Coalition Forms to Oppose 'Right to Farm' Revisions, says They Favor Industrial Farms Over Family Operations

A coalition of environmental and farm groups has formed to oppose the latest effort to amend Nebraska’s “right to farm” act. The groups, ranging from the Nebraska Farmers Union to Nebraskans for Peace, say thatLegislative Bill 662, which is up for a public hearing Tuesday, is an attempt to relax regulation of large, industrial livestock operations at the expense of rural residents and family farmers. “This proposed legislation exempts large corporate farms from being a good neighbor,” said Ron Todd-Meyer, a retired farmer and a Nebraskans for Peace board member.  “This legislation should be pitched into the manure pile for composting.” The bill, sponsored by State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln, will be the subject of a public hearing before the Legislature’s Agriculture Committee at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday. The bill would narrow who, and when, nuisance lawsuits could be filed against farm operations for issues such as excessive odors and dust. Continue reading

Bill Aims to Protect Farmers from Nuisance Lawsuits, Restricting Who Can File and When

A proposed revision to Nebraska’s “right to farm” law, promoted as increasing protections for farmers, is being condemned by environmentalists as a way to eliminate nearly all nuisance lawsuits. Under Legislative Bill 662, introduced Wednesday by State Sen. Beau Ballard of Lincoln, only landowners who live within a half-mile of agricultural operation, and only those nearby landowners who have a majority interest in their land, could file nuisance lawsuits against an ag operation. In addition, such lawsuits would have to be filed within one year,  rather than within two years as in the current law. Lawsuits would be disallowed if an operation was utilizing “commonly accepted” practices and was in “material compliance” with applicable laws and regulations. Continue reading

Can New Technology Save Nebraska's Water

Nebraska’s nitrate problem is leading academics, entrepreneurs and farmers to ask: Can we science our way out of this? It’s a daunting task. A “humongous” amount of nitrate has already seeped into the vadose zone – the stretch of earth between the surface soil and the groundwater – where it will continue to leach into the water for years to come, said Arindam Malakar, a professor with the Nebraska Water Center and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Natural Resources.  Malakar is researching that zone, where nitrate no longer helps crops, but has yet to reach the groundwater that supplies much of the state. He’s secured a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture, and is now in early-stage work observing how nitrate and nitrogen behave and react in that in-between zone. Understanding this may unlock the possibility of future technology that can reduce nitrate, he said. Continue reading

Nebraska's Nitrate Problem is Serious. Two Dozen Experts Say How They'd Solve It

Pretend for a moment that Nebraska somehow halted all use of nitrogen fertilizer – not a single speck more on our lawns, golf courses and corn fields.  What would happen?  The water we drink – which is increasingly laced with nitrate and, when untreated, potentially dangerous to children – would continue to be nitrate-laced and dangerous for years. Maybe decades. That’s because, experts say, generations of corn growing, feedlot runoff and oft-unwitting nitrogen overuse has left a sobering legacy buried in the Nebraska soil. It’s nitrate, creeping slowly downward towards our water supply. Continue reading

Here's How to Protect Yourself from Nitrate in Nebraska Water

Nebraskans curious about nitrate levels in their drinking water, take heed: You can get your water tested. And once that water is tested, there are a few potential options – though sometimes costly – that can help protect you from high nitrate . Some private wells are more vulnerable to nitrate contamination and should definitely be tested, such as shallow wells and wells in sandy aquifers, said Katie Pekarek, an educator with Nebraska Extension.  Though cities are required to keep nitrate levels below 10 parts per million – the Environmental Protection Agency’s decades-old standard – there may be reason to test there, too. Recent research has suggested that lower levels of nitrate may still be linked to potential health risks in children. Continue reading

Clean Water Doesn't Come Cheap: Nebraska Towns are Shelling Out Millions to Treat Nitrate-Laced Drinking Water

Marty Stange was grasping for solutions to keep 25,000 residents safe – and a city’s budget from breaking. It was 2015. Multiple wells providing water to the central Nebraska city were testing high for nitrate.  Hastings, like all cities, is required by law to keep the nitrate level under 10 parts per million – the level the Environmental Protection Agency has long deemed safe for human consumption. But back in 2011, one Hastings well had tested at a nitrate level of 19.5 ppm, nearly double the legal limit. Stange, the city’s longtime environmental director and water manager, had already shut off some wells when they passed that threshold. More were nearing it.  “I did a forecast of how much nitrates were going to be in the wells, “Stange said. “And I said by the year 2016, we would not have enough (water) to meet our peak hourly demand.” Continue reading

Report Suggests that Litter from Chicken Farms Has Upped Contamination of Water

A new report suggests that manure-laced litter, removed from chicken barns raising millions of chickens for Costco, is increasing contamination of some nearby streams in eastern Nebraska. The three-year-long study, facilitated by the environmental group GC Resolve and the Nebraska Farmers Union Foundation, calls for increased testing of contaminants such as phosphorous and nitrogen in streams, as well as sharper oversight over the spreading of the litter, which is used as fertilizer. Continue reading

No Nitrate Police: State and Local Regulators Can't, or Won't, Stop Our Drinking Water from Getting Worse.

The farmer was growing impatient. He folded his arms. Shook his head angrily.  He and dozens of other central Nebraska farmers had gathered for mandatory training in Columbus a few weeks before Christmas last year. In response to stubbornly high nitrate levels, the Lower Loup Natural Resources District had designated a slice of the region a “Phase 3 area.” That designation led to a few new requirements – like this training to help farmers manage their nitrogen fertilizer use and reduce nitrate leaching. The farmer didn’t like this. He told NRD leaders that he had been drinking water containing nitrate at 40 parts per million – quadruple the safe drinking water standard – all his adult life. He was fine, he told them.  During the morning session, he stormed out. “I’m gonna go pollute the water,” he told the NRD’s assistant manager, Tylr Naprstek, right before he left, Naprstek recalled. Continue reading

As Nebraska’s Regenerative Farming Movement Grows, Omaha’s Maya Youth Lead the Way

In Burt County this summer, rows and rows of identical corn fields painted a familiar and quintessentially Nebraska landscape — until you reached a quarter of an acre of land teeming with a diversity of crops near Lyons, about 70 miles northwest of Omaha. 12-year-old Evelyn, who did not share her last name for privacy, crouched down in a small patch of budding plants on a Saturday morning in June. With pale blue plastic gloves on her hands, she yanked weeds out of the earth and left the varied leafy crops between them rooted. “We’re looking for the ones that are thicker,” Evelyn said in Spanish. She was among 14 other youth and adults of Comunidad Maya Pixan Ixim in the field separating invasive weeds from budding vegetables for the First Acre Milpa summer program. Continue reading

The midterm culture war over plant-based meat

Last week, Nebraskans elected Republican businessman Jim Pillen to be the state’s next governor. It’s no surprise he won: Nebraska has picked a Republican in every gubernatorial election since 1998. But what made Pillen’s campaign so peculiar — and alarming to those who care about animal welfare and climate change — is that no other political candidate has campaigned so vehemently against veggie burgers and soy milk. Throughout his campaign, Pillen vowed to “stand up to radicals who want to use red tape and fake meat to put Nebraska out of business,” and promised to work to pass laws that ban plant-based food producers from using words like “meat” and “milk” on their packaging. Continue reading