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Bringing in 2022 with the NCSA Winter Ball

Mullen, Neb. — The Nebraska Cattlemen Sandhills Affiliate knows how to throw a party. They held their ninth Winter Ball on Dec. 31, 2021. When they first began hosting a Winter Ball, it was on the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day — take your wife out to an elegant meal and gathering of friends, held at the Eppley Lodge of the State 4-H Camp in the beautiful Nebraska National Forest near Halsey. It seemed to conflict with the Heart City Bull bash in Valentine and one or two area bull sales.

Once the community of Mullen built their new community center on the Hooker County Fairgrounds, the location changed to there as did the time — becoming a New Year’s Eve Winter Ball — bringing in the New Year in style. It has proven to be a tremendous success, as parking is not a problem and the tradition of a great prime rib meal first done by the camp staff is now done by Deibler’s Butcher Block (Doug Deibler) Mullen, and meal is completed by Chuckwagon N Jug owners and helpers, Greg and Dawn Mallory, who also cater the cash bar — a very popular place throughout the evening. Another tradition carried over to the current location is the assistance provided by the members of the area FFA chapters of Mullen, Sandhills and Thedford (2016 was the first time Thedford FFA helped as that was the first year of the chapter).

Proving it is indeed a small world, NCSA member, Bree DeNayer, Seneca, struck up a conversation with Mel McNea of North Platte and they found out their families are from the same area of North Dakota. On the left is Rolf Glerum, Brewster. Photo by Terri Licking

Due to COVID, the NCSA did not ring in the New Year in 2021, so it was time. The traditional weather for most all of them has been cold, windy, and snowy — as was the case this year. The snow did not come until mid-way through the evening though, but the prediction of such kept several away, as did ill health. They were set to feed 150, but some place settings were empty.

FUNDRAISING OPPORTUNITY

As from the start, the NCSA makes their Winter Ball their major fundraiser, as they seek sponsorships and donations of auction items for the silent and live auction they conduct. Also, rifles are part of that scenario, with a raffle conducted on choice of a 22-250 or a 6.5 Creedmore rifle. The winner of the raffle gets their pick from the two while the other rifle enters the live auction ring. (Thayne Rodocker was the lucky raffle winner, unsure which rifle he chose.) This year’s auction saw an influx of over $4,500 which will help the NCSA award three $1,000 scholarships to two graduating high school seniors and one to a college student in the NCSA area. Sponsors helping included Harsh Mercantile, Purdum, Western Nebraska Bank, Thedford, Daniels Manufacturing and West Plains Bank, Ainsworth, Sandhills Fencing, Purdum A L Silencer, Stapleton and Al and Sallie Atkins, North Platte, formerly of Halsey.

Behind one of the rifles being part of the fundraising effort of the NCSA are board members Troy Saner and Adam Zutavern, both from Dunning.Photo by Terri Licking

Members of the 2022 NCSA board include President John Kraye, Mullen, Secretary Stefani Schaffer, Purdum, and Treasurer Kelly Kennedy, Purdum, (Kelly’s wife Kat is the Nebraska Cattlemen Region 2 vice-chair of member services). Other members include Frank Utter and Eric Schipporeit, Brewster, Troy Saner and Adam Zutavern, Dunning. New to the board is Natalie Jones, Stapleton and Jim Latoski, Thedford. The Sandhills Affiliate is part of the Region 2 of the Nebraska Cattlemen. The other affiliates are the Valentine Cattlemen, Bassett and the Hyannis Affiliate. The NCSA area includes all the counties of Blaine, Thomas and Hooker and parts of south Cherry and northern Logan. Country Rush Band provided the music that brought in 2022.

The NCSA also hosts a summer golf outing at the Dismal River Golf Club in June, and come September, this will be the third year they will collaborate with the Sandhills Cattle Association to host a Fall Feeder Calf Preview tour.

The annual NCSA board meeting with election of officers will be held Jan. 17 at the Sandhills Corral Restaurant, Thedford. Meal will be provided by Merch at 6 p.m. CT. A short business meeting and a speaker will follow. RSVPs would be appreciated to Stefani Schaeefer at (805) 705-0411 or John Kraye at (308) 546-7309 by Jan. 14

CDA launches nationwide search for new deputy commissioner of agriculture

BROOMFIELD, Colo. — The Colorado Department of Agriculture has begun a nationwide candidate search to fill the position of deputy commissioner of agriculture for Colorado. The department is looking for an experienced leader to build on CDA’s mission of advancing Colorado’s agriculture and building relationships throughout our state’s agricultural communities. The new deputy will replace Steve Silverman, who is moving on from CDA in February to teach at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.

“During his three years at the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Deputy Commissioner Silverman has worked tirelessly to advance the goals of our agency and I want to wholeheartedly thank him for his service. His dedication was clear even before the pandemic, but the last two years showcased his commitment to agriculture through both difficult and exciting times,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg. “Steve is leaving behind some big shoes to fill and we hope to find a candidate who can help lead the daily work of our agency while committing to build and expand our relationships with ag communities across Colorado.”

The deputy commissioner position has statutory authority to act on behalf of the commissioner of agriculture in the management of the department and ensures that the department effectively administers all programs and authorities delegated by state or federal law. This position will oversee the eight divisions of CDA, develop and lead federal strategy, help oversee and implement policy and regulatory changes, and lead the development of new programs and initiatives for the department. The position will serve as a liaison between Tribes, the governor’s office, and other state and federal agencies. The deputy commissioner will also work to develop the agency’s Wildly Important Goals for how to advance and support Colorado agriculture, and ensure their implementation.

“Serving the state of Colorado through my work for the Department of Agriculture has been an honor and a pleasure. I’m continually impressed by the grit, tenacity, and commitment I see from Colorado’s farmers and ranchers. I have also been deeply impressed by the dedication of our staff at the department. It has been a great privilege to work on behalf of Colorado’s agriculture community,” said Deputy Commissioner of Agriculture Steve Silverman. “I’m really proud of the work the Department of Agriculture has done over the past three years to advance Colorado’s agriculture, protect livestock and pets, and create consumer awareness of everything that goes into the food production systems we rely on. I know the next person to join the team at CDA will continue to build upon the strong relationships the department has with the members of Colorado’s agricultural communities.”

The deadline to apply for the position is Monday, Jan. 31, 2022. Qualified candidates from anywhere in the U.S. can apply through the state’s online job portal.

Colorado Wheat announces 2022 county meetings and election dates

Colorado wheat farmers are invited to attend and participate in the annual county business meetings and elections jointly sponsored by the Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee, the Colorado Association of Wheat Growers and the Colorado Wheat Research Foundation. The business meetings and elections will be held Feb. 9-10, 2022, at three different locations. Please see the table above for full details or visit coloradowheat.org.

The program at the meetings will include an outlook on grain markets by Dan Maltby, owner of Dan Maltby Risk Management Group. There will also be organizational updates on CWAC, CAWG, CWRF.

County-level representatives for both CWAC and CAWG will also be elected at these meetings. CWAC and CAWG are two distinctly separate organizations with different but complementary purposes. CWAC is the Commissioner-appointed Board of Control for the Colorado Wheat Marketing Order, whose purpose is to oversee how Colorado’s wheat assessment dollars (2 cents per bushel of wheat produced in the state) are spent on research, market development, outreach, education and other various endeavors.

Colorado Association of Wheat Growers is comprised of dues-paying members who are politically active, focusing on policy that impacts wheat producers and agriculture in general.

Forage minute

MID-WINTER CORNSTALK GRAZING

Here in mid-winter, cornstalks remain a great forage resource for livestock producers. Snow cover on the cornstalks is generally not a problem for cattle as they are adept at digging their way through to get at the leaves, husks, and remaining corn that they are seeking. However, if an icy crust develops on the snow, this will limit grazing and supplemental feed may need to be provided.

Another important consideration is the stocking rate and how long they have been in a particular field. Nutritional value of cornstalk residue is greatest at the beginning of a grazing period and declines with time as the most nutritious plant parts are grazed. A general stalk grazing rule is there is about 30 cow days per 100 bushels of corn that the field produced.

Over the fall and winter, weathering can also play a role in reducing cornstalk quality. Rain or melting snow soaks into dry corn stalk residue and leaches out some of the soluble nutrients. Most serious is the loss of sugars and other energy-dense nutrients, which lowers the TDN or energy value of the stalks.

Another factor that affects cornstalk grazing is wind. We have had our share of excessively high winds which easily blow corn leaves and husks off the field. This of course, can impact the amount of feed, and after grain, those leaves and husks contain the highest nutritional quality.

Cornstalks are still a great and economical winter feed source. Just be sure to closely monitor cow and field conditions while adjusting your supplementation program accordingly.

HIGH QUALITY HAY AFTER CALVING

Good cow nutrition is crucial following calving to get cows rebred. Today, let’s look at the reason for using our top tier hay after calves hit the ground.

Because cows experience a lot of stress after calving, they need good feed. Not only is the cow producing milk for her calf, she is also preparing her reproductive system to rebreed. As a result, nutrient demands are high. Energy requirements increase about 30 percent and protein needs nearly double after calving. Underfeeding reduces the amount of milk a cow provides her calf, and it can delay or even prevent rebreeding. If it gets cold, wet, or icy again, nutrient demands can sky-rocket.

Winter grass, corn stalks, and other crop residues are low quality right now because these feeds are weathered and have been pretty well picked over. It is critical that the hay or silage you feed will provide the extra nutrients your cows need.

Because of this, not just any hay or silage will do. Your cow needs 10 to 12 percent crude protein and 60 to 65 percent TDN in her total diet. If she is grazing poor quality feeds or eating grass hay, your other forages and supplements must make up any deficiencies.

Make sure your forage has adequate nutrients; if you haven’t done so yet, get it tested now for protein and energy content. Compare this to the nutrient requirements of your cows. Then feed your cows a ration that will meet their requirements. Use supplements if needed. But don’t overfeed, either. That is wasteful and expensive.

Calving and the months after are a stressful time for cows. If we underfeed, it can delay rebreeding and slow down calf growth. Use your best quality forages with any needed supplements to provide adequate nutrition. By meeting nutrient requirements, your cows will milk well, rebreed on time, and produce healthy calves year after year.

MPCC Rodeo Team Scholarship Banquet planned for Feb. 12

Tickets are on sale now for the 2022 Mid-Plains Community College Rodeo Team Scholarship Banquet.

The banquet will be Feb. 12 at the Ramada by Wyndham North Platte and Sandhills Convention Center in North Platte. The social hour will begin at 5:30 p.m. followed by a prime rib dinner at 7 p.m.

Activities will include both live and silent auctions, presentations by the rodeo team coaches and athletes and entertainment by Colorado comedian Randy Mac.

Mac will provide a clean, professional comedy routine suitable for all ages. His shows typically include humorous songs accompanied by guitar, funny stories and illusions. It’s not uncommon for him to call on guests in the audience to assist him on stage with his acts.

Banquet tickets are $75 each or $500 for a table of eight. They can be purchased until Feb. 4 at the college’s welcome centers in North Platte and McCook, through the Wranglers booster committee at (308) 535-3778 or by contacting any MPCC Rodeo Team member or coach.

Roughstock coach Aukai Kaai can be reached at kaaik@mpcc.edu. The email for timed event coach Wyatt Clark is clarkjw@mpcc.edu.

Farming Evolution to be held Feb. 16 and 17

Get out your calendars and mark Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 16 and 17 as the dates for the annual Farming Evolution event. Whether you look at regenerative agriculture concepts with a wary eye or fully embrace the ideas, this event is for you. This year’s program is packed with farmer/rancher presenters — people with boots on the ground, families to provide for, and bank notes to service. Do you have hard and pointed questions, doubts and fears? Are you looking for the next new idea? Or do you just want to spend time with other producers? You are invited to come spend a day or two with us.

The Farming Evolution will be at the Phillips County Event Center just north of Holyoke, Colo., for an information packed two days. Registration is just $30 for one day and $40 for both days. After Feb. 4, one day registration will be $40 and $50 for two days. If you register for Wednesday and want to come for the second day, just pay the $10 difference. Whether paying by credit card or by check, please register online at www.farmingevolution2022.eventbrite.com. To pay by check, simply indicate so at the bottom of the registration form and follow the mailing instructions.

THE PROGRAM

Everything starts with the soil. Is there really a positive difference in how farmed and non-farmed soils behave? See for yourself. Candy Thomas will open the discussion with several demonstrations including tests you can easily do in your fields.

It’s not easy to change how you do things. Our farmer speakers will share what made them decide to stop doing what came easily and venture into the unknown. What were the challenges? What failures did they face? What changes did they see early on to inspire them to continue to operate differently?

Brice Custer hails from near Hays, Kan., where he, his wife and two young boys, operate Custer Farms LLC. He first tried out cover crops in 2008 and has transitioned all 3,400 acres to a rotation with cover crops and minimal wheat. Come hear Custer’s insights into “How to Not Lose Your Keester Farming.”

A familiar name in the world of soil testing is Ward Laboratory. Ray Ward will be here to help production agriculture use its resources as efficiently as possible. He will help answer the questions “What Soil Health Tests Do I Need” and “What Do Those Numbers Tell Me?”

Growing multi-species forage crops under irrigation has provided a much-needed feed source for Caputa, S.D., producer Shawn Freeland. Always asking himself ‘how can I improve my soil’ has taken him on a journey of decreasing inputs and increasing yields. Freeland will share how he has put “Farming, Livestock and Profitable” in the same sentence.

Nick Vos was born in South Africa where he grew up on a vegetable farm. As a proud American citizen, Vos, his wife and two daughters reside outside Hugoton, Kan. This First-generation American farmer is growing corn, soybeans, wheat, sorghum and companion crops. In his engaging, unique style, Vos will share his successes and struggles making no-till and cover crops work in an area that became famous as “The Dust Bowl.”

Raising 13 marketable crops, diversification is abundant on the Roy Pfaltzgraff farm. Located south of Haxtun, Colo., the 2,000-acre dryland farm doesn’t look much like the simple no-till system of the 1980s. Pfaltzgraff believes one of the greatest benefits is the farm produces average yields in drought years with no loss in quality. It can also handle the frequent extreme weather events. Pfaltzgraff will share how he and his wife, Barb, “Market Non-Traditional Crops.”

Jay Young and his family raise corn, wheat, milo, a mixture of covers, oats and beardless triticale near Tribune, Kan. Thanks to adding cover and companion crops in 2016, he has started living his dream of raising cattle in an area with limited grassland. A bonus benefit: the water intake rate on his irrigated fields has improved dramatically. Young will share his journey with “Cover Crops, Grazing and Compost.”

As always at Farming Evolution, there will be a speaker panel session for more in-depth questions and discussion. Exhibitors/vendors will also be in the same room as the presentation. They will have 60 seconds at the beginning of the program to speak to the audience.

New this year: bring your smartphones if you have one. You can submit a question during the presentations and participate in fun and informative activities. (Don’t worry if you aren’t smartphone savvy, we’ll help you and have paper options available.)

Supported and Sponsored by: Centennial, Haxtun, Morgan, Sedgwick, West Greeley and Yuma County Conservation Districts, Upper Republican Natural Resource District, Colo. State Conservation Board, Colo. Association of Cons Districts, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Arrow Seed, and Green Cover Seed.

Colorado State Land Board 2021 awards to local winners

The Colorado State Land Board presented the following four local agriculture operators with awards in December 2021: Norlin Cavender (Adams County), Edmundson Beef LLC (Sugar City), Emmett Jordan (Weld County), and Kevin Terry of Trout Unlimited (San Juan Valley). The State Land Board works with more than 3,400 lessees and partners on a variety of lease activities. The agency presents four annual awards to exemplary lessees and partners. Winners were presented with their awards at the December board meeting.

Videos honoring the winners are posted here: slb.colorado.gov/awards.

The Lessee of the Year Award is the premier award and is granted to an exemplary State Land Board lessee. The lessee has demonstrated superior stewardship practices, worked cooperatively with agency staff, and helped generate revenue for the agency’s beneficiaries. The 2021 winner is Edmundson Beef LLC for their agriculture lease in Sugar City, Colo.

The Bloom Stewardship Award is granted to a State Land Board lessee who has demonstrated exceptional stewardship practices. Award winners are recognized for their commitment to protecting the environment while maintaining profitable operations. The Bloom Stewardship Award winner is notable for their desire to leave the land in better shape for future generations. This award is named in recognition of former State Land Board Commissioner Mike Bloom for her tireless dedication to sound stewardship practices in support of the agency’s beneficiaries. The 2021 winner is Emmett Jordan in Weld County.

In the spirit of encouraging and fostering the next generation of agriculture leaders in the state of Colorado, the Legacy Lessee award is granted to a State Land Board lessee who has assigned their lease to a non-familial younger lessee (a lessee 40-years-old or younger). The 2021 winner is Mr. and Mrs. Norlin Cavender for their lease assignment in Adams County.

The 2021 the Legacy Lessee award winner is Mr. and Mrs. Norlin Cavender for their lease assignment in Adams County. Courtesy photo

The Outstanding Partner award is presented to an outstanding partner to recognize that their collaboration with staff and/or lessees has helped the agency more successfully fulfill our mission. A “partner” is defined as any individual or entity who may or may not be a lessee: they may be a customer or they may be an unpaid or paid contractor/partner/vendor/researcher/etc. The inaugural 2021 winner is Trout Unlimited, led by Kevin Terry.

The Colorado State Land Board owns, stewards, and leases 4 million acres of trust land in order to earn money for Colorado public schools. Via leasing for assorted uses, the agency has earned $2 billion for public schools in the past 15 years.

Small-town Hartington, Neb., gets the spotlight with local veterinarians

On any given day, doctors Ben and Erin Schroeder run from kitten surgery to cow calving — and stop for a confessional along the way.

Now in the midst of shooting their fourth season of the Nat Geo Wild reality TV docuseries Heartland Docs, DVM, they find viewers road-tripping across the country make a special stop to Cedar County Veterinary Services in Hartington, Neb., just to meet their heroes.

“I feel a lot of responsibility,” Ben said. “It’s very special. When people come by and they say, ‘You saved my cat because I watched this episode, because I knew what to look out for,’ it just makes you feel great.”

Ben’s a 1998 animal science graduate, where he said he learned the ins and outs of being both a rancher and a farmer as opposed to just being a veterinarian. He remembers moving into his freshman dorm, Harper Hall, feeling the adrenaline rush of hitting it big time in Lincoln, Neb.

I felt like I was on cloud nine when I first moved down there,” Ben said. “The first thing I did: I put on my running shoes and I ran all the way to the Capitol, up the steps of the Capitol.”

BEN AND ERIN MEET

In veterinary school at Kansas State University, Ben met Erin. For a while after graduation, Ben worked as an exotics veterinarian at the Little Apple Veterinary Hospital in Manhattan, Kan. After the couple both graduated, they came back to Ben’s home in Cedar County to practice with Ben’s father John (who attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the late 1960s) at his vet clinic. Both Erin and Ben had the skills to care for companion and exotic animals, as well as horse medicinal skills to fill in the blanks of John’s bovine expertise.

Ben and Erin Schroeder own Cedar County Veterinary Services in Hartington, Neb. Courtesy photo

They now own the place. Ben takes the lead on cattle cases, while Erin’s specialty is dogs and cats. A good plan when you’re working together 24/7. “I learned a long time ago about being a married couple working together that there can’t be two cooks in the kitchen,” Ben said.

Ben takes the lead on cattle cases, while Erin’s specialty is dogs and cats. Courtesy photo

Their first brush with fame in Hartington arrived four years ago, when the Schroeders embarked on a downtown revitalization project — buying the 1917 Hartington Hotel and former Globe Clothing building. To them, renovation is similar to taking care of animals in their clinic.

“There’s a whole bunch of things that are a lot like saving an old building to saving a pet. Maybe lose a little weight, change the food,” Ben said.

Erin said the project is for the community and for their teenage sons, Charlie and Chase.

“We did this for our boys so that they are able to come home if they ever want to,” Erin said.

The Schroeder's sons, Chase and Charlie, help out with the patients. Courtesy photo

GETTING NOTICED

The renovation caught the Omaha World Herald’s eye — they were compared to the likes of Chip and Joanna Gaines from HGTV’s Fixer Upper. The famous duo name-drop was the buzzword — TV producers were suddenly ringing, wanting to know more about these vets with a lot of extra energy. Finally, they secured a show on Nat Geo Wild, streaming on Disney+, where they get to show off small-town Nebraska to international audiences. As they’ve progressed in seasons, they’re filming faster and have a better grip on the show’s identity.

“It’s about people that really love their animals,” Ben said.

Ben prefers when the whole family is involved in an episode. Often, the two Schroeder sons help out with patients; in Season 1, Episode 4 it takes everyone to roll a cow with a displaced abomasum. One of Ben’s favorite moments, however, is when the family took a new pontoon boat out on the Missouri River.

“We’re standing up there, and I said, ‘Let’s go look at the motor.’ The boat almost tips over while we’re all in it. It’s the craziest, funniest thing,” Ben said.

WATCHING THE EPISODES

It’s just the sort of scene for which Ben’s siblings like to give him a hard time. Lucky, or unlucky for him, he’s the oldest of five. Four of the five are Nebraska graduates. Youngest brother Seth Schroeder (’13) catches the show with their parents.

“We have found that the more of us siblings watching the show in the same living room makes for the most aggressive teasing of our older brother,” Seth said. “We have loved watching them get more and more comfortable over the seasons, and I have joked ‘Uh oh, if he keeps being himself, they’re gonna lose the show.’ ”

Ben and Erin like to watch episodes live when they premiere on TV — sometimes with family, sometimes alone so they don’t have to field questions. While the show is lighthearted, there are moments where Ben has to turn it off. Naturally, there are hard days in veterinary work, and it’s tough to watch when you’ve lived it. They’ve been around long enough to see the birth and death of many patients. Ben says the show doesn’t shy away from that. The harder it gets, the more they want to show it as an educational resource.

“We always want everybody to know to hug their vet because it’s a hard job, and we need that. We need that hug every once in a while,” Ben said.

A worry in filming the show was that people might not understand the Midwest livelihood of raising livestock for food. But Ben said audiences are impressed with how well livestock are treated in Cedar County.

“The farmers go 10 times the extra mile than what (viewers) thought they did,” Ben said. “They’re not just in it for the paycheck, they’re really about it for the welfare and the good care of their animals. And that is what has been amazing to me — these urban viewers that follow us and watch the show are pleased that the real story is what they were actually watching.”

THE NEW GENERATION

Twenty-three years after graduating from Nebraska, Ben is doing exactly what he set out to do — only unexpectedly in front of a camera. It’s a long way from sitting in the East Campus Union reading James Herriot’s All Creatures Great and Small, dreaming about doing the work; he now has the power to influence others.

“Ben is 15 years older than me, and has always been my role model,” Seth said. “I always thought that I had the coolest big brother and am glad I now get to share him with everyone.”

The allure of a family veterinary practice is strong — there might even be a new Husker animal science major when Ben and Erin’s oldest son Charlie heads to college next fall. A new generation of Heartland Docs, DVM to come.

To view an episode, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bl5npZ_-J24.

Nebraska ranchers use fire to reclaim grazing lands

On the mixed-grass prairie in Nebraska’s Loess Canyons, Scott Stout runs a 500-head cow-calf operation on the N-N Ranch with his wife, their five kids aged 9 to 21, and his father-in-law. Part of their family ranching operation includes setting fire to their pastures.

The Stouts started prescribed burns in 2008 to reclaim grazing land lost to invading trees. Rangelands south of the Platte River are some of the most tree-infested in Nebraska. The Stouts’ ranch lost nearly half of its livestock forage as eastern redcedar gobbled up grasslands.

“Cows hate cedar trees. So do the grasses they eat,” said Stout. “Fire was by far the most cost-effective way to restore our grazing lands.”

LESS GRASS AND WATER

The rapid invasion of eastern redcedar across America’s Great Plains grasslands spells bad news for producers like Stout. These drought-tolerant, fast-spreading trees replace native grasses, which means less food for livestock and less revenue for ranchers. Nebraska ranchers lost 530,000 tons of forage in 2020 to trees, according to new data produced by the science team at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service Working Lands for Wildlife.

Plus, invading trees displace wildlife and steal precious water from prairie streams and aquifers — each redcedar can consume up to 40 gallons per day. Denser trees also lead to hotter, harder-to-control wildfires that threaten property and people.

Before European settlers began suppressing fires, prairies in Nebraska used to burn every few years. These frequent fires kept trees relegated to rocky, wet places and incinerated any seedlings that might have spread onto grasslands. Fires also recharge soil nutrients and spur new plants to grow.

Stout and his neighbors decided to reinstate fire on their land to kill trees and boost range health. It worked: after the Stouts burned half of the N-N Ranch, tree cover dropped from nearly 50 percent down to 10 percent.

Burn days bring together the whole community as neighbors help each other fight encroaching redcedar trees with prescribed fire. Photo courtesy of Scott Stout

“We didn’t really notice the quality of range had degraded until we saw what we gained back,” said Stout. “The grasses are more nutritious and more abundant following a fire. It amazes me it took us so long to figure that out.”

Stout became the president of the Loess Canyons Rangeland Alliance in 2008. This landowner-led burn group has 80-plus members who share equipment, labor, and expertise. The LCRA has safely burned — and restored — 85,000 acres of grazing land.

“Neighbors helping neighbors is a huge cost savings. It’s really brought back a sense of camaraderie,” said Stout, who is now president of the Nebraska Prescribed Fire Council.

The LCRA burns 1,500-3,000 acres at a time, usually in the spring when conditions are safe. The landowner prepares his or her pastures for a burn by deferring grazing for one year and cutting as many redcedars as possible beforehand to stuff into the center of the fire as fodder for flames.

The day-long burns are community events that include grandparents and children.

“My oldest kids help light it, and the youngest are on the mop-up crew,” said Stout. “I want to pass this ranch down to our kids one day, and we want to be sure that fire is a tool that continues through the generations.”

Scott Stout and his son Hudson work together to mop up flames after a prescribed burn on their ranch. Photo courtesy Scott Stout

RESEARCH SHOWS

Science shows these burns are working to save these grasslands from the threats posed by encroaching trees. Researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln recently released the Loess Canyons Experimental Landscape Science Report, which provides evidence that fires can reverse woody encroachment, restore productive rangelands, and improve wildlife habitat. In addition, UNL and other university extension leaders in a four-state region produced a how-to guide called Reducing Woody Encroachment in Grasslands: A Guide to Understanding Risk and Vulnerability that gives landowners and resource managers step-by-step solutions to reduce the risk and vulnerability of woody encroachment.

Removing trees and restoring healthy grasslands is a top priority for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, as outlined in its framework for conservation action in the Great Plains. The NRCS Working Lands For Wildlife initiative provides technical support and cost-sharing for landowners to use prescribed fire on grasslands.

“We hope our results with fire in the Loess Canyons helps landowner groups beyond our borders,” said Stout. “Now is the time to come together as a community and save our prairies.”

If you’re interested in how NRCS can help you on your land with prescribed burning, contact us at your local USDA Service Center.

–Randall is a freelance writer based in Missoula, Mont.

UNL part of global on-farm research movement

LINCOLN, Neb. — Since its beginning in 1989, the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network has helped producers, in partnership with Nebraska Extension, analyze experiments suited to the specific conditions of their fields. This collaboration has boosted agronomic understanding, as well as producer profits. On-Farm Experimentation, or OFE, is a growing phenomenon worldwide, and a new journal article co-authored by a Nebraska Extension specialist explains that global dimension and the opportunities to better coordinate conventional agronomic research with producer-generated findings and analysis.

Laura Thompson, an extension educator with wide-ranging experience with the Nebraska On-Farm Research Network, joined contributors from Canada, Argentina, the United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Malaysia and China in writing “On-Farm Experimentation to transform global agriculture.” The article appears in the journal Nature Food.

OFE now comprises “a distinct and growing community of practice” worldwide, with more than 30,000 farms participating in more than 30 countries, the article estimates. Unlike Nebraska’s On-Farm Research Network, OFE initiatives are usually relatively recent. An international network involved in 11 OFE initiatives across the world formed to expand understanding of the approach and its momentum.

Such farm-derived data and analysis provide “an opportunity for agricultural experts to complement conventional agronomy research by working with the dynamic farm management that exists in the real world,” the article says. Through this focus on “locally appropriate knowledge,” Thompson and her co-authors write, OFE can accompany “a paradigm shift” by which producers are active contributors to deepening agronomic understanding worldwide.

SUCCESSFUL PROGRAM

Nebraska has seen the benefits from such an approach over the past three decades, Thompson said. Among the notable successes: the knowledge gained for soybean production, including seeding rates and planting times. Planting earlier helped boost yields, and use of a smaller volume of seed helped reduce costs. Another success is improved nitrogen management using precision technologies, enabling better profits and reduced environmental impact.

About 70 Nebraska producers are currently participating in the On-Farm Research Network, totaling about 100 On-Farm Experiments since multiple projects are underway at some farms.

Farmer-centric On-Farm Experimentation, the Nature Food article says, can play a major role in realizing the benefits from ag-focused digitalization.

Nebraska On-Farm Research shows how digital technologies enable precision data collection, opening up important opportunities for producers to fine-tune management within a field, Thompson said. “Farmers can conduct their research more conveniently,” she said, “and at the same time we can generate more research data and address more site-specific situations rather than managing one field as a single unit.”

Overall, OFE can strengthen global production in four ways, Thompson and her fellow contributors write. First, by providing new tools for collaborative understanding of real-world needs and practices. Second, by emphasizing flexibility, so that research practices can best address local conditions. Third, by adding value for producers. Fourth, by introducing disruption, to achieve “new ways of learning” about appropriate agricultural and innovation practice, and sharing that knowledge on a global scale.

Enabling those new ways of learning, the article says, will require building stronger connections between the agriculture community’s “theoreticians and practitioners” — scientists,farmers and other agricultural stakeholders — in a cross-fertilization of ideas and approaches. By setting that new scientific foundation, the authors say, global agriculture can advance to new heights.