Farm Beginnings® scheduled in Nebraska for 2017.

Nebraska Extension is planning its 9th Farm Beginnings® Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Kimmel Education and Research at 5985 G Rd, Nebraska City, NE 68410 in January, 2017. Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society are facilitating the Farm Beginnings® Program to be held in Nebraska City. The Farm Beginnings® Program is an educational training and support program designed to help people who want to evaluate and plan their farm enterprise.  Farm Beginnings® participants engage in a mentorship experience and network with a variety of successful, innovative farmers; attend practical, high quality seminars, field days and conferences.  The program is unique in that several successful farmers participate in the program as presenters, explaining firsthand the nuts and bolts of their farming operation.  While this isn’t a program for someone wanting to get into conventional farming, it is a program that has attracted several people interested in farming on a smaller scale, some who have migrated out from urban to rural areas.  One past participant in the class said, “This program had a huge impact.  I have improved my business plan, my overall efficiency and continue to try new ideas I thought to not be possible.”  Any beginning farmer would benefit from attending these training sessions.  Most of the farmers that present come from small to medium sized farming operations that produce and market many different diversified and value-added products.  Many of these farmers direct market their products.

Participants of this course may be interested in becoming involved with growing alternative crops, producing fruits and vegetables for direct sale to consumers, grocery stores or restaurants.  Others may be interested in growing livestock for direct marketing.  This is an opportunity for people interested in learning about this type of farming from farmers that are doing it and making a living at it.

The Farm Beginnings® Program consists of a series of 11 sessions from January through April that cover a variety of topics including: building networks, goal setting, whole farm planning, building your business plan, marketing, business and farm management and financial management.  While the class participants will learn firsthand from the farmers, they will also work on developing their own business plan as they progress through the course.  As part of the class tuition, participants will also have the opportunity to attend the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society’s Healthy Farms Conference held during the winter in 2017. This is a conference that has been held annually for a number of years and has sessions that focus on topics in sustainable agriculture, such as: vegetable production, grass-fed beef, pasture poultry, meat and dairy goat production, composting, cover crops, organic farming, growing crops in high-tunnels, bee keeping, farm transitioning and agri-tourism.  We also schedule a farm tour early in the course and tour several farms in the summer to see how the farmers are operating.  If interested, participants also have the opportunity to have a farmer mentor.

Cost of the total program is $500, but you may qualify for a partial scholarship of up to $200. For a brochure and an application for the Farm Beginnings® Program go to Contact Gary Lesoing, Extension Educator at or at (402) 274-4755, Nebraska Extension in Nemaha County to learn more about the program or if you have questions.


One of the presenters in the class is Ralph Tate.  Ralph took the first Farm Beginnings® in 2005-2006. He has since become a certified Holistic Management instructor and practices mob grazing on his farm.  He teaches participants about Holistic Management principles and also financial management in class.  In the summer we visit Ralph’s farm and rotational grazing system near Fairbury, NE.  Here is a photo of Ralph explaining his pasture management system.


Another presenter at our class is Dave Welsch. He is an organic farmer from Milford, NE.  He and his wife Deb direct market beef and also several hundred broilers every summer. We usually tour Dave and Deb Welsch’s West Blue Farm each summer.  Here we are viewing their cattle herd in their rotational grazing system.  Dave is an excellent teacher and also discusses farm finances and cash flows in the class.  Deb Welsch has served as a mentor for several women that are involved in sustainable agriculture.


A couple of other farmers that present in our class are Travis Dunekacke and Paul Rohrbaugh, both from southeast Nebraska. The photo above shows Travis on the left and Paul speaking to a group as we tour his farm near Steinauer, NE. Paul was instrumental in getting the Farm Beginnings® program started in Nebraska.  He served as co-facilitator with me for the first couple of classes we had here in Nebraska.  Paul raises naturally produced grass-fed beef and also pasture poultry.  The name of his company is Pawnee Pride Meats.  Travis Dunekacke produces heritage swine on his farm near Elk Creek, NE. He sells most of his swine directly to several restaurants in Lincoln and Omaha and other places in southeast Nebraska.  He works very closely with developing relationships with several chefs in the area. Both Paul and Travis discuss marketing to the class.


A photo of Travis Dunekacke’s swine operation (T D Niche Pork) .  These hogs are being raised to be sold to one of several local chefs that will serve this pork in their local restaurants in Nebraska. Berkshires are the primary breed Travis raises, although he does raise some Red Wattles when a chef requests them.


A farm we usually tour in the summer and also have them speak to us as part of the class room portion of the Farm Beginnings® course, is Common Good Farm.  Either Ruth Chantry or Evrett Lundquist will come and speak to the class about their organic and biodynamic farming operation near Raymond, NE. The photo above was taken when we toured their farm with the class.  As you can see Common Good Farm raises a variety of vegetable crops on their farm and also produces and sells, eggs, beef, pork and honey as part of their operation.  Common Good Farm explains all the important details involved in planning on their farm.  They have also had interns work on their farm over the years.


Our class has toured Bluff Valley Farm near Rulo, NE near the Missouri River.  Ken and Mary Grace Thiltges and their family produce and market naturally produced meat on their farm.  Pastured poultry and lamb are two of their more well known products.  The photo above shows Ken, with the brown hat on, explaining their operation and showing some pastured turkeys that they are producing for Thanksgiving.


This photo is of Ken, with the brown hat and Mary Grace, just to his right, showing the tour their flock of sheep.  They have marketed some of their lamb through the Good Fresh Local Program to the University of Nebraska where it is used in a couple of the cafeterias on campus. The Thiltges have also sold their products at farmers markets, from their own on-farm store  and through the Nebraska Food Coop.


This is a photo of the flock of Rhode Island Red chickens that Daniel Hromas had when he started his egg laying operation, renting an acreage near York. Dan graduated from the Farm Beginnings® class a few years ago after returning from serving in Iraq.  Dan is a disabled veteran and has worked with the Veteran’s Coalition when he started his farm. He has since been able to buy a farm on the edge of Grand Island where he moved his operation. Dan has served as a spokes person for the Veteran’s Coalition. Dan will be featured in this blog of local food producers in the near future. He is just one of several Farm Beginning graduates® that are producing local food for consumers at some level. To find out more about this program contact me at or (402) 274-4755.


Survey of Local Food Producer Blogs

Last April I initiated a blog about Local Food Producers in our area as part of my i-Three Corps project.  The purpose of this project was to bring awareness to local food and producers, particularly beginning farmers.  The goal is to help increase sales for these farmers and ultimately increase their profitability. I do know other Extension Educators in other states have been writing blogs about local food producers and it has been very successful.

Below are some survey questions regarding this blog.  I would welcome and appreciate comments about the blog.  My plan is to continue on with this blog.  I have just barely scratched the surface of beginning local food producers in our area, let alone the established producers.

Do you think a blog like this, highlighting local food producers is beneficial for the local food scene?

Is it beneficial for the local food producers?

Will it increase awareness of local food?

Did anyone tell you they saw this blog?

Do you think I should continue with this blog telling others about local food producers and other programs and activities related to the local food system?

Thank you for your comments!

Farm2Fork Ranch – Greg and Stephanie Pankau Family



In this blog post I am interviewing Greg and Stephanie Pankau  of Farm2Fork Ranch. Greg and Stephanie live on the edge of Rockport, MO with their three children; Emma, a 10th grader, Trulin, who is in the 6th grade and Lilly a 4th grader.  They took the Farm Beginnings® class several years ago and have continued to raise several types of poultry and livestock and be involved in a number of diversified enterprises with the farm. It is important for them to know where their food comes from and at the same time provide their children an opportunity to learn and gain responsibility, as they are very much involved in the farm.  Greg and Stephanie and their family produce food naturally on their farm in northwest Missouri. Follow along with this photo blog as we tour the farm.


Poultry is an integral part of the Farm2Fork Ranch operation.  They have raised several breeds of turkeys, including Red Burbons, Blue Slate, Broad Breasted and Whites.  They process some for meat, but also collect and sell eggs from the hens, which bring a higher price and are good for baking.


Farm2Fork Ranch uses Rhode Island Reds and Koo Koo Marans for their laying flock.  Chicken eggs are another product they sell to their customers. This provides a good way for their children to get involved on the farm by taking care of the chickens and collecting eggs.


Farm2Fork Ranch utilizes a small chicken tractor for their modest broiler operation. They will harvest and process chickens each summer to sell on the farm as well. The Pankaus also have  Muscovy ducks. These ducks provide excellent jumbo sized eggs, can be used for meat,and are excellent for controlling pests, such as mosquitoes and grasshoppers.


Farm2Fork Ranch has a number of animals on their acreage on the edge of Rockport. In this photo Trulin is watering the animals.  In this pen are a few goats, a couple of calves and a pot belly pig.


The Pankaus also have pygmy goats on their farm among all the different types of animals.


The Pankaus rent a pasture and some buildings on the other side of Rockport where many of their animals are kept.  The pasture is primarily made up of cool-season grasses, but there is a mix of several other type plants as well.


This photo shows a mix of primarily white clover, but also red clover that is scattered throughout the pasture.  These legumes add a higher protein forage for the livestock as they graze the pasture.


Cattle panels are used to keep livestock in on some of the rugged areas of the pasture.


This photo illustrates how steep some of the pasture is.  Sheep and goats like to browse on the trees, brush and weeds, while cattle usually prefer grass.


Trulin and Lilly herding their sheep.  They have katahdin/dorper crossbred sheep.  These are hair sheep bred for meat.  The dorper is a Dorsett/ Blackhead Persian sheep crossbred developed in South Africa.  These sheep are raised on pasture during the grazing season and receive hay in the winter.  Lamb is another meat that is processed and sold to Farm2 Fork customers off the farm.


Emma brings up one of the Pankau’s cows from their breeding herd. They have a mixed herd of several breeds.  This cow is a high percentage of the Devon breed. Devons do well as grass-fed beef.  Calves from the herd have been raised up, butchered and sold to several customers of Farm2Fork Ranch over the years.


Farm2Fork Ranch originated with Longhorn cattle and still have longhorns, but have Longhorn/Piedmontees cross cattle in their herd. The Piedmontees cattle originated out of the Piedmontee area of Italy.



 This is a photo of a (Texmontese) Longhorn/Piedmontese cross cow in the Pankau’s herd.


As Greg mentioned in his interview, pot belly pigs are an integral part of their farming enterprise.  They have farrowed several litters of pot belly pigs and have sold many just as pets to people that live in the city.  This has been a very lucrative business for Farm2Fork Ranch.  Also Greg explained that the pigs are effective in keeping predators away from their chickens. At activities the Pankaus have participated in with their animals, the pot belly pigs have been a big hit.


Bees have also been an excellent enterprise at the Farm2Fork Ranch. Besides selling honey that they collect during different seasons of the year, the Pankaus infuse various flavors into the honey and market this product.  I can say from experience that these different flavors of honey are excellent and honey is a natural food that has been shown to have several health benefits.


Farm2Fork Ranch has been involved with a number of activities over the years where they bring some of their animals to conferences, festivals or different events for youth and people living in urban areas. Petting zoos have been a very popular activity for them.  Sometimes they have even invited groups out to their farm to see the animals.  They are incorporating this agri-tourism type enterprise along with the enterprise of raising animals and their products  for food and marketing it to the community.


These sheep from Farm2Fork Ranch’s flock are content in their pasture as they have plenty of forage to eat and also shade during the hot days of summer. They are also well taken care of by the Pankau family. I want to thank Greg and Stephanie for letting me visit their farm and I wish them luck in their various farming enterprises in the future and in producing good, fresh local food for their community.


The Nebraska SARE Program and Nebraska Extension are sponsoring a tour on August 4th  that focuses on local food production, sustainability and value-added ag enterprises. This tour will be an opportunity to learn more about local food production, sustainability and entrepreneurship in Nebraska.  On this tour, you will have the opportunity to visit five entrepreneurial enterprises where you will see very diverse operations. The tour will depart from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln East Campus in an air conditioned coach bus at 7:30 a.m. on August 4th.  Anyone is welcome to participate in this tour.

Our first stop on the tour is Kimmel Orchard & the Kimmel Education and Research Center in Nebraska City. To learn more about these places go to: and

Kimmel Orchard

Our second stop of the tour will be Garden of Ellen’s, just a short distance north of Kimmel Orchard off of Highway 75. Ellen Shank and her husband Jim have both retired from long careers and undertook a second career of raising and marketing produce from high tunnels and the garden on their farm in 2011.  The Shanks market at area farmers markets and from their farm.

Union Orchard UNL

We will then travel to Union Orchard. Union Orchard formerly was owned and operated by the University of Nebraska.  There we will see how the Wostrel Family and orchard manager Vaughn Hammond are developing the orchard and transforming it into a destination for families to come and visit year round.  Union Orchard has planted new crops and several acres of fruit trees, especially apple trees.  Some of the crops they are growing include asparagus, rhubarb, strawberries, apples, grapes and pumpkins.  They also have a corn maze for the fall harvest season.  Some of these crops are sold as a U-Pick business, while other produce is picked and sold fresh or made into a value-added products, like pies, donuts, jams and jellies or even wine.  We plan on eating lunch at the orchard, although the menu has not been determined at this time.  You can find out more about Union Orchard on my blog; or on their website:


Following our time at Union Orchard, we will go up Highway 75 a few miles to Plattsmouth and visit Nebraska Hop Yards. This is Nebraska’s newest value added ag enterprise, owned by Annette and Bruce Wiles that has caught a lot of interest from people.  There we will learn about how this enterprise came about, how it was developed  and what the plans are for it. Here are a couple of links where you can find out more about this operation; and

The final stop of the day will be Lakehouse Farm and Prairie Plate Restaurant near Waverly, Nebraska. Renee and Jerry Cornett have begun this farm a few years ago and opened a restaurant out on the farm.  We will enjoy a cool drink and light snack there as well.  The Cornetts grow much of their own produce for the restaurant in a high tunnel and outside garden and purchase local food from area farmers as well.  Here is a link to their website;

I am looking forward to the tour next week. Cost of the tour is $25 and includes, transportation, lunch and a late afternoon snack. Please register by either emailing me at or calling my office at (402) 274-4755 by Monday, August 1st so we can make arrangements for the food and handouts. Please let me know if I need to get you a parking permit for your vehicle at the UNL East Campus.


Hollister Farms


In this blog post I am interviewing Andrew Hollister of Hollister Farms.  Andrew and his family produce local food naturally on a farm in southern Lancaster County and market it through a number of methods, including a couple of local farmers markets. Follow along with this photo blog as we tour the farm.

Andrew takes his meat and produce to the Hickam Farmers Market on Saturday morning, which he helped get organized this year.  He also participates in the Bennet Farmers Market in eastern Lancaster County on Wednesday afternoons.
The Hollisters purchased this high tunnel with the assistance of the NRCS EQIP Program.  It has allowed them to grow a variety of different vegetables almost all year round. One of the more uncommon vegetables they grow is the tomatillo, shown in the first row of plants in this photo.  The high tunnel allows them to get a jump on the market in spring and produce cool-season crops into the late fall/early winter. It also provides a duplicate of the crops grown outside in their garden.
Andrew plants primarily heirloom plants on their farm.  They are certified naturally grown.  Here is some kohlrabi he planted in the high tunnel. 
Beets are another vegetable Andrew likes to grow.  Here are some golden beets.  Notice the newspapers on the ground.  These are used as a mulch in the high tunnel and help hold moisture in the soil.



Andrew likes to be as efficient as possible.  Here are some eggplants intercropped with tomatoes in the high tunnel. Other vegetables he grows in the high tunnel include: peppers, basal, onions, squash, cucumbers and even some sweet corn.   
Andrew and his dad constructed this greenhouse last year.  This year they used it to start plants for their own farm, but also grew vegetable starts to sell, providing another source of income.  They have sold plants to Prairie Pine Farms, Community Crops and a group of moms in both Omaha and Lincoln.    
This photo shows an outside view of the greenhouse and raised beds in Andrew’s perennial garden. Some of the plants grown in the perennial garden include: lavender, herbs, oregano, rosemary and Egyptian onions.  
Andrew also plants several crops in his irrigated outside garden.  Notice the drip tape across the raised beds in the garden.  Andrew plants broccoli,  green beans, cucumber, basil, peppers and okra in this garden.  Produce is sold at farmers markets, on the farm, on Facebook at his on-line store and through the Nebraska Food Coop.  




Livestock and poultry are also a major component of Hollister Farms.  This pasture is where Andrews ducks and geese forage during the day. 
Andrew’s flock of water fowl in this photo.  He collects duck eggs and sells them to restaurants and individuals.  There is an excellent market for duck eggs.  He also has a few geese that will be sold later this year as possibly someone’s holiday main dish this fall/winter.
Andrew and his dad continually are upgrading facilities.  Here are the chicken coops for his small flock.  He collects and sells chicken eggs as well to several customers.
Rhode Island Reds are a major breed in the laying flock of chickens on Hollister Farm. I caught a photo of several hens inside the coop. 
Swine are also a big part of Andrew’s operation.  He sells a significant amount of pork to his customers.  Here one of his sows forages on some waste food that Andrew obtains from Whole Foods in Lincoln. 
Here a sow cools off in the hog wallow. This is very important because hogs can not sweat and they need this as a way to cool off, especially in the severe heat we have experienced this month.  
As you can see Andrew’s swine herd enjoys some feed on this warn summer morning.  He will have several hogs to sell for meat later this year.  
Andrew actually started out raising goats and sheep.  He has a nice flock of meat goats, which have a strong percentage of the meat goat breed Boer in them.  There is a good demand for goat meat in the Lincoln area too. 
Goats can go out to the pasture to graze too on the Hollister Farm.
The final component of the Hollister Farming Operation is the flock of Katahdin sheep they have on their farm.  These are hair sheep, meaning they do not have to sheer them and are produced for their meat. 



This concludes the photo blog of Hollister Farm.  I want to thank Andrew for his time and allowing me to interview him and also take photos of the farm.  As you can see the Hollisters have a very diverse farming operation with many moving parts.  It will be interesting to see how this farm develops over the years.  In the mean time, be sure to look for Hollister Farms at the local farmers markets, on Facebook, on the Nebraska Food Coop or just stop by their farm near Princeton, NE.  They are another source of local food in southeast Nebraska.

Chisholm Family Farm

photo Creamery
Orchard Hill Creamery is the center piece of Chisholm Family Farm.  This is where cheese, ice cream and yogurt are made by the Chisholms for sale on the Nebraska Food Coop, at different farmers markets, special activities and at their on-farm store near Unadilla.


Andy Chisholm has traveled many miles since leaving England and moving to the United States.  In the southeast US he met his wife Laura and they traveled to Nebraska. They started out wanting to produce food for their family and their dream was to start a dairy and creamery to make dairy products such as cheese, yogurt and ice cream.  They have been at several locations in eastern Nebraska the past few years, but have finally found a home in southeastern Nebraska near Unadilla in Otoe County.  Andy was a member of our second Farm Beginnings class in Syracuse, NE a few years ago.

Andy, Laura and their children have a small herd of Jersey cows which produce milk, high in butterfat which makes excellent dairy products.

Their farm and creamery are located northwest of Unadilla at 1875 D Rd, Unadilla, NE.  While their main focus is the dairy, they also have some other food they raise and sell.  This includes: asparagus, strawberries, eggs and pork.  The Chisholms participate in the Old Market Farmers Market in Downtown Omaha and Ak-sar-ben Farmers Market regularly.  They have also sold at the Village Point Farmers Market in Omaha and they are a member of the Nebraska Cheese Guild.  While Laura participates in these farmers markets, the bulk of the dairy products produced at the creamery are sold to food coops, restaurants and stores.  You can purchase dairy products on the Nebraska Food Coop, an on-line food coop, Open Harvest, a Food Coop at 1681 South St. in Lincoln, NE and at Daddy’s Neighborhood Fresh Market at 4811 NW Radial Hwy in Omaha, NE. Some of their dairy products are featured at area restaurants, including: M’s Pub, Dante’s and Block 16 in Omaha and The Lied Lodge in Nebraska City.

A major event that the Chisholms have hosted at their farm in the past couple of years is Milk Fest.  This year it is scheduled for October 22nd and 23rd.  This is a fun event for the whole family which has drawn several hundred people.  There are a number of venders present, local food, music and drink, games for kids and several fun activities for anyone interested in supporting the local food community.

Here is a photo blog and tour of Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery located at 1875 D Rd, Unadilla, NE.


photo certified organic sign
The Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery are Certified Naturally Grown. They are committed to producing food without synthetic chemicals, in harmony with nature for their local community.
photo milking cow herd
I mentioned the Chisholms have a herd of primarily Jersey dairy cows, which produce milk that is rich and is excellent for producing cheese, ice cream and yogurt. This is their current milking herd
photo cows grazing in pasture
The cows are on a forage based diet, rotating through pastures for a major part of the year.  The remainder of the year cattle will be fed alfalfa hay.  The photo above shows cattle grazing a mixture of cool and warm-season grasses, which most pastures are comprised of on the Chisholm Farm.
photo dry cows
The dry cows, shown above  are kept in a separate pasture across the driveway from the milking herd.
photo cattle waterer
Cows received fresh water in a tank every day.
IMG_0444 calves #1
Above is a photo of the replacement heifers grown on the farm. The heifers are bred by a bull at about 15 months and the young jersey heifers will join the herd and start to produce milk when they are 2 -2 1/2 years old.
photo milking parlor
This is the milking parlor where Andy Chisholm can milk four cows at a time.  He stands down in the lower area or (pit) and washes off and sanitizes the cows teats before putting the milking machines on the cows.  Notice the milking machine hanging up and also a feeder where Andy can provide a little grain if desired  to the cows while he milks them.  
photo bulk tank #1
This is the bulk tank where the milk is stored at a refrigerated temperature until it is taken to the creamery to be processed into a value-added dairy product such as: cheese, yogurt or ice cream. The bulk tank is located in the milk room.
IMG_0440 milking equipment
Here is the milking equipment hanging up in the milk room already for the next milking on the Chisholm Farm 
photo andy in milk room
When I visited the Chisholm Farm by myself and interviewed Andy, I caught up to him when he was cleaning the milking equipment in the milk room.  I grew up on a small Grade A Dairy Farm in southeast Nebraska so I am familiar with the duties and requirements for a Grade A Dairy.  The milk room has to be cleaned daily, with milking equipment sanitized following milking.  The milk room and milking facilities are inspected monthly by a Nebraska State Inspector. 
IMG_0438 Farm Beginnings
Andy Chisholm talks to members of the Farm Beginnings class in his milk room when we toured his farm last Saturday. 
photo bulk tank
I was able to look through the door into the Cheese Plant or Creamery at the Chisholms when we visited. This is a photo of the vat where cheese is processed.  Sanitation is very critical in the creamery so we just looked at the equipment from the outside.
photo cheese plant #1
The ice cream machine is a major piece of equipment at Orchard Hill Creamery as the Chisholms are making several kinds of ice cream and selling it at different venues.   
photo farm store
The on-farm store at the creamery offers their dairy products plus some other locally produced Nebraska products as well as unique foods and specialty items from other places. 
photo yogurt for sale
Different flavors of yogurt are a big seller for the Chisholms. 
photo cheese for sale
Cheese is still the heart of their operation.  This photo shows different types of cheeses in the refrigerator at Orchard Hill’s On-farm Store. 
photo ice cream
Ice Cream has been an excellent dairy product for the Chisholms at Orchard Hill Creamery. I had the opportunity to try some of their ice cream and it was very good.  
photo grain Grain Place
One of the other products sold at the On-farm Store is Organic Rolled Oats from the Grain Place, from Marquette, NE; one of the pioneers in organic farming and processing of grains in Nebraska. 
photo goat milk soap
Another fun non-edible product in the store is different kinds of goat milk soaps.  
IMG_0446 chicken
The Chisholms have a few laying chickens and they do sell eggs at the farmers markets and in their on-farm store. 
IMG_0447 chicken laying boxes
On our tour last Saturday the kids looked in the mobile egg laying building where the chickens go in and lay their eggs. 
photo strawberries
The Chisholms have a bed of strawberries that they are setting on and may provide another type of produce for the farmers markets.  They also have a bed of asparagus they have been marketing this spring. 
photo high tunnel #1
The Chisholms hope to work with a partner interested in growing produce in their high tunnel so they can market it along with their dairy products.  



This concludes our tour of the Chisholm Family Farm and Orchard Hill Creamery.  The Chisholm’s are committed to producing local food, especially a variety of several different value-added dairy products. You can purchase their products at several different locations or you can come out to their farm near Unadilla.  It is a very short drive from Lincoln and just a little farther from Omaha.  For more information about their farm and/or creamery, go to or  Stay tuned for next time when we visit another local food producer in Nebraska or a bordering state.


As Nebraska State SARE Coordinator, the use of cover crops is an important initiative that I am focused on. Cover crops have been used for a number of years particularly in organic cropping systems.  They have been a source of nitrogen, organic matter and other nutrients when incorporated as green manures in these systems.  Cover crops have also been planted as forage crops for livestock for grazing or hay for many years.  In recent years there has been increased interest in the use of cover crops in conventional cropping systems. The USDA NRCS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) has promoted cover crops and provided cost-share programs for farmers to encourage their use to help improve soil health and reduce erosion and degradation of soils.

Cover crops have many potential benefits.  Legumes fix (N) nitrogen from the atmosphere which is a source of N for the subsequent crops. Biomass from the cover crops adds carbon and organic matter to the soil.  A primary function of cover crops is prevention of erosion with their roots holding soil in place and reducing impact of rain drops by covering the soil. Other benefits include: improve water infiltration, scavenge nutrients, weed suppression and forage for livestock. A number of farmers across Nebraska and in other states have utilized cover crops for several years and are seeing benefits.  The University of Nebraska has conducted research and is conducting research to evaluate how cover crops can best be utilized in crop and livestock systems in Nebraska.  Nebraska Extension is also cooperating with farmers using cover crops to document impact on soil and subsequent crops.

In Nebraska there are also many questions and challenges with the incorporation of cover crops in cropping systems.  Probably one of the primary questions and challenges is how to successfully plant and establish cover crops in a timely manner in corn/soybean crop rotations? Another challenge is developing a herbicide program that allows you to plant and graze cover crops successfully without impacting the previous cash crop of corn or soybeans.  A final challenge is balancing the use of cover crops to reduce the impact on the previous and subsequent crops. These are questions currently being addressed by Nebraska Extension, other universities, agri-businesses and farmers across the Midwest.

Diversified multi-species cover crop mixes are used by some farmers. These mixes are generally more expensive, but they have a number of different types of plants which can impact the biology of the soil, attract different pollinators and beneficial insects.  They also provide excellent multi-species forage for livestock and nutrients for the diversified microorganisms in the soil as the forages are broken down.
cereal rye #1
Cover crops can be used for specialty crops, like apples in orchards. Cereal rye was planted in the fall of 2014 on land that was going to be planted to apple trees.  The rye was shredded after it had headed out and made seed in the summer of 2015.  The cereal rye re-seeded itself in the fall of 2015 and had an excellent stand. This spring at Union Orchard, near Nebraska City, NE; apple trees are planted in rows after the rye was knocked down with a shredder.  According to Vaughn Hammond, orchard manager, this field was solid weeds before the rye was planted into it.  As you can see, the cereal rye successfully suppressed weeds.   Research has documented the weed suppression attributes of cereal rye which has been confirmed by farmers in different cropping systems.
Cover crop in an orchard
Apple trees will be planted in this cover crop of clover and grass at Union Orchard in southeast Nebraska in the future.
Field Peas in an orchard
A cover crop of field peas was planted in the summer of 2015 to provide nitrogen for vegetables at Shadowbrook Farm near Denton, NE.
Oats cover crop at Shadowbrook
Kevin Loth of Shadowbrook Farm uses oats as a cover crop. Here he shows where oats have been plowed down.  With their dairy goat herd, oats has the potential to being used as an excellent forage.



These three images illustrate how erosion had a major impact in southeast Nebraska in 2015.  With torrential rains, even no-till cropped fields showed significant erosion.
This field of terminated cereal rye from the spring of 2015 illustrates how erosion can be prevented with the use of cover crops.  Notice the rill erosion in the soybean field in the background.  This field is only a few miles from the first image (shown above) of the eroded corn field planted in the soybean stubble.  These areas received 5-8″ of rain in one day in May 2015. The cover crop held the soil very well. This field also had tillage radish which can help break up compaction and increase soil water infiltration rates.
With all of the rain in 2015, there were several prevented planted acres in southeast Nebraska.  Here is a prevented planted field of oats that winter-killed.  If you are just starting to investigate using cover crops, oats is a good one to try because the seed is cheap and you do not have to worry about terminating it in the spring before next year’s crop. Many people have planted oats following corn silage when beginning to use cover crops.  This field above will be planted to corn or soybeans in 2016.
Sprayed out cereal rye
This field of cereal rye was terminated with chemicals and will be planted to soybeans this spring. The challenge is to terminate the rye crop to get the most benefit from the root growth without impacting the subsequent crop.  Cereal rye can tie up nitrogen and also use valuable moisture impacting the following crop.
This field of cereal rye was planted following corn silage harvest.  This photo was taken in mid-April.  It will be terminated soon and planted to soybeans.
Field of cereal rye in mid-March that was drilled in the fall, mid-October.  This field will probably be grazed by cow/calf pairs this spring before it is terminated.  Notice the irrigation in the background.  This can take a lot of the risk out of allowing cover crops to put more growth on in the spring either for forage or as a method of improving soil health.  Soil water that is depleted by the cereal rye crop can be replaced through irrigation.
Cow/calf pairs graze cereal rye in mid-March under a center pivot.  Rye can provide a significant amount of forage for cattle, especially in the spring. It is probably the most common cover crop used in southeast Nebraska.
The cereal rye on the right was planted in mid October, 2-3 weeks earlier than the rye on the left.  The earlier planted rye benefits from warmer days and put on more growth.
Some farmers have cereal rye aerially seeded from mid-August from mid-September into standing corn or soybeans.  In 2015 excellent late summer rains benefitted this field of cereal rye.   It was grazed in late fall and again this spring into early May.  The soybeans will be planted into this field later this spring and the cereal rye will be terminated.
This is a field of a cover crop of brassicas.  Several farmers are also using brassicas for grazing, i.e. tillage radish, turnips and rape.  Seed corn producers overseed or aerial seed brassicas into their seed corn fields in August.  Tillage radish is used to break up compaction, increase pore spaces which will improve soil water infiltration, scavange excess nitrogen and help recycle other nutrients, besides providing excellent forage for cattle.  Nebraska research has shown cattle gain 1.5 – 2.0 lbs/hd/day grazing a cover crop consisting primarily of brassicas.


This is a photo taken in May 2015 of a field of terminated cereal rye and tillage radishes that winter killed. Notice the large holes in the ground.  These are left after the carcasses of the tillage radish decompose.  This provides an excellent water storage reservoir in the top 6-12″ of soil which helps reduce runoff and potential erosion during large rainfall events like we saw in the spring of 2015.  
This is a photo of our probe truck taking soil samples in Elbon Cereal Rye down to 8′ on Prevented Planted Acres on the Jon Keithley farm in Richardson County in southeast Nebraska.  This rye was planted in late August, 2015.  Growing roots of the cereal rye were found at almost 7′ in the soil core taken on April 15, 2016.  
Here is a soil pit dug down to about 8′ under the Elbon cereal rye from the previous photo. The Elbon cereal rye was almost 3′ tall above ground. Next to this plot was VNS (Variety Not Stated) Cereal Rye planted which was only 18″ tall.  It has growing roots down to over 6′ though.  There was also Annual Ryegrass planted in these plots.  It was only 12″ tall, but it also had growing roots down to over 6′.  This indicates there may be much more biomass below the ground then what we see above the ground which  should benefit the soil in the long term.  This project is part of a Nebraska NRCS Innovative Grant Nebraska Extension and several farmer cooperators received in 2014. We conducted a field day at this site on April 18th.  this was one of 4 field days and 5 workshops that have been or will be held to provide education on the use of cover crops and understanding soil health.   
This is the side of soil pit in the Elbon cereal rye.  See the fibrous roots growing in the top 12″ of soil with single roots going down much deeper. This field has been in no-till about 10 years, but only the first year with cover crops.
As part of a SARE Research and Education Grant the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is evaluating cover crops in crop/livestock systems on farms at different locations across  Nebraska.  Here soybeans planted on May 8th are emerging through the cereal rye.  As part of this project in Nemaha County in southeast Nebraska, we have treatments of a control with no cover crop, a cover crop grazed and a cover crop ungrazed treatment which are replicated three times.     
Dr. Humberto Blanco, Soil Scientist at the University of Nebraska and project leader takes penetrometer readings in the cover crop plot. Several measurements will be taken over the 3 year period of the grant including soil physical, chemical and biological properties, crop yields, cover crop biomass production, livestock carrying capacity and performance  and  economics of the systems evaluated.   
Soil temperature at 2″ and 6″ depths is one of the several soil measurements that will be collected throughout this research project. 

I have just scratched the surface in regards to cover crops.  I hope I have provided you with a glimpse of how some producers in Nebraska are using cover crops and some of the research and education that is taking place in Nebraska and in other states to determine how cover crops can best be utilized in agriculture today and in the future.  There are a number of  excellent resources where you can learn more about cover crops and soil health. Here are a few publications and links you may want to investigate.


Cover Crop Resources  Midwest Cover Crop Council Field Guide  Dryland Cover crops as a grazing option for Beef Cattle Cover Crops following weather damaged bean and corn harvest. 2016 Cover Crops Insurance and NRCS Cover Crop Termination Guidelines USDA Cover Crop Chart Midwest Cover Crop Council