Steve Wellman

Nebraska Agriculture Director Steve Wellman

Nebraska has sustained $4 billion in agricultural losses due to the coronavirus, Steve Wellman, director of the State Department of Agriculture said Thursday.

Wellman said about half that loss is the result of stunning declines in ethanol. He spoke during a weekly town hall on NET, sharing the stage with Gov. Pete Ricketts and University of Nebraska Medical Center infectious disease specialist Dr. Jasmine Marcelin.

The federal government will be sending $16 billion in direct aid to ag producers nationwide, probably in May, Wellman said, but that won’t be enough to make producers whole.

“If you look countrywide … that $16 billion, even though it’s a big number, it’s not going to last,” he said.

Whatever aid Nebraska receives, the ethanol industry might not get any.

“The ethanol sector has been left out so far,” Wellman said.

Ricketts added: “We haven’t seen that support come from Washington, D.C.”

Also during the town hall, a viewer asked Marcelin what concerns she might have about Ricketts’ loosening of restrictions.

“There are a few concerns, mostly related to, ‘What are people going to do when they start going back out?’ ” she said. “Are people not going to continue physical distancing? My biggest concern is for people rushing back and thinking, ‘OK, everything is open.’ ”

And that leads to her bigger concern, she said. If the general public becomes lax and the virus resurges, front-line workers will be at greater risk.

Other questions involved summer sports and fall classes.

Ricketts said organized sports might be possible by July.

“We probably won’t be there in June, it depends upon May,” he said. “If you want to play sports later this summer, make sure you’re practicing good social distancing now.”

School classes are likely to resume, but they’ll probably be different, he said. It’s possible that students will be asked to wear masks, for example.

Viewers also pointed out that rent would be due for many people in the week ahead, but they still haven’t received their unemployment checks. Some people have been waiting five to six weeks for their checks.

Ricketts said he believes people will see a “vast improvement” in the state’s processing of claims in the next couple of weeks.