Omaha World-Herald. May 6, 2021.

Editorial: Biden administration must reach out to ag producers on 30x30 plan

Climate change is real. So is the need for our country to pursue sound conservation measures, building on current achievements. The Biden administration rightly emphasized those goals in a Jan. 27 executive order. But it needlessly created uncertainty and concern for agricultural producers by asserting an ambitious goal — putting 30% of the nation’s land and water in conservation status by 2030 — without providing any practical guidance on how it would be accomplished.

The resulting information vacuum on this “30x30” proposal has enabled critics to claim that a supposed federal land grab lies ahead. The administration’s silence on the issue has placed Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in a difficult position as he tries to explain a policy that at this point is little more than an abstraction.

Vilsack, a former Iowa governor who also served as agriculture secretary in the Obama administration, did provide needed reassurance when he publicly stated that the federal government will not seize private land. He also noted that U.S. ag producers are already using conservation measures in many cases.

Converting 30% of the nation’s land into conservation status would have particular impact on agricultural states such as Nebraska and Iowa. Mark McHargue, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau, raised important points in a letter to Biden on the 30x30 issue.

More than 97% of the land in Nebraska is privately owned, McHargue noted. “Thus far,” he wrote, “the lack of details released on this particular proposal have led to far more questions than answers. ... Organizations have held public meetings in our state outlining possible worst-case scenarios under the (executive order) where it is used to expand the federal government’s control over private property.”

McHargue underlined a key point when he wrote that “real conservation efforts only work when those who will be impacted by these types of proposals are allowed a seat at the table.”

Indeed, the administration has a major obligation to create a process by which farmers and ranchers can provide input and feedback on the 30x30 concept. As Vilsack indicates, achieving producer buy-in on this issue is crucial.

Setting ambitious conservation goals is fine. But the administration must follow up by building constructive partnerships to make those goals achievable.

One successful instrument for promoting agricultural conservation is the federal Conservation Reserve Program, by which participating farmers receive a yearly rental payment for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production. CRP contracts are 10 to 15 years in length. Tom Osborne was a stalwart proponent of CRP when he served in the U.S. House.

Each year, The World-Herald salutes sound agricultural stewardship with its Master Conservationist awards. Techniques include no-till farming and use of cover crops to reduce reliance on irrigation and fertilizer, which can lessen the nitrate levels in groundwater. In 2019, the Nebraska Legislature underscored the importance of such approaches by approving legislation to create a state soil health task force, aiming to strengthen outreach to ag producers. The bill’s sponsor was State Sen. Tim Gragert, a former field agent with the Natural Resource Conservation Service.

Conservation and modern agriculture can go hand in hand. But the Biden administration must first extend a welcoming hand to producers, enabling an all-important partnership for success.


Lincoln Journal Star. May 5, 2021.

Editorial: Businesses, census show immigration vital for state

Nebraska continues to grow steadily as it nears 2 million residents, according to 2020 census figures released last week.

Yet, despite seeing its population rise at the second-fastest clip in the state’s history, the state is still struggling to fill jobs in many fields, with manufacturing, agriculture and hospitality among those with the greatest needs at a time when Nebraska has returned to nearly full employment.

Without the proper investment in keeping existing Nebraskans and attracting new ones, the state’s economy could stall out – particularly with a wave of baby boomer retirements in the next decade forecast to hit this state harder than most.

Accordingly, immigration must continue to be viewed as an economic imperative into the 2020s and beyond, meaning smart policies are a must to keep Nebraska growing well into the future.

Employers are hiring in this state. The jobs are there. Yet there simply aren’t enough people to fill them.

Take the restaurant industry, for example – one that’s present in and vital to nearly every Nebraska community, regardless of its size, and employs one in 10 Nebraskans.

The pandemic ravaged the industry and its workers, many of whom left for other fields during the months-long closures last year. They filled other jobs that were in demand, leaving restaurants – whose sales have spiked following an increase in vaccinations – “all looking for the same elusive few people,” as Nebraska Restaurant Association Executive Director Zoe Olson told the Journal Star’s Matt Olberding.

This worker shortage has led to some restaurants remaining closed on certain days or reducing hours. However, in a more positive development, it’s inspired the free-market competition over a limited resource – in this case, prospective employees – to offer higher wages, better benefits and other perks that will help workers and encourage them to stick around.

But being welcoming and accommodating to immigrants requires a shift from the status quo that has placed much of the business community lobbying firmly for reform – a chance for bipartisan success in search of the political will for such a development.

Increased immigration isn’t a silver bullet, of course.

Nebraska must continue to prove itself as the Good Life to attract residents from other parts of the country, too, and jobs will be a major part of that pitch. Keeping college graduates from leaving the state, a trend the Nebraska Higher Education Progress Report released Monday noted is accelerating, is a critical part of the future.

If Nebraska is as open for business as its elected officials and companies profess to be, it needs to aggressively lobby for expanded legal pathways for immigration to help fill its diverse collection of vacant jobs.

Otherwise, the historic growth Nebraska experienced over the last decade could be fleeting.


Grand Island Independent. May 7, 2021.

Editorial: Children need early mental health help

As this week is National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, the Division of Behavioral Health in Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services is shining a spotlight on the importance of children’s mental health.

The coronavirus pandemic has affected all of our lives for well more than a year now, but our children are especially vulnerable, even though many schools have been as flexible as possible in providing virtual education and in-school classes, according to students’ needs. When schools were shut down and all classes were virtual, not being able to be with their friends and play with children their age was especially difficult for them.

Predictability and routine are important for children, and for many youths that predictability has been disrupted for an extended time period. Restrictions are easing, but children still are dealing with the upheaval in their lives caused by the pandemic.

For many adults who have behavioral health disorders, symptoms were present — but often not recognized or addressed — in childhood and adolescence, according to DHHS. For a young person with symptoms of a mental behavioral health disorder, the earlier treatment is started, the more effective it can be. Early treatment can help prevent more severe, lasting problems as a child grows up.

“This month, we encourage parents, caregivers and other adults in a child’s life to learn more about the significant role mental health plays in overall wellness and well-being,” said Sheri Dawson, director of the Division of Behavioral Health. “Just like physical health, positive mental health is vital to a child’s development. It is OK to ask for information, ask questions and reach out for help.”

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, young children may benefit from an evaluation and treatment if they:

— Have frequent tantrums or are intensely irritable much of the time

— Often talk about fears or worries

— Complain about frequent stomachaches or headaches with no known medical cause

— Are in constant motion and cannot sit quietly (except when they are watching videos or playing)

— Sleep too much or too little, have frequent nightmares, or seem sleepy during the day

— Are not interested in playing with other children or have difficulty making friends

— Repeat actions or check things many times out of fear that something bad may happen

The same is true with older children and adolescents, especially if they are spending more and more time alone or are having thoughts of suicide or hurting themselves.

Help is available. Parents can contact a family physician or a school counselor for a referral. But there are also hotlines available for immediate service:

— Nebraska Family Helpline — Any question, any time. 888-866-8660

— Rural Response Hotline, 1-800-464-0258

— Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (oprime dos para Español) or text TalkWithUs to 66746.

— National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 para Español