly. But it sometimes heats up local controversies for the simple reason that the people making the big decisions don’t spend all their waking hours being public officials.

They can misspeak. They can misunderstand. They sometimes speak off the cuff or offer motions without expressing themselves that clearly.

That can inadvertently feed controversies and turn them into conflicts.

If we have one piece of advice for all our local elected officeholders — and ordinary citizens who exercise their right to speak at meetings — it’s this: Be as precise and concise as you possibly can be.

It’s the best way to accomplish what you want. Or at least to be sure you’ve been heard.

We greatly appreciate those who come to the podium at public meetings and begin by thanking their elected officials for being willing to do a job too often thankless.

That encourages them to keep at it and makes others among us more willing to give us good local choices at the ballot box.

It’s not hard, really, to tell which federal, state or local officeholders and candidates clearly want the job too much. Those are the ones to avoid.

Thankfully, we don’t see too many of those in local government. We usually face the opposite problem: getting enough good people to run.

They’ll have decisions to make before 2022 election filings start. Thanking those who serve, and encouraging those who might, will give us the best possible choices next year.

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