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Bill to Help Young People Return to the Farm

Kevin Peterson is the fifth generation of his family to make a living as a farmer in Polk county. If you ask Kevin he'll tell you he wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

"This is where I grew up. I love this place. It means a lot to me to be able to set in the tractor and work the same ground that my dad started out farming. I started out living in the same house that my parents lived in when they first got married. It's important to me to be able to carry that on," said Peterson.

Peterson's story is one of a successful transition back to the farm after having left home to attend college. But the story might have been different had he not been able to use livestock, particularly custom feeding of pigs, as a way to get back into the farm-life fray. Through livestock, Peterson, now 35, has managed to grow his farming operation and contract growing pigs remains a big part of it.

"My wife and I have three young children and if they want to make agriculture their career I want to give them that option. It's one of the reasons raising livestock continues to mean so much to me," said Peterson.

Peterson's passion for livestock and his experience in looking at options to come back to the farm is also why he believes the Nebraska Legislature should move forward in adopting a bill that would broaden the scope of who can be involved in custom feeding arrangements in the pork sector.

"If we want to continue to populate our rural communities, our schools, our churches, there are a lot of ways to try and do that, but I know firsthand how custom feeding pigs has worked out for me and my family. I believe that others should have similar opportunities to what I did," said Peterson.

The legislation Peterson is referring to is LB 942, a bill introduced by state Sen. Ken Schilz of Ogallala. Sen. Schilz's bill would open a door to allow pork processors to partner in custom feeding arrangements. Such arrangements are allowed today for poultry growers, but state law currently prevents such arrangements from taking place in the pork and beef sectors. Delegates to Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation's annual meeting in December adopted policy supporting a change that would allow for grower/processor feeding agreements in the pork sector.

"When I started looking into contract finishing pigs there were about three or four phone calls to make and that was it. If any of those parties weren't looking for new growers I would have been done. Luckily that wasn't the case," said Peterson.

The goal of LB 942 would be to expand the scope of opportunities and contracts available by increasing the number of interests who can participate. These custom feeding agreements allow the risks associated with raising pigs to be spread among the two parties, where one party owns the pigs and provides the inputs for them, while the other party is responsible for the day-to-day care and management of the animals.

"It's difficult for a 21-year-old to ask their banker for a million dollar plus loan to get into the pig business. It's a whole different thing when the young person can walk in with a contract in hand that demonstrates there is a guaranteed income stream," says Peterson.

The ability to increase custom feeding of pigs in Nebraska has the potential to do more than just help individual farmers. Right now Nebraska exports one-third of its corn and 80 percent of its soybean meal which ultimately gets fed to livestock. Amazingly, Nebraska also exports more than 25 percent of the pigs born in the state to other states to be fed. Those are dollars and economic opportunities lost to the state according to Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau's vice president of governmental relations.

"The reality is that custom feeding arrangements between pork processors and hog farmers are occurring in other states and these states are seeing growth in their hog numbers and hog farmers. We're at a crossroads right now in whether we want hogs to be raised in Nebraska," said Rempe.

In the last decade the annual market hog inventory for Nebraska rose only three percent, while in Kansas it rose seven percent, Minnesota 20 percent and Iowa 32 percent.

"This bill is about opportunities. If it wasn't for custom feeding pigs and having that opportunity available I'm not sure where my family and I would be today. We need these opportunities to help young people return home to the farm," said Peterson.

The Legislature's Agriculture Committee heard testimony on LB 942 Feb. 18. Peterson provided testimony in support of the bill on behalf of Nebraska Farm Bureau.

Source: NE Farm Bureau website

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