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During one of the busiest seasons for a Nebraska cattleman, the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) took time away from cattle roundups, weaning, branding, and vaccinations to have their annual convention in early November .

The day-long event at Valentine High School included a panel of five Nebraska state senators, animal health and ID issues, carbon credits and wind energy, checkoff reform and property rights.

“If we don’t take time to do this, who will?” said Louis Day, CEO of ICON, an affiliate of R-Calf USA and Nebraska chairman for R-Calf USA. The ICON directors were especially pleased with the larger attendance - up from the last year’s annual meeting held in the summer.

A very important milestone for the group was the passage of LB 632, a bill sponsored by Senator Cap Dierks. The bill was signed by Governor Dave Heineman and determined the premise or animal ID program initiated by the USDA was voluntary in the state of Nebraska.

The ICON organization worked closely with Dierks when the bill was drafted and the directors are hoping for another working legal relationship soon. At Saturday’s convention, Dierks told the members present he would be very interested in drafting a bill which would make changes to the recently-passed fencing bill – a subject dear to ranchers and farmers.

One of the resolutions approved by the cattlemen’s association would revise LB 108 and make all landowners responsible for the fences which run along their property – not just livestock owners.

It was only one of twelve resolutions the active rural Nebraska cattlemen put on the table at the convention and asked state senators and members to take a look at.

The senators told it like it is in Lincoln and left no doubt in the ranchers’ minds where they stood. Even though the senators wanted to pat themselves on the back for having a $500,000,000 cash reserve, they talked about hard issues like small schools and state aid. Water issues were high on everyone’s minds as they kept close tabs on the Republican River issue and lawsuit decisions.

The designation of the Niobrara River as a scenic river and all the resulting preservation requirements which tag along had the Nebraska ranchers and farmers asking vital questions about future property rights.

“I’m sure with 49 senators, there will be 49 issues,” said LeRoy Louden of Ellsworth and District 49. “One of the first issues we will have to deal with will be the death penalty and the Safe Haven program will have to be revisited.”

Mark Christiansen of Imperial wants to talk about rural economic development which is livestock friendly and work on county zoning with DEQ inspections which make rural areas ready for an increase of the livestock industry.

District 34 state senator Annette Dubas of Fullerton has placed renewable energy at the top of her priority list. She believes the progress shown with the development of ethanol shows the leadership is out there and now the livestock industry needs the same kind of new opportunities.

“Just because we are rural people doesn’t mean we need to be satisfied with the crumbs which drop from the table,” said Dubas. “Economic development in rural Nebraska benefits not only the rural area but the whole state.”

Water issues along the Niobrara River basin concern Senator Deb Fischer of Valentine. Surface water rights have limited the digging of new irrigation wells in her district and that bothers her as does the recent changes in the school fiancé bill.

“There are 25 rural senators – that’s a majority - and we need to work together to improve rural economics and schools,” said Fischer.

Dierks told the ICON members he hopes the free-holding issue in Nebraska schools is gone for good. The past chairpersons of the education committee have been opposed to small schools but the trend may be turning this year. He will still fight for small schools.

As the most senior senator in the Unicameral this year, Dierks said he is saddened by the great problems with the United States. He laughingly said Congress should take lessons from Nebraska on how to balance a budget. He also criticized the free trade agreements and pointed out other downfalls with national policy.

True property relief is controlling spending. Dierks pointed out the downfall of other countries throughout time whose governments began to crumble when officials became fascinated with greed, power and money.

“Watch who is elected to your boards and political offices,” said Dierks. “Elect good people with common sense and never say it’s impossible.”

Speaking for R-Calf USA, Kenny Fox of Belvidere, SD, told the ranching crowd he believes the tide is turning.

“In order to have beginning young farmers who come back to the farm or stay on the farm, we need to guarantee they will make a profit,” said Fox. “Handing out low interest government loans does not ensure that anymore – never did.”

The country of origin labeling (COOL) Legislation is getting its act together finally. Supermarkets are going to be reminded they need to display the COOL labeling and abide by the new law. Fox said R-Calf will follow up and make sure it is enforced – it’s the law now.

Comments by rural cattlemen about the Beef Checkoff has led to the development of meaningful changes in the program.

“In Washington, D.C., they have been conditioned to think big companies will run the agriculture industry,” said Fox. “But by being active in this organization and with education, a grassroots’ movement by today’s rural people will change that.”

John Hansen and Graham Christiansen, both of the Nebraska Farmers Union, talked to the ranchers about benefits over and above cattle and pasture. Wind energy and wind rights have proven to be a reliable source of valuable income for property owners.

Along with harvesting the wind, rural property owners may also be able to garner an income resource from carbon credits.

“There is a pride to be a rancher and to be able to feed the world,” said Jess Peterson, Montana rancher and Director of Government Relations for the United States Cattlemen’s Association. “But there is more to farming than that government welfare check from the USDA and the soft cattle market.”

As a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., Peterson talks to government officials daily about high input costs and a mediocre calf market; unemployment in rural America; and now how rural America will survive the fallout of the Wall Street finance fiasco.

Successes like the COOL legislation and the opposition to the USDA’s National Animal Identification System showed ICON and Nebraska farmers and ranchers were ready to speak out.

Peterson pointed out the free trade agreement went nowhere fast and now the JBS merger had Argentina knocking on the back door and cattlemen said no. He reminded the Ag group to buy locally and encourage their schools to do the same. He hopes to see legislation in the next year which will allow schools to buy meat where they want – in their home district.

The new Beef Checkoff Reform bill may be another success for cattlemen. Only time will tell. Senator Jon Tester of Montana introduced the bill last month which was largely drafted by ICON’s Hanna. It will contain language which will promote beef grown right here at home in the United States and have a periodic referendum so cattlemen can continue to review the success of the program whether it is good or bad.

Peterson suggested ranchers and farmers with issues to discuss call in to Horn Wrap. At 8 a.m. on the first and third Tuesday of the month, cattlemen can talk about concerns and he will listen. The number is 1-785-686-2400.

Finally the ranchers and farmers listened to two local ranchwives, Sherry Vinton and Tanya Storer, who have researched property rights and issues. They are worried about how the federal government seems to be constantly chipping away at property owner rights on the land.

The duo is concerned with the new carbon credits program being touted by commodity experts. It seemed to the women there were more questions than answers and no guarantees. They feel the same way about the recent scenic river designation for the Niobrara River Basin in their area. Along with the new century, new wording is being used which further confuses rural residents.

Some final advice the women gave to the Ag people was to read the contract concerning the property rights; confirm where the property is being described; find out where the contract is headed in the future – don’t leave it open-ended; and be certain of the jurisdiction lines.

Because once a contract is signed, those issues cannot be changed.

To see the eleven resolutions the Nebraska cattlemen approved or for more information about ICON call 308-458-7282 or visit their website at .


Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska
"Solid as a windmill. Always working for the independent producer."

The Mission of the Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska (ICON) is to protect and promote the interests of Nebraska's
independent cattle producers. Office of the Organization is located in Hyannis, Nebraska and membership can be obtained by calling (308) 458-7282.