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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.