Agriculture is the heart and soul of Nebraska. As the state’s leading industry, the impact goes far beyond the plate, providing Nebraskans with jobs, significantly contributing to the state’s economy, and touching the lives of its citizens every day – whether they’re directly involved in farming and ranching, or not.
“One in four jobs in Nebraska are related to agriculture,” says Richard Baier, president and CEO of the Nebraska Bankers Association and former director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development. “In addition to on-farm jobs in production agriculture, ag-related jobs span a number of industries, including banking, food processing, manufacturing, research and development, retail, and tourism, just to name a few.”
Annually, production agriculture contributes more than $25 billion to Nebraska’s economy, thanks to the hard work of Nebraska farmers and ranchers working on 49,100 farms and ranches spread across more than 45 million acres. In fact, farms and ranches use 92 percent of Nebraska’s total land area.
Baier says the state’s successful ag industry supports economic growth overall, which in turn benefits the consumer in several ways. Consumers may not realize it, but thanks to Nebraska farmers and Nebraska Department of Agriculture food safety inspectors, they’re able to buy food at the grocery store and eat it without a second thought as to whether it’s safe. And the state’s effort in ethanol and biofuels production reduces dependence on foreign oil, allowing consumers energy- efficient choices here at home.
Farmers and ranchers work tirelessly to implement sustainable practices on their land, protecting natural resources and Nebraska soil for continued growth.
These are just a few examples that provide a small glimpse of how agriculture impacts and improves daily life. Supporting Nebraska family farms keeps dollars within the state, which is good for everyone, says Tom Jensen, senior vice president of Ag Lending at First National Bank of Omaha.
“That money will be re-spent three to four times,” Jensen says. “It’s critical to support these family farms that have been around for hundreds of years. It helps for the betterment of the entire state.”
Here’s the Beef
Beef is big business in Nebraska, with an estimated $12.1 billion impact on the state’s economy, according to the Nebraska Beef Council.
The state’s producers feed and market more than 5 million cattle annually. Three Nebraska counties – Cherry, Custer and Holt – rank as the top beef- producing counties in the nation.
Nebraska has several advantages in the cattle industry. The state has an abundant corn supply and grasslands, clean water, and a good climate. In addition, Nebraska has a long history of ranching and that knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation. Most of the state’s 20,000 beef cattle operations are still family owned.
Blue Jackets on Demand
Ag education is on the rise in Nebraska, and so is FFA membership. In 2010, Nebraska had 133 schools with ag education programs, and in 2015, that number increased to 170 schools, with more expected to start programs in the coming years. Students don’t have to live on a farm or ranch to take advantage.
Nebraska’s FFA membership is at an all-time high – organizers report 7,336 students statewide. The expansion of ag education programs and the interest students are showing is matched by the growth of job opportunities in agricultural fields. A 2014 Purdue University report found that a high demand exists for the foreseeable future for college graduates with a degree in agricultural programs. An average of nearly 60,000 high-skilled ag and related job openings are expected annually in the U.S. over the next five years, with only about 35,000 students in food, ag, renewable resources or the environment graduating each year to fill them. Nebraska’s FFA members are taking the first steps toward that growing job market.
Business is Poppin’
U.S. popcorn production accounts for slightly more than 200,000 acres, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. Nebraska is the nation’s largest popcorn producer.
Nebraska farmers in 30 counties grow 300 million pounds of popcorn annually.
Popcorn requires special care from growers. Details like moisture content must be monitored – too dry and the kernels don’t pop. Plus, the kernels need to look good, not scuffed or chipped, so combines are carefully cleaned and run slow for harvest.
Only the Best for Local Produce
When searching for an online outlet for produce in Nebraska, look no further than the Nebraska Department of Agriculture’s “Nebraska Our Best to You” at ourbesttoyou.nebraska.gov.
There, consumers can view a chart that shows when their favorite produce is in season and where it’s available. Want to put that produce to the taste test? Try one of the many delicious recipes featured on the site, such as strawberry spinach salad or spicy apple-filled squash.
Additionally, consumers can easily search for fresh, local produce at nearby farmers markets through a real-time vendor database linked to a new department website, ne.gov/go/neproduce. Launched in 2014, the directory is successfully connecting Nebraskans with local vendors and produce available in their communities. Explore Nebraska’s “best” at ourbesttoyou.nebraska.gov.
Milk: It Does Nebraska Good
Milk flows freely in Nebraska, providing consumers a nutritious drink packed with calcium, protein, potassium and more.
The state’s dairy industry, which yielded nearly 140 million gallons of milk in 2014, currently boasts approximately 195 licensed dairy farms, as well as 10 plants that process one or more dairy products. With close to 60,000 dairy cows, Nebraska dairy farmers bring in more than $254 million in annual sales to the state’s economy. Each cow produces around 8 gallons of milk every day – or more than 2,500 gallons per year.
The majority of Nebraska dairy farms are located in the central and eastern parts of the state. Thanks to its rich resources of land, water and feed, Nebraska is a prime location for new dairy operations – and ripe for the picking for future dairy processors.
Nebraska 4-H: Lifetime Benefits
Citizenship, leadership and responsibility – these are just a few of the many life skills Nebraska youth are empowered with in the Nebraska 4-H program.
Engaging young people in learn-by-doing projects, Nebraska 4-H brings together more than 140,000 young people ages 8 through 18 in all 93 counties. Younger children ages 5 through 7 can get in on the fun and hard work, too, by joining the Clover Kids program. Learn more about Nebraska 4-H at 4h.unl.edu.