Telephone conference report to Grant, Palisade Tuesday, Feb. 2.
By Josh Sumner
The Wauneta Breeze
As census data from the last 10 years continues to become available, startling numbers have been unveiled that show a significant drop in population in the southwest corner of Nebraska.
Senator Mark Christensen’s 44th Unicameral District has seen a 6.1 percent drop in population since 2000, ranking it among the top 10 declining districts in the state.
Christensen said his best remedy for fixing the growing — or shrinking — problem is to create opportunities and incentives that would attract small farmers to the area.
“We’ve got to change the mentality in this area that just renting to the most popular, or biggest or highest paying farmers is the best thing to do,” said Christensen. “There are a lot of young people that can meet what the big guys pay, but they don’t get the opportunity.”
Christensen said the problem of allowing mainly large-scale farmers to work in southwest Nebraska is that it eliminates opportunities for young, small-scale farmers. However, he also stressed that he doesn’t wish to limit the opportunities for big farming in the state — helping new farmers get their start is the goal.
“Don’t misread what I’m saying,” said Christensen. “I don’t blame big farmers for wanting to get bigger. They’ve been successful — they have the right and the opportunity. But at the same time, if you want a larger town, we’ve got to be able to get this done. If we don’t have smaller farms run by young people here, then businesses downtown can suffer.”
Christensen said he would support the idea of providing tax credits to landowners who rent to young farmers.
Another idea, using school lands for beginning farmer programs, is something Christensen said he has tried to push through legislation in the past and would consider reintroducing.
The idea would be to take 10 to 20 percent of the school land out of the bid process, opening it up to be rented by young farmers. Funds from a source, such as Economic Development, could be used to help make up money that was shorted to the school, said Christensen.
Christensen explained that money from school land surplus bids are currently spread out throughout the state.
“Our area had some of the highest bids last year of any in the state,” said Christensen. “All that money goes down to Lincoln and gets distributed by child — so it all stays in the east. We’re getting nothing out of that.”
Christensen said he understands that the idea probably won’t be popular among many people who bid on school land.
“This isn’t a perfect scenario, but it’s one I’m going to look at,” said Christensen. “We’ve got to get more families farming in our area.”
Developing livestock programs was also mentioned by the senator as an idea to help refresh young farmers’ interest in the industry. Advancing the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture’s beginning farmer program was specifically discussed.
Tracking the Bills
• LB229, which would transfer $7 million annually from the Environmental Trust Fund to a new Water Resources Cash Fund, has come out of committee by a 7-1 vote. Christensen said he expects the opposition, mainly consisting of wildlife groups, to try to kill the bill in the coming weeks.
• LB546, a bill introduced by Senator Mike Gloor that would change provisions relating to the adoption of International Residential Code, is next to be heard on the floor. Christensen, the bill’s co-sponsor, said his main hope for the bill is that it helps reduce international language.
• LB655, Christensen’s bill to change provisions relating to an occupation tax imposed by natural resource districts, was heard last Thursday. It opened to neutral support , said Christensen.
• LB421, a bill created to increase fees for motor vehicle park entry permits, has gained the support of Christensen.
• LB87, Christensen’s bill giving citizens the opportunity to petition county enforcement of farmers to mow their own ditches, was slated for hearing on Tuesday, March 8.
• LB653, Christensen’s bill for providing interbasin transfers during floods, was slated for hearing on Wednesday, March 9.
Senator MARK CHRISTENSEN holds weekly teleconferences at 7 a.m. MT/8 a.m. CT each Tuesday morning. The public is invited to attend the conference calls. Hosts of the conference calls are Southwest Public Power District in Palisade and Midwest Electric in Grant. Christensen can be reached at 402-471-2805, or by mail at P.O. Box 94604, Lincoln, NE 68509, or via e-mail at