The headline on the front page of the July 11, 2011, Time magazine was intriguing: "Want to Make More Than a Banker? Become A Farmer!" I was very proud of our state when I read the story and found Nebraskan John Willoughby and his farm as the photo backdrop for the piece. The article featured a discussion on the profitability of agriculture, and talked about what that has meant for our state.
Nebraska has weathered the economic slowdown better than most states due in large part to our agriculturally-based economy. Nebraska's unemployment rate is the second lowest in the nation.
Hard work and sweat equity as any farmer or rancher can tell you, is why agriculture has been successful.
Another area where Nebraska has excelled during the economic slowdown is with our trade efforts. Our current efforts include a trade mission to eastern Asia being led by Lt. Gov. Rick Sheehy that will build upon previous work in the region on agricultural exports and educational collaboration. In 2010, Hong Kong was Nebraska's sixth largest agricultural trade partner, and Taiwan was the state's seventh largest.
Lt. Gov. Sheehy will lead a small delegation to Taiwan and Hong Kong Aug. 9-17, while Nebraska Agriculture Director Greg Ibach will lead the trip when the group travels to Beijing, China, Aug. 18-20.
In 2007, I led a prosperous trade mission to the region, and last year a Nebraska trade delegation returned from Taiwan with signed agreements with Taiwanese representatives for an estimated $500 million in corn, soybeans and wheat exports.
In addition to trade efforts, there is more good news for Nebraska. Across the state, a successful wheat harvest is nearing completion. Corn and soybean irrigation is in full swing, and livestock producers are caring for their animals in the extreme heat. It is worth the effort.
Crop commodity and livestock prices are generally good across the board. Estimates from the United States Department of Agriculture predict the second highest net farm income in the past 35 years. This 19 percent increase is on the heels of a 27 percent increase in 2010.
This good farm news has translated into positive returns for agribusiness. Farmers are reinvesting their income into new grain bins, tractors, shop buildings, pickups and irrigation equipment. As a result, main streets all across Nebraska are doing better.
It's an exciting time for agriculture. There is a great deal of optimism. However, there are potential challenges to acknowledge.
Tens of thousands of crop and pasture acres were flooded this spring along the Missouri and Platte Rivers. These are acres that held the promise of a good year. Now producers are wondering if they'll be able to crop them or graze them next spring. Additionally, I requested and received a United States Department of Agriculture agricultural disaster designations for 15 of the most severely impacted counties, which opens up some assistance programs for impacted producers.
We must also keep our eye on several other challenges. Many farmers and ranchers are concerned about the current regulatory activities of the Environmental Protection Agency. The largest potential threat to the agriculture industry is extreme animal activist organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States, which could threaten Nebraska's livestock industry.
I want to thank our farmers and ranchers for what they do for our state. Agriculture has been and will continue to be essential to Nebraska's economic success.