Editorial Roundup: Nebraska

Omaha World-Herald. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Restore fairness and transparency to the cattle market

Agriculture towers as an economic engine in Nebraska, and cattle production accounts for the largest share of the state’s ag value. Nebraska is home to more than 20,000 breeding and feeding operations, most family-owned. The health of many communities across the state depends in considerable measure on the health of the cattle sector.

Of late, that sector has faced hard times. The share of the retail beef dollar going to producers has shrunk significantly. World-Herald reporting by Henry Cordes and Paul Hammel has been examining the details. In 2014, producers’ average portion of the retail beef price was a 55% share. Now, that share has fallen to 37%. Meanwhile, the packers’ share has gone from less than 1% in 2014 to 22% now.

Yes, one of the enduring fundamentals of agriculture is its cyclical nature. It’s true, also, that some short-term events have caused major disruptions: a 2019 fire that shut down a major Kansas packing plant; COVID-related shutdowns in 2020; a ransomware attack this year against mega-packer JBS.

But none of that erases the fact that the cattle market isn’t operating fairly, and that is the central problem to be addressed. It’s in the interest not only of cattle producers but of the general public itself that the market operate fairly, transparently and efficiently. Otherwise the market can be subject to distortion and possible manipulation, harming producers and consumers alike.

That problem is seen already in regard to chicken processing: The Big Four packers have paid hundreds of millions in fines and civil penalties after allegedly conspiring to fix prices in that sector. Such collusive behavior in beef packing hasn’t been demonstrated at this point, though the federal Justice Department is investigating as part of broader antitrust action by the Biden administration.

The key concern for cattle producers is a lack of a transparency in pricing: Packers secure the vast majority of their cattle purchases through private agreements by which producers agree to deliver cattle on a certain day at a preset price. Such an arrangement has advantages: Producers have the certainty of a sale at an agreed-upon price, packers are better able to handle the large volume of beef they need, and the system provides a general incentive for a high level of beef quality.

But reliance on the agreements has major downsides. Packers have increased control of the cattle supply. Some large feedlot operators receive preferential treatment. And, above all, the system undermines competitive bidding, so producers are unable to determine what a fair price should be for their cattle. All the while, grocery prices for the American consumer continue to escalate.

In short, these conditions prevent the market from operating properly and deserve corrective action. Midlands lawmakers have constructive proposals in the U.S. Senate seeking to push the market away from this inefficiency and lack of openness.

Legislation by Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a farmer, would require that a minimum of 50% of a packer’s weekly volume of cattle be purchased through bidding on the cash market. Sen. Deb Fischer, whose family operates a Sandhills cattle operation, has introduced a proposal that the U.S. Department of Agriculture set transparent bidding thresholds that would vary among regions of the country.

Agriculture has always had its ups and downs, and that surely will remain the case in the future. But the current failures of market operation are needlessly harming Nebraska’s cattle sector and deserve far greater attention and action. Fair markets are in the best interest of everyone.

___

Lincoln Journal Star. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: State Patrol faces critical moment after drug thefts

Drugs fueling Lincoln’s summer rash of overdoses, most involving fentanyl-laced cocaine, came from an astounding location, according to law enforcement – the Nebraska State Patrol’s own evidence locker.

A former evidence technician and her boyfriend have been charged, and both the State Patrol and Lincoln Police Department say the wave of drug-induced hospitalizations and deaths has subsided following the questioning and eventual arrest of the two suspects.

But the damage from this sad situation will linger for far longer. Families lost loved ones. Suspects’ right to a fair trial may have been compromised. Faith in Nebraska’s statewide law enforcement agency to serve and protect has been shaken.

As such, the Nebraska State Patrol finds itself in a difficult position, following the abuse of the public trust alleged to have been committed by the former employee. The agency must be forthcoming about its failures, study the processes in place and then explain the changes being made in the wake of this bombshell.

State Patrol Superintendent Col. John Bolduc said only one person in the entire department had the unfettered access required to abscond with drugs – and that individual has now been charged with the theft of more than $1.2 million in drugs.

If the system contains a single point where a failure of this nature can occur, as Bolduc contends, then it clearly must be reinforced there and elsewhere to prevent similar abuses. No matter how much supervision over the evidence room existed, it clearly wasn’t sufficient, given the scope of the thefts.

Some of these amounts aren’t small; 154 pounds of marijuana would be measured in bales, not baggies. But it’s far from as potent as the 19 pounds of cocaine and 10 pounds of fentanyl, both of which are lethal in sufficient doses but especially deadly when laced together, linked to at least one death in Lincoln, per court filings.

Given that the drugs taken off the streets found their way back onto them are believed to have claimed at least one life, the State Patrol has a difficult road ahead to guarantee the security of evidence and convince skeptical members of the public following last week’s stunning news.

That must begin with transparency throughout this process. Having the State Patrol superintendent speak to reporters the next business day after the revelation was made public is a good start, but this journey won’t be a short one.

More information will come out through the investigation and court proceedings against the two suspects who have been criminally charged, but the best path forward will be one of full disclosure to ensure the agency can earn and maintain the public’s trust following such a shocking crime, alleged to have come from within its own walls.

___

North Platte Telegraph. Oct. 3, 2021.

Editorial: Do your part in enhancing Scout’s Rest

Any discussion of possible changes at Scout’s Rest Ranch needs to start with what isn’t being discussed.

Namely, the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission isn’t talking at all about altering the part of William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s property that North Platte knows best.

Not the 1886 mansion. Not the 1887 horse barn bearing the Scout’s Rest name. Not the outbuildings, footbridges, babbling brook and gorgeous landscaping on the west end of Buffalo Bill Ranch State Historical Park.

All of that now lies within the 8.25 acres of Scout’s Rest just declared a National Historic Landmark. That’s about the best protection one can imagine.

Game and Parks, rather, is looking to the eastern two-thirds of the historical park — and the adjoining state recreation area opened in 1999 — to enhance the experience for visitors to both parks.

The agency hopes by November to finalize its “Buffalo Bill Master Plan.” It presented ideas at an online Zoom meeting on Sept. 23.

Local residents are strongly encouraged to review those concepts and offer thoughts at planning.outdoornebraska.gov.

It’s worth reviewing the role of Scout’s Rest in telling the Cody story alongside those played by the Buffalo Bill Center of the West at Cody, Wyoming, and the Buffalo Bill Museum and Grave atop Lookout Mountain near Denver.

The Telegraph offered glances at all three last year in its “Preserving Pahaska” series. (If you want to review our series before offering Scout’s Rest comments, type its name into the search box at nptelegraph.com.)

Each of the three museums has notable caches of Buffalo Bill memorabilia. Each also represents distinct periods in Cody’s life as America’s first great international superstar.

Buffalo Bill’s Wild West was born here in North Platte, though it formally debuted in Omaha in 1883. (Incidentally, we’re nine days away from the 125th anniversary of the first time the show performed here on Oct. 12, 1896.)

Cody co-founded his namesake Wyoming town on the road to Yellowstone National Park. He died in 1917 in Denver, where the Wild West infamously died four years earlier.

But Buffalo Bill, despite his Western and worldwide wanderings, called North Platte and Lincoln County home most of his life after arriving at Fort McPherson in 1869.

Our part of the tale speaks of roots, as permanent as any Cody ever had, in the West he made known to America and the world.

Game and Parks’ concepts would make the east end of the 25-acre historical park an educational entryway — one better oriented to serve visitors of all ages — to the historic-landmark area we love so much.

Cody’s mansion primarily tells the story of how he and his family lived at Scout’s Rest. That wouldn’t change.

But the mansion has had to fill many more roles — park offices, gift shop, auditorium — since the park’s 1965 debut. It’s also pretty cramped when it comes to displaying Buffalo Bill and Wild West show memorabilia unrelated to the mansion’s living spaces.

A proposed new visitors center on the opposite end of the 25-acre historical park would relieve the strain on the mansion. It’d be a definite plus to include enough room to display much more of the memorabilia Scout’s Rest now must keep stored.

Game and Parks would build the visitors center where a “T-barn” once stood until it burned down in 1904. It would emulate the barn but not try to duplicate it, because photos of how it looked are scant and building plans nonexistent. That’s a wise call.

Other ideas call for a “nature playscape” outside the visitors center, an outdoor performance area near the 1887 barn and a shooting gallery just inside the recreation area. All should appeal to locals and visitors.

The main entrance to both parks would continue north from where Buffalo Bill Avenue ends, with a highly necessary redesign to make it simpler and safer.

“This is your park,” Game and Parks leaders said in their Zoom presentation. And indeed it is. Our community helped preserve Scout’s Rest by matching state funds to buy the park area in 1961 from the Henry Kuhlmann family, who did so much to keep it intact for decades after Buffalo Bill’s death.

Visit the website. Type up comments if you wish. Let’s see how we can help to make our most recognizable attraction even better.

END