Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Nebraska’s Sustainable Family Farms Feed the World

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By the Honorable Pete Ricketts, Governor of the US state of Nebraska.

Nebraska is a global leader in agriculture, producing world-class crops and manufacturing innovative farming technologies.  Among U.S. states, Nebraska ranks first in beef and veal exports, second in ethanol production, third in corn exports, fourth in total cash receipts from all farm commodities, and fifth in soybean exports.  Our state has 2.5 million cattle on feed and harvested 1.8 billion bushels of corn in 2019.

Many people are surprised to learn that Nebraska’s prolific production comes primarily from family farms.  Ninety-five percent of the farms in our state are family-owned.  Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have been cultivating the land and tending livestock for generations.  It’s common to find farms or ranches that have remained in the same family for over one hundred years.  

With their devotion to the land, our state’s farmers and ranchers are the original conservationists.  They know their land better than anyone else and have a vested stake in its conservation.  They want to pass on the family farm or ranch to the next generation, so they care for the land in a sustainable way.  For this reason, agriculture and conservation go hand in hand in Nebraska.

Each year, I present the Leopold Conservation Award to recognize a farmer or rancher who has displayed innovation in conservation.  The award is named after Aldo Leopold, a renowned naturalist, conservationist, and author.  He developed the concept of the “land ethic”—the idea that we have a moral duty to care for the natural world.  The most recent Leopold Award winner, Russ Sundstrom, exemplifies this caretaking attitude toward the land and wildlife that is common to Nebraskans.  

Like many of Nebraska’s ranchers, Russ is deeply rooted in the land.  His great-grandfather immigrated to Nebraska from Sweden in 1904.  Russ and his brother, Neil, are the fourth generation in their family to take care of their ranchland.  Russ thoughtfully stewards the land to restore and conserve it.  He practices mob grazing, where cows bunch together and graze intensely in one spot, before moving to another area.  This rotational strategy gives the pastureland more than a year’s worth of rest before it is grazed again.  The grazing technique benefits local wildlife as well as allowing the main forage plants ample time to replenish. 

Russ also uses controlled fires to burn invasive species, like red cedar trees, from his land.  His work has restored thousands of hectares of lands to their original habitat.  His conservation efforts have also been a tremendous benefit to local wildlife that depends on the native grasses and shrubs for food and shelter. 

Cattlemen like Russ are producing significant quantities of beef for the European market.  Nebraska has expanded its share of American beef exported to the European Union (EU) from five percent in 2005 to 53 percent in 2018.  Last year, President Trump and the European Union reached agreement to allow the U.S. to more than double the amount of beef it exports to the EU in the coming years.  The trade deal ensures that Nebraska beef will become even more widely available in grocery stores and restaurants in the EU.

Though a landlocked state, Nebraska is now home to an innovative Dutch-German joint venture working to replenish sea life.  In June, Veramaris, established by Royal DSM and Evonik, opened a brand-new production facility in rural Nebraska.  Veramaris CEO Karim Kurmaly is a marine biologist who is passionate about stewarding our oceans’ resources.  His company is producing omega-3 fatty acids using fermented algae and dextrose from Nebraska-grown corn.  Producing the omega-3s in Nebraska allows fish farmers to give salmon the nutrition they need without having to use wild fish as feed.  In turn, reducing reliance on wild fish prevents the depletion of marine life.

In November, Avansya—a joint venture between Cargill and Royal DSM—began producing a zero-calorie sugar substitute from dextrose at a fermentation facility in Nebraska.  The sweetener, made from the stevia plant, gives consumers a healthy way to reduce their sugar intake without sacrificing flavor.  Veramaris and Avansya join other global bioscience companies, such as the Danish firm Novozymes, that have chosen to operate in Nebraska.  They’ve selected Nebraska on account of our business friendly climate, abundant natural resources, agricultural expertise, and highly educated workforce.

In November, I led a trade mission to Germany and met with leaders from Evonik, Bayer, Claas, and other German companies to thank them for investing in Nebraska.  Farmers and ranchers from Nebraska joined me to offer firsthand testimony of the high-quality crops and livestock grown in Nebraska.  Our state is deeply appreciative of our European partners, and—as Governor—I am committed to growing our friendship with the EU.

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