Before U.S. Rep. Don Bacon of Omaha joined the Air Force, he was a farmer. Bacon farmed in central Illinois, raising corn, soybeans and beef cattle primarily.
“Then I joined the Air Force at 21. That’s how I ended up at Offutt (Air Force Base). I had three assignments at Offutt. I did 30 years in the Air Force.”
Bacon said when he was growing up, precision agriculture using GPS wasn’t around.
“My rows were a little wavy,” he said. “It would take me all day to do 50 acres. We baled square bales.”
Bacon was in Norfolk earlier this week. Serving as the ranking member on the House Agriculture Subcommittee, Bacon said he likes to make a couple of trips each year to agricultural areas.
Bacon said his family farm had about 1,000 acres. His grandparents ran it, and he was the oldest grandchild. He started helping at 10.
When he came to Nebraska, Bacon said he learned about more crops, including sugar beets and dry beans. He’s always known about the importance of agriculture to the Midwest.
“There’s two areas that give America strength. One is agriculture. Nobody can grow crops as efficiently and cost effectively as Americans. So it is our trade and competitive advantage. It’s one of the reasons that we are a superpower — our capabilities at food production.
“The other area is energy. That’s another sector, especially under President Trump, we became the largest energy-producing nation in the world as well,” Bacon said.
It is imperative that Nebraska have a strong ag economy. One of the areas Bacon would like to see expanded are foreign markets, especially China.
“They had an unfair balance with us,” Bacon said. “We allowed it to happen for a long time.”
More work remains to be done with China, but the U.S. started seeing the benefits of seeking fairer trade under Trump last year. China has an appetite for U.S. agricultural products and started buying more agricultural products last year, Bacon said.
While in Norfolk this week, Bacon visited agribusinesses and Northeast Community College, in part to learn more about the new agricultural facilities that will be built. Later in the week, he was to visit some farms.
Bacon said from his visits, he has learned crop insurance is important.
“I hear preserve it and make it better,” Bacon said. “I have learned that. Trade is also is an important issue. Third, at least with the ag bill, people want to invest in research. We need to prevent things like African swine fever.”
AFS is a virus that infects domestic pigs and feral hogs, often leading to death. It is highly contagious among pigs, but humans cannot get it, although they can spread it to other pigs.
Bacon said on the state level, he knows that property taxes remain a concern, along with finding an adequate workforce in agriculture.
So being from Omaha, does Bacon think that most Omaha and Lincoln residents have an appreciation for how important agriculture is to Nebraska?
“I think they do,” Bacon said, “at least compared to Chicago and when you go out east. There are just a small number of farms out there, so I think we are getting more and more detached (from the farm). And I think that’s a shame. It used to be there were more people living on farms. Just 100 years ago, half the people were involved in agriculture. And I worry about losing that connection. I don’t always think people know what it means to put food on the table and where that comes from. But I think Omaha and Lincoln does better than the other cities because we are in the middle of the heartland. I don’t think we take it for granted.”
Bacon said Omaha needs agriculture. It has the largest sales of irrigation systems, it has lots of commodities and is a center for transportation of agricultural products, with many businesses depending on agriculture.
“We’re a huge ag-centric business community, so if the ag economy is bad, so is Omaha. And I think we saw that about three years ago when the ag prices were so far down, we weren’t getting enough money for the universities because of the tax base. Agriculture affects everything,” Bacon said.