"As of April 1998, we have a legislative atmosphere in Nebraska that is more conducive to pork production than what a lot of people had been expecting," says Bob Ruggles, executive director, Nebraska Pork Producers Association (NPPA).

But, Ruggles cautions, the work is not yet done and the jury is still out on the biggest question of all. "How badly do people want a pork industry in Nebraska?" Ruggles asks.

Nebraska's one-house legislature signed the Livestock Waste Management Act into law during the 1998 Legislative session. Fortunately for Nebraska's pork producers, Ruggles says a coalition of agricultural groups was invited to work together to modify some of the act's provisions before passage.

"The bill originally had a lot of problems and areas that didn't make sense," Ruggles relates. "In its original form, this piece of legislation would have been very expensive for our small and medium-sized producers."

When the bill takes effect on June 1, owners of confined livestock feeding operations in Nebraska must request an inspection from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ).

"This requirement has actually been in place since the 1970s, but many people were not aware of it," Ruggles says. Producers have an amnesty period until Jan. 1, 1999, to request an inspection free-of-charge. After the amnesty period, producers who have not had inspections are out of compliance with the law.

If NDEQ determines producers need a permit, there are four categories of farm based on size and animal units. The permit fees run from $300 to $5,000, and are good for the life of the operation.

Promotion Needed "Agriculture as a whole is really taking a hit in this state at the same time that one in four Nebraskans are employed in agriculture," Ruggles says. "We at NPPA feel we have an image-building job to do, and we are in the beginning stages of trying to address that."

The NPPA has joined forces with representatives from a wide range of Nebraska industries to form a coalition to protect Nebraska's livestock and agricultural industries. It is called the Coalition for Livestock, the Environment and Agriculture in Nebraska (CLEAN).

Nebraska's hog numbers have been going down on a year-to-year basis since 1992. Ruggles says 1998 has brought both more interest in the pork industry and more new unit construction. "We have a number of small to medium-size producers adding to their operations, changing their facilities, or upgrading and incorporating new technologies such as multi-site operations," he explains.

About two-thirds of Nebraska's 93 counties are not zoned. The amount of control those counties have over hog unit construction is limited. Nebraska still has a constitutional amendment in place called I-300. This amendment limits non-family farm pork production.

Ruggles says I-300 is interpreted on a case-by-case basis. Anyone who is interested in ca non-family venture, for example, should contact the attorney general of Nebraska to interpret the law specific to their situation.

There was a precedent-setting case in Lexington, NE, recently where a group of producers working together in a cooperative arrangement were found to be in violation of I-300.