Emeritus UNL Extension educator continues to champion stewardship on the land
After 35 years with the University of Nebraska Extension Service, Paul Swanson retired in 2002. But today, 16 years later, Swanson’s involvement in agriculture and devotion to conservation and stewardship is still going strong.
Swanson and his wife, Mary Jo, who reside near Hastings, Neb., purchased 160 acres near Minden early in their marriage. After a rewarding career engaging with farmers and ranchers through Extension (primarily in Adams County), the Swanson’s have made farming their second career. Their land was certified organic in 2008, and they’ve focused on growing organic popcorn, which is sold via contract to a Grand Island-based company.
In his farming activities today, Swanson is committed to enhancing soil health. He notes that organic production requires crop rotation since chemicals and synthetic fertilizers cannot be used. To accommodate this, he utilizes cover crops to increase soil organic matter and carbon. Annually, about half of his acres are planted to cover crops. Swanson has used various mixtures of sweet clover, mammoth clover, turnips, radishes, rye, vetch, buckwheat and sterile sorghum. The following year, Swanson rotates and plants popcorn where the cover crop was and vice versa. Looking ahead, he is considering trying organic no-till production to further enhance soil health in the future.
In addition to his cropping venture, Swanson remains active in agricultural circles as well. His affiliations include roles as a board member for the Center for Rural Affairs, certification as a holistic management educator, and a board member for the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, an organization he has been involved with since the late 1990s. Swanson, whose background was in animal science and reproductive physiology, notes that he continues to be involved in groups committed to ecology and natural resources. “Progressive grazing systems and biological farming systems are leading the efforts toward responsible stewardship and enhanced soil for future generations,” he said. “This represents what is now called regenerative agriculture.”
Learn more about the conservation efforts of other landowners across Nebraska at http://www.nebraskagrazinglands.org. ❖