GrazeNebraska: Kalkowski family committed to stewardship in Boyd County, Neb.
‘GrazeNebraska’ campaign will showcase stewardship efforts
Improving grazing management, enhancing wildlife habitat, boosting soil health with cover crops – these are among the conservation and stewardship efforts Nebraska farmers and ranchers are using every day to care for our earth’s natural resources. And, through a new campaign dubbed “GrazeNebraska,” these conservation stories are going to be showcased in a series of news articles, online video clips, and outreach programs to schools. The campaign is being spearheaded by the producer-led Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, which received grant funding for the project.
“We see a need to reach out and let the state of Nebraska know about the conservation efforts of farmers and ranchers,” said NGLC Chairman Tim Kalkowski. His family operates a ranch in Boyd County. He added, “The ecosystems across Nebraska are very unique from grain farming and feedlots in the east to the ranchlands and farm ground across the center and western portion of the state, along with the Niobrara River system in the north and the Platte River system, the Sandhills and the Ogallala Aquifer.”
Kalkowski explains that NGLC is introducing the GrazeNebraska campgain as a means to help the general public, school children, and other landowners gain a better awareness and understanding for the conservation efforts being put in place by farmers and ranchers to protect soil, water and wildlife habitat of these unique ecosystems, while also producing the crops and livestock that feed the world.
The educational campaign will include three facets:
• news articles featuring individual Nebraska farmers and ranchers will be shared with statewide media and also posted on the GrazeNebraska website,
• video interviews highlighting Nebraska farmers and ranchers sharing their conservation efforts will be posted on the GrazeNebraska website and
• informative curricula about Nebraska rangelands and conservation practices, along with links to the video interviews showcasing real Nebraska farmers and ranchers, will be shared with schools across Nebraska.
“Ultimately, GrazeNebraska is about highlighting rural life and the conservation practices being used to ensure that agriculture is sustainable for the next generation. We want people across Nebraska to know what farmers and ranchers do,” Kalkowski said.
The GrazeNebraska campaign will also highlight the voluntary technical assistance and educational programs offered by the nonprofit Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition to enhance grazing land management. The organization hosts an annual grazing tour each June, offers mentoring by experienced ranchers to other interested landowners, agency personnel or students, provides rangeland monitoring assistance to landowners, and coordinates several other educational programs throughout the year, including a “road show” each November that brings a prominent ag industry speaker to eight Nebraska communities.
For more about the GrazeNebraska campaign visit http://www.nebraskagrazinglandscoalition.com/.
In the 1950’s Larry and Kay Lynn Kalkowski were teachers by trade, but it was their purchase of pasture and farmland in Boyd County, Nebraska, — in the north central part of the state bordering South Dakota — that became the best classroom for teaching their four sons. The Kalkowski ranch was especially beneficial in teaching the lesson of stewardship of natural resources.
Today, their son Tim Kalkowski reflected on those experiences saying, “My parents were good partners. They were conservation minded and started rotational grazing in the 1970s. They were innovative in running yearlings on grass and understood rotational grazing was good for the cattle and grass. They believed in hard work, and although we didn’t live at the ranch full time, we worked there all summer.”
As a result, Tim and his brothers Jeff, Chris and John each gained their parent’s passion for being stewards of natural resources, striving to improve whatever land was under their care.
In 1991, when Larry succumbed to cancer, his family was determined to continue the conservation legacy he had initiated. Today, Tim, Jeff, Chris and John and their wives and children, along with their mother Kay Lynn Kalkowski, have grown Kalkowski Family Ranches, and it still includes the original land that Larry Kalkowski purchased in the 1950s. The ranch is managed by a foreman and while each of the Kalkowski families live and work full-time off the ranch, they are at the ranch nearly every weekend.
Their ranch entities include grazing cow-calf pairs and yearlings, as well as farmland for forage crops, including corn silage (some of which is grown with irrigation). Rotational grazing continues to be utilized as a conservation strategy benefitting the cattle and grass. Prescribed burning to regenerate the grasslands is also utilized. Through a field study supported by the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, the Kalkowskis are incorporating cover crops into their cropland, which offers a boost to soil health and extra opportunities for cattle to graze. Looking ahead, Tim said they are interested in exploring expanded permanent forages for grazing grown under irrigation.
In all they do, stewardship drives their decisions. Tim said that at the foundation of their family endeavors is a focus on conservation and consideration for soil health, water quality, wildlife and producing a good honest product. Along with that, he said that community involvement, leadership, family and generational transfer, and faith are all key to their ranching efforts. The Kalkowski Family Ranches’ mission statement is this: “Committed to high standards of ethical business and conservation of our natural resources in an environment that supports and models strong family and community values.”
For their conservation commitment, the Kalkowski family was recognized in 2010 as the Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award recipient.
For everyone involved in farming and ranching, Tim said it is important to recognize the interconnectedness of resources. “Water, soil, range, wildlife, pollinators, livestock — it’s all connected, and it’s one big cycle. We are all in this together taking care of the livestock and the land and producing the food to feed the world.”
Tim credits his father for providing him and his brothers that perspective. “Dad was a speech teacher, a great communicator and willing to teach,” he said. Today, Tim encourages farmers and ranchers to be willing to share their conservation ethic with others — recognizing the opportunities to teach and learn. He credits the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, of which he is currently chairman, for being an organization of farmers and ranchers who willingly share their own stories and experiences in a humble and honest way — on topics from grazing practices to generational transfer.
“I think we have a responsibility to help others not to be afraid to experiment (with conservation practices),” he said. “Mother Nature throws twists. Don’t be afraid to learn from others.” ❖