Steer cow in pen

A steer is seen in a pen at the High Plains Feed Yard in southern Sioux County on Wednesday, April 10. According to the Nebraska Beef Council, cattle outnumber people in the state by nearly four to one.

Nebraska leaders are praising an agreement between the U.S. and the European Union that would increase beef exports from the state and the U.S. to Europe.

Last week, President Trump signed the agreement with the EU that would increase beef exports. Beef is the leading export commodity from Nebraska.

Gov. Pete Ricketts, who led a EU trade mission in 2015, said his administration has been working for some time to increase the amount of beef Nebraska exports to the European Union.

Ricketts said the agreement presents a “major growth opportunity for our state.”

“(It) will help Nebraska build on our successes from the last 15 years,” he said. “As we seize this great opportunity, I look forward to taking our message about Nebraska beef on the road during my trade mission to Germany this November.”

In 2005, Ricketts said, only 5% of the U.S. beef entering the EU came from Nebraska. By 2018, Nebraska’s share had risen to 53% and was valued at $124.3 million.

He said the new agreement will allow the U.S. to almost triple the amount of beef it is currently exporting.

“As the nation’s leader in commercial red meat production and a top three exporter of U.S. beef, Nebraska agriculture stands to benefit greatly from the expansion of this marketplace,” Ricketts said.

Nebraska Farm Bureau President Steve Nelson said the announcement is “great news for Nebraska beef producers.”

“Quality beef is in high demand in the European Union, particularly in countries like Germany and Italy,” Nelson said. “(This) will only boost opportunities for Nebraska beef producers to fill these markets moving forward.”

He said that under the deal, U.S. farmers will ultimately be entitled to nearly 80 percent of the European Union’s quota on hormone-free beef over the next seven years.

The quota is the result of a longstanding dispute between the two countries that led to several dispute settlement proceedings with the World Trade Organization that stem back to “the European Union’s decades-old decision to ban hormone-treated meat, despite overwhelming scientific evidence the product is safe for consumers,” Nelson said.

“Hopefully, (the) deal is a positive step in building relations to secure a bilateral trade deal with the European Union to open even greater access for U.S. agriculture products,” he said.

Nebraska shipments of beef and beef products to the European Union ranged from $120 million to $143 million annually over the last five years. That’s between 40 and 50 percent of total U.S. shipments, Nelson said.

“With the agriculture economy struggling and the recent difficulties in trade negotiations with China, it’s critical we continue to grow agriculture market opportunities where we can,” he said.

Sen. Deb Fischer, a cattle rancher and a member of the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee, said Nebraska welcomes “the news of this new trade agreement between the U.S. and the EU.”

“Nebraskans produce some of the most high-quality and delicious beef there is and this deal marks another opportunity for our families, communities, and businesses,” Fischer said.

She said the trade deal will allow the U.S. to export 35,000 tons of hormone-free beef to the EU per year.