Soil health, cover crops and grazing annual cover crops will be among the topics at the Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference on Wednesday, March 6, 2019. The event is being held at the 4-H Building at the Gage County Fairgrounds, 1000 West Scott Street in Beatrice. Registration is open until March 4th.  You can register by calling Nebraska Extension in Saline County at (402) 821-2151, emailing lou.hajek@unl.edu or going on-line at: https://go.unl.edu/sesoilhealth2019 . For more information about the program go to: https://extension.unl.edu/statewide/nemaha/southeast-nebraska-soil-health-conference-with-grazing-emphasis-march-6-2019/. A number of sponsors, particularly cover crop seed suppliers will have displays for participants to view during breaks.

An agenda for the conference is listed below:

8:30 AM

Free Registration • Refreshments • Displays

9:00 AM – 9:45 AM

The Systems Approach for No-Till and Soil Health

Paul Jasa, UNL Extension Engineer

9:45 AM – 10:15 AM

Cover Crop/Soil Health On-Farm Research Update

Gary Lesoing, UNL Extension Educator

10:15 AM – 10:30 AM

Free Registration • Refreshments • Displays

10:30 AM – 11:00 AM

• Insect Pest Considerations with Cover Crops

Justin McMechan, UNL Crops Specialist

11:00 AM – 12:00 Noon

• How I Increased Profitability on My Farm and Increased Soil Health

Keith Thompson, Farmer and Cattleman – Osage City, KS

12:00 NOON

Sponsor Update • Free Lunch

1:15 PM – 1:45 PM

• Cover Crops and Cattle Grazing Research Update

Mary Drewnoski, UNL Beef Systems Specialist

1:45 PM – 2:15 PM

• How Soil Health is Influencing Soil Testing

Lance Gunderson, Expertise is Soil Microbial Ecology – Ward Laboratories

2:15 PM – 3:30 PM

All Star Soil Health Panel Discussion – Our Top Tips

Includes Program Speakers plus Rod Christen, Farmer – Tecumseh; and

Jody Saathoff, Farmer – Minden, and CHS Agri Service Center

Seed Company and Agribusiness Displays On Site

Southeast Nebraska Corn Growers Membership Drive

Paul Jasa at Field Day

Paul Jasa, Nebraska Extension Engineer, will begin the day discussing “The Systems Approach for No-till and Soil Health”. Paul has been conducting no-till research on the Rogers Memorial Conservation Farm east of Lincoln for almost 40 years. For the past 10 years or more he has also included cover crops as a component of the cropping systems he is evaluating on the farm.  Paul will discuss the results of this research.

Soil Health Demonstration sign

Gary Lesoing, Extension Educator and Nebraska State SARE Coordinator will follow with a report about results from on-farm research from 2018, including research from an NRCS Soil Health Demonstration Field near Auburn on Daryl Obermeyer’s Farm, Soybean Board member from Nemaha County.  He will also discuss on-farm research about relative maturity yields of corn and soybeans and how that relates to use of cover crops in cropping systems and nitrogen fertilization of corn planted green into cereal rye.

planting relative different relative maturity corn hybrids.

Laura Thompson helps change corn hybrids in relative maturity corn study in Richardson County in 2018.

planting green into cereal rye Rodney Wiese

Conducted a small plot on-farm research study where corn was planted green into cereal rye and we added different rates of N as a side-dress to evaluate any yield impacts.

Following a break, Justin McMechan, Extension Cropping Specialist at UNL will discuss insect considerations when using cover crops in various cropping systems.

wheat stem maggot

A couple of years ago there were producers that had issues with wheat stem maggot in corn following cover crops of cereal grains; i.e. rye, triticale or wheat.

Our keynote speaker for the day is Keith Thompson of Osage City, Kansas. Thompson farms with his son, Ben, and brother, Doug, whose farm has been in a continuous no-till system since 1991. The system has evolved to include growing more species of cash crops, plus adding cover crops and livestock to benefit the environment and society in the way it mimics Mother Nature. The Thompsons believe in no-till’s environmentally friendly practices and the practice has improved profitability on their farm in soils that have very low water holding capacity. Keith is a board member of No-Till on the Plains.

cows grazing cereal rye at Rodney Wiese's

Following Keith Thompson’s keynote address and lunch, Mary Drewnoski, Extension Beef Systems Specialist will provide an update of cover crops and cattle grazing research.

soil testing #1

Lance Gunderson, Manager of the Soil Health Division of Ward Laboratories will discuss how soil health is influencing soil testing.  The photo above shows water infiltration rates being measured on a SARE Cover Crop On-Farm Research Project where soil measurements were recorded and compared on plots where cover crops were grown, where cover crops were grown and then grazed and where no cover crops were grown the past three years.

Tour at Rod Christen's

The day will end with a panel of all of the previous presenters at the conference plus Rod Christen, a cow/calf producer from Pawnee County that continuously grows and grazes cover crops throughout the year.  He is evaluating the impact this has on soil health. This is an unproductive parcel of land for row crop production, but is being utilized positively with the cattle grazing it several times annually.  Some of the cover crops even over seed themselves. Jody Saathoff, a crop advisor from Minden will also be on the panel. He has been working with farmers for the last 10 years or more utilizing cover crops in crop/livestock systems. The panel members will provide the 5 most important take home messages they have when it comes to cover crops and soil health.

It should be an excellent conference for people interested in cover crops, soil health, and integrated crop and livestock systems. To register call (402) 821-2151, email lou.hajek@unl.edu or go on-line at: https://go.unl.edu/sesoilhealth2019 . Register by March 4th to reserve a meal.




SARE Sponsored Sustainable Ag Tour Scheduled for August 6th

A SARE sponsored sustainable ag tour on August 6th will be in eastern Nebraska around the Omaha Metro Area. The cost of the tour is $25.00 per person and includes bus transportation, water and sodas throughout the day on the bus and lunch.

New Earth Farm and Goods

Our first stop is at New Earth Farm & Goods, the farm of Jonathan & Catherine Dodd near Papillion. They are a growing woody polyculture and diverse farm, establishing a model of permanent and sustainable agriculture that works for the benefit of the land and people. They hope that their small farm will create big impact and give vision for what is possible and profitable through sustainable design. Their farm is about hospitality, community, and production.

Meristem Farm

The second stop on our tour is Meristem Farm & Nursery, owned and operated by Tom Lundahl and Shami Lucena Morse, near Papillion. It is a certified organic farm and nursery located on a 100-year-old farmstead at the south edge of metropolitan Omaha, near Papio Creek. Meristem Farm specializes in organic production of aronia berries, propagate native plants to sell at their nursery and also sell products at different farmers markets.

Vegetable Trials at Cooper Farm

We will then travel to the Cooper Farm located in north Omaha. John Porter, Urban Ag Specialist with Nebraska Extension in Douglas-Sarpy County conducts AAS Crop Trials there and has a Refugee Gardening Program thethat y are doing with Omaha Home for Boys at the farm as well. Lunch will be catered from No More Empty Pots and served here. A representative from No More Empty Pots will tell about their program that helps get businesses started in the local food industry in Omaha.


We will then travel to Fort Calhoun and the surrounding area. We will visit Cure Cooking owned and operated by Chad Lebo. This butcher shop uses meat from animals grown locally, including the finest quality local meats: heritage breed pork, free-range chickens and Wagyu beef. Chad also conducts cooking classes.

Little Mountain Ranch

We will then visit Little Mountain Ranch & Garden, the farm of Bill Alward & Family. This is a small family farm nestled in the bluffs above the Missouri River in Fort Calhoun, Nebraska. They specialize in pasture and forest pork, grassfed beef & lamb, pastured poultry, market vegetables, and log grown culinary mushrooms. To bring you chemical free, all natural products they employ beyond organic practices and believe their role as stewards of the land is to regenerate not degenerate.

Barreras Farm

Our final stop of the day will be at the Barreras Family Farm recently relocated to their new farm near Blair. The Barreras raise several types of livestock and also provide education programs through several venues.

An air-conditioned coach bus will leave Super Walmart at 3400 N 85th St. in Lincoln, NE at 7:30 a.m. and travel to the Walmart near Gretna at 11350 Wickersham Blvd where we will have a second pickup site for tour participants from the Omaha area, departing at 8:15 a.m. We hope to return to Lincoln at about 7:00 p.m.

For more information or to register for the tour contact Gary Lesoing at (402) 274-4755 or at glesoing2@unl.edu or gary.lesoing@unl.edu . You can still register for the tour tomorrow as long as seats are available on the bus.


Farm Beginnings® Program Scheduled to Begin January 19th

Farm Beginnings

Registration is now open for the Farm Beginnings Course, a hands-on interactive course for farm business development and management that pairs the expertise of educators from Nebraska Extension and Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture with experience, knowledge, and insight from successful local farmers. The course includes classroom learning, field tours, and opportunities for mentorship. Participants may register for the course as a non-credit extension program or as a 4 credit hour course offered through NCTA.

Course sessions will include: farm business planning, holistic management, marketing, enterprise analysis, and more. The course also includes registration for the 2019 Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society Healthy Farms Conference. This course is open to all producers – fruit/vegetable/specialty crop, commodity/grain, and livestock in both urban and rural areas. This course qualifies as a farm business educational experience (for the state of Nebraska) that may be required for certain USDA federal farm loan programs and other agricultural lenders.

Location Nebraska Extension Douglas-Sarpy County office in Omaha.
Two to three sessions will include tours and field experiences in surrounding counties.
Learning Facilitators

Gary Lesoing
SARE State Coordinator
Extension Educator

John Porter
Urban Agriculture Program Coordinator
Extension Educator/ Assistant Professor (NCTA)

Dates & Times Saturdays: January 19 – May 4
9am- Noon (tours/field experiences may be longer)
Cost Extension Program Course fee: $500
Flexible Payment Plan and Scholarships Available

-OR- NCTA Course Tuition: $526
Financial Assistance may be available

Light meals/refreshments included

To register as an extension program: https://www.regonline.com/farmbeginnings
To register as an NCTA Course (AGR 2714): ncta.unl.edu (contact John Porter for questions/directions)


Farm Beginnings – Farm Tour Scheduled for Saturday, June 30th, open to others!

Ralph Tate talks to group about developing these pastures through mob grazing the past few years.

If people are interested in visiting a couple of organic/sustainable farms, we have a tour scheduled for Saturday, June 30th. I have a 15 passenger van rented. We will leave from the southeast corner of the parking lot of the Southeast Lincoln WalMart which is located east of 84th & Nebraska Highway 2 at 7:30 am. We will travel to Ralph Tate’s grass farm near Fairbury, NE and should get there at 9:15 or so. We will look at the pastures, cattle and some cover crops in the pasture. We will leave there around 11:00-11:30. We will stop at Mc Donald’s in Fairbury or you can bring your lunch. We will then travel to Dave Welsch’s Farm south of Milford. He doesn’t have any chickens now, but we will see his chicken coops, equipment, pastures, cattle and organically grown crops. We will probably return to the WalMart parking lot at 3:30 or so.

Cattle West Blue Farm #1
Deb Welsch lifts up fence to move cow herd at West Blue Farm. Cattle are rotationally grazed (mob) grazed through pastures at the farm.
Cattle in Feedlot West Blue Farm
These cattle were in the feedlot at West Blue Farm. They were direct marketed to customers when they were ready for slaughter.


Please let me know if you will participate. If you are interested it will cost you $10 and you must find your own transportation to the van, which will leave from the southeast corner of the parking lot of WalMart near 84th and Highway 2 in Lincoln at 7:30 a.m. , Saturday, June 30th. Please contact me by Friday morning, June 29th, as space is limited and it is first come first serve.  You can email me at glesoing2@unl.edu or call (402) 274-4755. Hope to see you Saturday!




“The National Good Food Network Conference” by Audra Woita, Project Leader With No More Empty Pots.

As part of the SARE Sustainable Ag Webinar series, a webinar will be presented by Audrey Woita, Project Leader with No More Empty Pots. Audrey received a SARE Travel Scholarship to participate in the National Good Food Network Conference which was held in Albuquerque, NM from March 27 – 30, 2018. The National Good Food Network Conference focuses on the success of food hubs. Audrey will give a presentation on her experience at this conference and discuss “No More Empty Pots” and her job with this organization. The webinar is scheduled for June 19th at 10:00 a.m. The link to this webinar is: https://unl.zoom.us/j/477929756 .

National Good Food Network banner image:
                photos of cows, organic produce, apples, semi truck,
                grocery bag

Below are descriptions from Audrey of the National Good Food Network Conference, No More Empty Pots and her job there. We hope you can join us for this webinar that will focus on the success of food hubs.

The National Good Food Network (NGFN) was established by the Wallace Center a decade ago to bring all members of the value chain together to take healthy, fair, affordable and environmentally “green” food to scale, touching more lives in a positive way. In the last several years much of our effort has been supporting those businesses “in the middle” – food hubs – that connect the supply to the demand while maintaining a strong core of positive social and environmental values.

This conference is the only conference in the US with a central focus on the success of food hubs. There were 500 food hub managers, staff and supporters of all types invited to dig deep into the nuts and bolts of running hubs, financing, technology, and enhancing their triple bottom line impacts.  In 2018, on top of the deep dive into food hubs, the conference focus was expanded to address a broader set of partnering businesses and organizations that fill out the value chain and create true vitality in regional food systems.

So, that begs the question: What is a food hub?

A regional food hub is a business or organization that actively manages the aggregation, distribution, and marketing of source-identified food products primarily from local and regional producers to strengthen their ability to satisfy wholesale, retail, and institutional demand.

Red Tomato created this informative video on what a food hub does. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKsYoxyclUg&feature=youtu.be

About No More Empty Pots:  

No More Empty Pots (NMEP) is a grassroots non-profit corporation that connects individuals and groups to improve self-sufficiency, regional food security and economic resilience of urban and rural communities through advocacy and action. Our vision is to support communities in becoming self-sufficient and food secure through collaboration and adherence to our values of Education, Stewardship, and Sustainability.


Specifically, my role at No More Empty Pots is to manage a Cisco IT grant.  It was awarded to our organization to teach kids about the Internet of Things.  Our audience are learners ages 12-24 in North Omaha.  In addition to teaching them about the Internet of Things, we’re weaving in an introduction to innovation, problem solving, food systems and local food economies.  





“Farmer Training of New and Immigrant and Refugee Farmers”. by Matt Pirog, Growing Farmers Program Manager at Community Crops

As part of the SARE Sustainable Agriculture Webinar Series, we have scheduled the webinar “Farmer Training of New and Immigrant and Refugee Farmers” for Thursday, June 7th at 10:00 a.m.  Matt Pirog, Growing Farmers Program Manager at Community Crops will present the webinar.  The link to the webinar is https://unl.zoom.us/j/905209750 .

A description of the webinar and a bio of Matt are listed below. The webinar will be recorded and be made available following the live presentation if you are unavailable to participate in it.

Proving training and technical assistance (TA) to immigrant and refugee farmers requires a different approach than traditional print and lecture-heavy methods common in the United States. To effectively provide assistance to groups of new Americans, it is important for trainers to tailor instruction to their needs. This means more picture-based and interactive learning activities. These methods are not just effective for teaching new Americans but for all adult learners. In November 2017, Matt attended a training with the national Incubator Farm Training Initiative to understand more about adult learning and effectively teaching new Americans. During this webinar Matt will share his experiences from that training and how Community Crops is applying this information in our own farm training program.

Matt Pirog is the Growing Farmers Program Manager at Community Crops, a non-profit in Lincoln, NE managing 9 community gardens, a youth education program, and a 6-acre incubator farm. At Community Crops, Matt is responsible for seeking out and facilitating learning opportunities for beginning farmers in Nebraska using lectures, farm tours, and hands-on workshops at the Prairie Pines training farm. He has an educational background in accounting and biological systems engineering, which drives his pursuit of small-scale, soil-regenerative farming models that are financially sustainable.

Growing Farmer Training By Community Crops Provides Opportunities for adults, both Americans and Immigrants to Learn about Farming.




Farm Beginnings® tours Paradise in Progress Farm near Nebraska City

Tour Ellen & Jim Shank 2018
Ellen Shank discusses with the Farm Beginnings® class their diverse farm located along Highway 75 north of Nebraska City. Ellen and Jim Shank produce, vegetables, fruit, eggs, chicken and lamb on Paradise in Progress Farm.


High Tunnel 2018 Shanks
The Shanks have two high tunnels, one was purchased with the assistance of the NRCS EQIP High Tunnel Cost-Share Program. Tomatoes are the primary crop grown in the high tunnels, along with some of the cool-season cole crops and different types of lettuce. According to Ellen, the tomatoes do much better in the high tunnels than out in the field.
Shanks black plastic and potatoes
The Shanks utilize black plastic outside in their vegetable operation.  They laid the plastic down and then planted the potatoes.  They have a plastic irrigation line under the plastic.  The black plastic helps warm up the soil faster in the spring so the crops can take off and grow. It is also good in eliminating weed problems. Ellen says this is an excellent method for raising potatoes.
Squash & Onions under plastic
Ellen and Jim planted a few of rows of onion sets into the plastic and started to plant some squash in rows of the black plastic as well.
plastic bed maker
Jim Shank stands next to the bed maker that is used on their farm.  It lays down a bed of plastic and then different crops are planted into it. It makes life easier on their farm.
Cattle Panels for Cantelope
While the Shanks purchase equipment that will improve their efficiency on the farm, they also use many innovative techniques that save time and reduce labor. These cattle panels are used as a trellis.  At the base of the trellis on the right side are green snap peas that will grow up on the trellis where they will be able to easily pick them. With the cold temperatures this year, they are way behind schedule. On the left side they will plant cantaloupe when the soil warms up.  They plant a popular small sized cantaloupe that will climb up the trellis. They mulch the soil inside the trellis with grass clippings as a mulch. When the cantaloupes are ripe they will fall off on the clippings, ready to harvest. This way they do not have to clean soil off of them, saving both labor and time.

Peppers in the bucket #2Peppers in the bucket #1

Notice the rows of buckets sitting on top of the black plastic in first photo above. The second photo shows peppers growing in the black plastic in the bottom of the buckets that have holes cut in them.  This is to protect the young pepper plants from the strong Nebraska winds.  As you may recall we have had some pretty strong winds in recent days. These would have probably broken off the young pepper plants.

High Tunnel #2
The Shanks other high tunnel has a lot of cool-season varieties of lettuce and quite a few tomatoes as well.
Cucumbers #1
The Shanks plant a lot of cucumbers under black plastic as well.  They will also plant watermelon when the soil warms up a little bit.
Paradise in Progress Farm also has a row of blackberry plants that are very productive and provide another product for sale from their farm.


vegetable washer #2Vegetable washer #1

The Shanks have made significant upgrades in their operation in recent years. The development of this packing shed has really improved the efficiency of their farm. In the last couple of years they have purchased this vegetable washer shown in the two photos above. This really has increased the speed in which they can wash and pack vegetables for the farmers’ markets.

hand washerstainless steel table

The packing shed is also equipped with a wand washer, sink and stainless steel table shown in the photos above.

germination lights #1
Jim shows the group the room that this spring served as a growing room as they have germination lighting and shelves to set the flats of seed on. later this spring and summer the room will double as a cooler as the Shanks will store their produce inside waiting to take it to a farmer’s market or sell off their farm.


Packing Room
This photo shows each part of the packing shed.  Jim is explaining the vegetable washer, the sink and stainless steel table are behind him and the cooler that doubles as a germination room is at the center of the photo.


Sheep #1
The Shanks have an animal component to their operation as well. They have a flock of baby doll sheep and sell some of these each year.


laying hens
Laying hens are also included on Paradise in Progress Farm. Eggs are a part of the many different products the Shanks sell from their farm.


baby doll sheep
Broilers or meat birds are raised on the farm and the Shanks sell chick to interested customers. The photo above shows the broilers kept in by electrified fence.  This type of fence is also used for the sheep.


You have just completed a short tour of Ellen and Jim Shank’s Paradise in Progress Farm, I hope you enjoyed it. They are also on Facebook “Paradise in Progress Farm”. While they have marketed some of their products at the farm in previous years, this year they are going to do a more extensive marketing of farm produce and products at their farm as they are developing a small farm store. They will still go to a couple of farmers markets, but are located in a good location, just off of Highway 75, just north of Nebraska City in northern Otoe County. If you get a chance stop by their farm, it is a nice place to visit and I am sure they will have something for you soon to take home and eat!

Farm Beginnings® will Focus on Food Safety and (FSMA) Food Safety Modernization Act and Farm Leases tomorrow April 7th.

Food Safety is a major issue that is being addressed today, especially in the area of local food production. FSMA, the Food Safety Modernization Act is being implemented and trainings are being conducted across the United States.  Connie Fisk, former Extension Educator with Nebraska Extension now is with the Produce Safety Alliance with Cornell University as the Northwest Regional Extension Associate, conducting training in Food Safety. She will be presenting at Farm Beginnings®

If you are interested in learning more about FSMA and Food Safety Regulations that may impact you if you are selling local food, feel free to attend our class tomorrow at 10:00 a.m. at the Douglas County Extension office at 8015 West Center Rd.  Cost of the class is $25 a person and includes lunch.  No pre-registration is required.  Following Connie Fisk’s presentation, Amy Swoboda, an attorney with Legal Aid of Nebraska will discuss Farm Leases and other legal issues.  The program will conclude at about 2:00 p.m.

Dave Welsch of West Blue Farm will talk about growing organic crops and direct marketing chicken and beef while Rex Nelson, Extension Educator discusses Enterprise Budgeting at Farm Beginnings® this Saturday in Douglas County.

If you are interested in learning about developing cash flows and budgets for your farming enterprises, come to the Farm Beginnings® class at the Douglas County Extension Office at 8015 West Center Road at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, March 24th. Dave and Deb Welsch have raised several hundred broiler chickens each summer for several years and have direct marketed them to people in southeast Nebraska. Dave and Deb have also direct marketed beef from their farm for several years. Dave will discuss the financial records he keeps with these operations.

chickens West Blue
Broilers growing in Dave and Deb Welsch’s chicken house on West Blue Farm near Milford, NE
Cattle West Blue Farm
Deb Welsch moves the cowherd into another pasture on their farm.
Cattle in Feedlot West Blue Farm
These calves are being fattened up and will be direct marketed when they have finished well. 
Boer Goat herd at Liz's
Rex Nelson will also discuss Enterprises Budgets from different enterprises, such as growing and selling meat goats. 

If you are interested in attending the class this week, you can just show up at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 24th at the Douglas County Extension at 8015 West Center Road in Omaha.  Cost for this program is $25 per person payable at the door with a check or cash. The class will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., lunch included.  If you have questions contact John Porter at (402) 444-7804.

“A Visit to Slow Food Nation”

A webinar is scheduled for Friday, March 16th at 10:00 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. as part of the Nebraska SARE Webinar Series.  The webinar title is, “A Visit to Slow Foods Nation, Denver 2017”. This past summer Jerry and Renee Cornett of Prairie Plate Restaurant near Waverly, NE received a SARE Travel Scholarship to participate in this event. This event focuses on a number of food issues and there are several opportunities to participate in different discussions and programs. More than 10,000 chefs, policymakers, farmers and food lovers from all over the world will be talking about food justice, sustainability and management.  There was discussion over agricultural issues and all kinds of food were there as well.  Jerry and Renee will talk about their experience at this event during the webinar.  The link to the webinar is:  https://unl.zoom.us/j/193166489 .  This webinar will be recorded if you are unable to participate at this time.  If you have questions, contact me at (402) 274-4755.


Jerry and Renee Cornett grow vegetables organically and serve them in their restaurant “Prairie Plate” .


Jerry and Renee open their farm and restaurant up to visitors and tours explaining their philosophy about food.


Jerry Cornett explains their farm to Extension Educators from Nebraska Extension in the summer of 2017. Watch the webinar today as Jerry and Renee explain their visit to Slow Food Nation at   https://unl.zoom.us/j/193166489.