By Clint Andersen
A bill working its way through the Nebraska legislature would expand the brand inspection area to include the entire state of Nebraska. LB 654 was introduced by 43rd District Senator Al Davis in an effort to eliminate the confusion and inconvenience of having the state split into brand inspection and non-brand inspection areas. Currently, 70% of Nebraska (all or part of 49 counties) is in the brand inspection area. Any time cattle move across the line separating the brand inspection area from the non-brand inspection area, those cattle must be inspected. This law would eliminate the need to inspect cattle whose ownership has not changed when being transported anywhere in Nebraska.
How many cattle would this law really affect? Last year 3.8 million cattle were brand-inspected in Nebraska. If LB654 passes, that figure could jump to over 5 million head annually.
The legislature’s Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the bill Tuesday. Supporters turned out in force with lively discussion during the two hour hearing. Nineteen people spoke in favor of the bill, many of whom live close to the line separating the two areas.
Many examples were shared that illustrated the confusion and inconvenience involved with moving cattle from one side of the line to the other and procuring the needed inspections. Other testimony centered on the ability of thieves to steal cattle, transport them to livestock markets outside the brand area, and sell them with no proof of ownership required. Several examples were given of stolen cattle being identified at livestock markets where brand inspectors were present. These cattle were returned to their rightful owners and justice was served. David Wright, president of ICON (Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska) views brand inspection as proof of ownership for all cattle in the state and asked those opposed to the bill, “Why are you afraid to prove ownership?”
One potential bonus of the proposed law is the certain increase in the collection of Beef Check-Off funds in the currently uninspected area. In the brand inspection area, brand inspectors collect the mandatory check-off funds on behalf of the Cattlemen’s Beef Board each time an animal is sold. In the non-inspection area these funds are to be voluntarily remitted by the seller, but very seldom are. Several of the bill’s proponents felt that expanding the inspection area would enhance the ability to collect these funds.
Those testifying in favor of LB 654 included the Nebraska Farm Bureau, Nebraska Farmer’s Union, and ICON. Other supporters included ranchers, livestock auction market owners, and feedlot owners. The lone opponent to the bill was Nebraska Cattlemen Executive Vice President, Michael Kelsey, who noted that some people who live in the brand area will oppose the bill while some outside the area will support it. Kelsey’s cryptic testimony was difficult to decipher, noting, “One size does not fit all”.
The Nebraska Brand Committee, which administers the brand inspection law, is self-sustaining and uses no taxpayer money. However, in order to implement the change, the legislature would need to make funds available. A fiscal note was added to the bill that places the price tag for implementing the expansion at $3 million. This money would be used to hire, train and equip 25-27 full time brand inspectors and 25-27 part-time inspectors.
Notable quotes from the hearing:
Jay Rempe, Nebraska Farm Bureau, “The system works…it is a deterrent (to cattle theft).”
John Hansen, Nebraska Farmer’s Union, “You don’t have to be smart to be a cattle thief.”
Michael Kelsey, Nebraska Cattlemen, “There will be people outside the brand area that support it (LB 654), and people inside the brand area that won’t.”
Chris Abbott, “We don’t see brand inspection as a tax.”
David Wright, ICON (Independent Cattlemen of Nebraska), “Why are you afraid to prove ownership (of your cattle)?”