Weekly Column

Over the past seven months, our news cycle has centered around deep divisions in Congress. But these divisions do not reflect who we are or what we value as Nebraskans. It is time to move past partisanship and start to work together again towards a brighter future for the people we serve.

That’s why I’m happy to announce that I am joining some of my Midwest Senate colleagues to form the Bipartisan Rural Working Group. Organized by Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and myself, the group represents a renewed focus on the shared values that bind us, the challenges families are facing, and ways we can work together.

Instead of a top-down approach, the Bipartisan Rural Working Group is an opportunity for senators to hear directly from people on the ground who face these issues firsthand. We also took this opportunity to highlight the successes we’ve seen in the Heartland and how we can work together to spread that message to the world. 

I am looking forward to continuing this bipartisan exchange of ideas that will inform federal policies and empower Nebraska’s families and communities to thrive for generations to come. I could not be more excited to move forward together and deliver results for America’s Heartland. 

With this in mind, farmers in the Panhandle have recently received some encouraging news as they continue to recover from last year’s Gering-Fort Laramie tunnel collapse and the severe weather conditions. 

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Reclamation announced its 2020 spending plan which provides an opportunity for $2.3 million to be designated toward the repairs of the Gering-Fort Laramie tunnel following the collapse of the canal last summer. 

The tunnel is critical for farm families across the Panhandle and to agriculture in our state as a whole. It supplies surface water to approximately 55,000 acres of cropland for corn, sugar beets, and dry edible beans. This funding for the canal’s repair was initially not available, but my staff worked hard with the bureau to find a way forward. This funding will help ag producers in western Nebraska recover from the effects of this major disruption to irrigation. Thanks to my staff for a job well done!

For the past two years, significant weather events have also taken a devastating toll on cooperative farmers throughout Nebraska, Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming. Farmland throughout these regions experienced freezing temperatures in early October before sugar beets are usually harvested. Growers took all the necessary steps to keep the cooperative manageable, but frozen beets are much more expensive to process and ultimately produce less sugar – and farmers directly cover those costs.

With the immediate future and viability of the cooperative threatened, I joined another bipartisan group of senators in sending a letter to Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to ask for immediate action in implementing a provision designed to support sugar beet farmers affected by adverse weather. We urged the secretary to expedite this process so that our cooperative farmers have the certainty they need.

Our state plays an essential role in feeding and fueling our world. The Heartland is filled with people, families, and communities that are worth investing in and deserve more attention to the unique challenges they are facing.

I am encouraged by this renewed bipartisan focus and progress we’ve seen in providing for America’s Heartland – and I am excited to move forward together and bring results to Nebraskans.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.