I usually have an opinion on things. I also have also learned over time that I don’t really care to be told how to do things or what my opinion should be, so in turn I try to lay the facts, figures and thought processes out there and let the people come to their own conclusion. I have a pretty strong opinion on this topic, and I feel like I’ve done a pretty decent job of remaining silent about it — until now.
I should put a disclaimer here that this is not the view of Midwest Messenger, so don’t send the staff hate letters or call them up complaining, because they just might tear the paper up when you get done speaking.
There are two legislative bills up for debate Feb. 18 in the Nebraska Unicameral’s Ag Committee. The first bill is LB 1165 introduced by Sen. Stinner that would “Eliminate the Nebraska Brand Committee and provide powers and duties for the Department of Agriculture under the Livestock Brand Act.” The second bill is LB 1200 introduced by Sen. Brewer that would “Rename the Livestock Brand Act and the Nebraska Brand Committee and change provisions relating to livestock.”
I highly encourage you to look both bills up online and read them for yourself.
For years, Nebraska has been a split brand inspection state. Multiple times there has been an attempt to include the whole state or delete the brand line altogether. I personally think the brand line is idiotic and the brand inspection area should be either one or the other. But the challenge lies within the Legislature where the non-brand area senators feel that by changing the line, their constituents would be charged another “tax” that they have done without for years, while some of those within the brand area consider brand inspection as a “deterrent” from cattle thief and are not willing to do without.
Whether in or out of the brand area in the state of Nebraska, the inconsistency causes a lot of headaches — especially for those that live close to the brand line.
So, what’s the issue? For years, the Nebraska Brand Committee was in stagnant mode. The financials continued to show year after year losses that no one seemed to question or take seriously, along with concerns that were just laughed at or ignored.
Around five years ago, the dynamic of the board that’s appointed by the governor changed, and suddenly there were people demanding answers. Within a very short time, it was realized that the challenges were going to be monumental in trying to get the committee not only caught back up (for example, a handbook that hadn’t been rewritten since the late 1970s) but also propelled forward.
There were plenty of causalities — board members that resigned or were forced out, executive director turnovers, staffing changes and challenges, poor audit reviews, and a technology program that is still struggling at times. There was a lot of dissension among producers. Some couldn’t understand why things needed to change, not knowing how many state and federal laws were being broken in how things were previously done.
At the end of the day, the biggest issue was and still is how to make the financials work. Even though Nebraska Brand Committee is a government agency, it is supposed to be self-supporting.
There is not a lot of room to go into all of the details of this, but I have been asked time after time for my opinion on both of these bills. Here it is:
I support both LB 1165 and LB 1200 with changes. I don’t necessarily disagree with turning the Nebraska Brand Committee over to the Department of Agriculture. I understand keeping it based in Alliance, Nebraska, and away from Lincoln, but at the same time the Department of Agriculture has specially trained people in areas of press releases and budgets that there is not staff for at NBC. The strain on certain employees and board members begins to take it toll after a while. As someone who volunteered over 2,000 hours of time to NBC, I understand this firsthand.
I’m not a fan of getting rid of all brand inspections, but if someone asked what my “perfect” brand scenario would look like, this is what it would be:
g Recognize EIDs as a form of identification. Yes, I know that electronic IDs can be tampered with, but more feedlots and producers are using them instead of branding as their main form of ID. I, for one, would rather have a brand paper with a list of EID numbers than one that just says “NB” (no brand).
g Increase brand recording and registration fees. This is one simple solution that would charge everyone — no matter what sector of the industry you are from or whether you even have cattle or not — an equal fee. Comparing registration and renewal costs in neighboring states, we are way behind on this.
g Make the whole state subject to brand inspection. It would be great to have unity across the board, but make changes necessary to not feel the new burdens by staff and NBC. Have brand inspectors at sale barns and packing plants, and be required to get brand papers if doing video auction or crossing cattle across state lines, but no more local inspections unless the producer asks. Provide a consistent bill of sale that can be used for local inspections.
Case in point, if the Boss Man sells me one animal, I pay a $1 inspection fee and $10 surcharge for a total of $11 (not counting the Beef Checkoff). Meanwhile if NBC sends an inspector, it is not only having to pay state mileage, but salary, possible benefits and everything else. That means on that one stop alone, they are losing over $50. I have no desire to pay on a cost-recovery basis, so there has to be other options.
Add more investigators. I don’t always agree with the estray animal numbers that have been released from NBC. Historically, there wasn’t a solid basis to determine what constituted those numbers that I could tell. It almost seemed to me that included in those numbers were the animals that, if I called because my neighbor had one of mine, to see whose brand it was, they would put it down as “recovered” even though my neighbor may have never reported it and it was definitely not stolen.
Finally, what happens if you break brand law? One of the issues is that a case can be filed in a different county than where the “crime” occurred. That may become an issue when a county attorney might have more or less “input” or may be friends with certain investigators or civilians that had input. LB 1200 says that the violation shall now be charged in the county in which the violation occurred, which is a huge step in righting the system.
At the end of the day, the best questions to ask are: Is every sector being treated fairly for the services that they receive? If everyone is treated on a cost-recovery basis, will it be affordable? Are we really keeping up with the changing times? And, most importantly, is it sustainable?
Those answers might not be the same for everyone, but I’ve said this consistently for the last decade-plus and will continue to say this: if sectors can’t come to some kind of compromise, we are going to end up losing it for everyone.
Jaclyn Wilson is more than a rancher, raising Red Angus cattle at Wilson Ranch near Lakeside, Neb. She’s an artist with a welder’s torch. She holds leadership positions with several agriculture organizations. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.