The occasional Omaha World-Herald series "The State of Beef" takes a look at the challenges facing Nebraska’s beef industry, worth more than $10 billion a year.
Ranchers like Wade Andrews, 56, worry that their way of life is slipping away amid low cattle prices and ever-rising expenses while the meatpacking firms are earning record profits.
Some farmers are marketing steaks and hamburger directly to consumers, the pasture-to-plate approach. Others are bypassing large packers by establishing their own, smaller-scale packing plants.
If UNL's "methane barn" can help reduce the beef industry’s global environmental hoofprint, it could one day help save the planet. It could also help preserve Nebraska’s biggest agricultural sector.
One proposal under discussion is a bill from Nebraska Republican Sen. Deb Fischer that would require packers to acquire more of the cattle they slaughter through bidding on open livestock markets.
California has found success reducing methane emissions and establishing financial incentives for dairy farmers to capture the greenhouse gas. Could similar incentives aid Nebraska's beef industry?
Farmers and ranchers have endured years of declining prices for their cattle. Meanwhile, the four big packers, who control 85% of the market for fattened cattle, have seen their share skyrocket.
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Sen. Deb Fischer says the bipartisan compromise bill would require beef packers to buy more of their cattle through open bidding, a shift that could help Nebraska's beef industry.