Most Nebraskans don’t work on a farm, but the relationship between agriculture and a thriving economy touches almost every citizen of the state.
“Agriculture supports business of all types,” says Eric Thompson, director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Bureau of Business Research. “Income earned in agriculture and related industries supports construction, retail, finance, health care, restaurant and entertainment spending at businesses throughout the state.”
Accounting for nearly 290,000 jobs, the agriculture industry employs around one-fourth of Nebraska’s workforce, according to The 2010 Economic Impact of the Nebraska Agricultural Production Complex, an extensive study co-authored by Thompson and released in 2012 by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Department of Agricultural Economics.
That number includes much more than farming jobs. For example, the work that happens on the state’s farms helps create thousands of jobs in the Omaha area, including businesses like Hiland Dairy, where milk is processed into a variety of products; The Scoular Company, which moves grain products worldwide; and Farm Credit Services of America, which finances farming operations throughout the state and nation.
“Business and employees throughout the state benefit from agriculture,” Thompson says. “Agriculture supports nearly 100,000 jobs in the East region which includes Omaha, Lincoln and Columbus.”
Put simply, as agriculture goes, so goes Nebraska’s economy.
“Obviously there’s a tie to jobs and employment in that way,” says Nathan Kauffman, assistant vice president and Omaha Branch executive with the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. “Agriculture constitutes a larger share of the state’s economy than what agriculture might in other states because we are so heavily rural. So as agriculture either does well or struggles, that tends to translate in other aspects of the state.”
Optimism for the Long Term
Kauffman is optimistic about the long-term positive impact of agriculture.
“A lot of people are thinking that agriculture is likely to be a fairly bright spot in the economy simply because a lot of the discussion revolves around a growing world population and rising income,” he says, “so they will need and want more in the way of agriculture and food products. That bodes well for the Nebraska economy.”
The state’s diversity in agriculture is also an indicator of the industry’s overall strength. For instance, while corn has experienced lower prices recently, Nebraska’s livestock sector has done quite well and helped to mitigate some concerns.
“The upper Midwest, and in particular Nebraska, has high levels of output in both crop production and livestock activity,” Thompson says. “It’s unusual to have so much of both. We’re one of the leading cattle states, as well as leading states in corn and soybeans. We’re really diversified, too, when you think of the whole ag industry here. We have a large supplier community, the largest irrigation equipment makers in the world, companies producing combines and other ranching equipment.”
The Scoular Company is one example of a company that is tied to agriculture, yet employs hundreds of people who may have never been on a farm. Headquartered in Omaha, the 120-year-old company provides diverse supply chain solutions for users and suppliers of grain, feed and food ingredients.
Of the 750 employees throughout the company’s locations in North and South America, 50 are in the corporate office and 90 work in 18 grain facilities in Nebraska.
“I think our biggest economic impact is the fact that we buy and sell a tremendous amount of grain that’s produced in Nebraska, so we’re providing competitive markets to the producers of agriculture in Nebraska,” says Mark Mossman, director of the company’s Northern Facility Group.