Category Archives: Reflections

Blessed

In May of 2004, I was a new college graduate beginning my career in Extension in Clay County. Extension is pretty nebulous when one begins…it’s about making connections and determining the needs of the people we serve.

First Days and Week

I remember the first day of my career being met in the field by two great educators in Gary Zoubek and Andy Christiansen as we discussed an on-farm research project; I was blessed to be mentored by them to understand what good Extension looked like. That weekend, we had a tornado go through the county. I remember Monday morning receiving a call from Andy letting me know it was my job to drive the county and help document the damage for the Farm Service Agency. Not knowing anyone, Deanna Peshek, our office manager, graciously volunteered to drive me around pointing out farmsteads and letting me look at fields. Since that first time, we’ve unfortunately had many tornadoes, wind/hail storms in which damage has been documented and where we’ve all worked together to help communities/farmsteads clean up and help farmers make the best decisions. It’s always been special to watch people throughout the county and area come together to help each other.

Friendships

I’m grateful to those farmers who early on introduced themselves and gave me permission to look at their fields each week so I had a better handle on crop problems and diseases. I’ve been blessed to have worked with wonderful on-farm research cooperators through the years and with NRDs/Extension/many farmers/consultants in Clay and the surrounding area with installing moisture sensors/ET gages for irrigation scheduling and in diagnosing crop problems. There are farmers/home-owners who befriended me, always taking time to chat when I went to look at their fields/lawns/trees or took time to stop in the office to visit; grateful for these friendships! Fair time has always been such a special time for me; our fair is a true gem. Very few counties can say the Fair Board, Extension Board, 4-H Council, and Extension staff all get along-and that is true of Clay County! Beyond that, we have great livestock quality, competition, and sportsmanship amongst our families which is how it should be. The focus of youth/families at the Clay County Fair has also been a blessing to me. The closing of South Central Research and Extension Center and restructure into the South Central Ag Lab had occurred a few years before I was hired, yet the excellent research conducted there remained with dedicated technicians, staff, and researchers with whom I’ve been blessed to work in addition to those at USMARC and GPVEC. And, I’ve been so blessed in Clay county and surrounding area to have relationships with newspaper staff who understand that ag drives our local economies and who strive to work with Extension. I’m also grateful for the team of ladies I’ve worked with in the Extension office and faculty and staff in surrounding counties as we’ve all worked together to serve our constituents.

New Challenge

I’ve reflected much the past month on numerous blessings God has provided me in this position since I began in Clay County. Recently, I chose to accept a new challenge in my life by accepting the York/Seward crops/water educator position which will begin April 1. This was a very difficult decision for me; one I haven’t taken lightly and one which has been bathed in prayer. I know this is where God is leading me. That doesn’t come without sadness of leaving as the people of Clay County and this surrounding area are truly special.

Thank You

Thank you for welcoming this young gal straight out of college and eventually trusting me to share research-based information with you, help you with decisions including the farm bill, look at your fields/lawns/gardens/trees, and in many cases build relationships. I will always be grateful to all of you for how you helped me and all you’ve taught me through the years!!! I’ve been assured the Clay county crops/water position with accountability region for Nuckolls/Thayer/Fillmore will be refilled and in the meantime, I will continue to assist this area in addition to my new one. Please do be patient with us during this transition. I’m thankful that agriculture is so connected and that there will be opportunities to connect at meetings in the future. Thank you again for your support of our Extension office and of me!

Upcoming Programs

  • FSA Farm Bill meeting March 17 at 1:30 p.m. at Clay Co. Fairgrounds
  • Water Conservation in the Landscape gardening program April 14th from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the Clay Co. Fairgrounds
  • Lawn Care program April 21st from 5:30-7:00 p.m., Clay Co. Fairgrounds

Sensitive Issues Training-Engage

Many of us have been there…we’ve been asked a question in which the answer can be deemed controversial because the topic is based on emotion and beliefs.  How do we respond?  Do we get caught up in the emotion and passion of the issue and try to force our beliefs on others?  Do we shy away or try to avoid an answer altogether by remaining silent?

Last week’s Sensitive Issues Media and Communications Training was developed to help all of us through these situations.  It was a remarkable experience working with an amazing group of ladies, all passionate about food, but looking at food from a variety of perspectives and taking an issues-based approach in developing our team.  Our team was comprised of a livestock expert, a manure expert, two food and nutrition experts, a communication’s expert, and myself from a crop production perspective.  Special thanks to Dr. Chuck Hibberd, Nebraska Extension Dean and Director, for providing us a New Audiences Innovation Grant to partially fund this training. You can catch the conversation on Twitter at #SIMCT15.

We invited the Center for Food Integrity to conduct their Engage training with us, which was sponsored by the United Soybean Board.  ThisIMAG4885-1 training uses “the power of shared values to highlight industry trends and teaches strategies for using values-based messaging in daily conversations, and public speaking and media opportunities.”  There was discussion, role playing, and mock media interviews.  The training challenged me to use something I also just learned from “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” training….Seek first to Understand, then to be Understood.

Essentially, ask questions.  Understand why a consumer believes X, Y, or Z about food and agriculture.  Universal values include:

  • Compassion
  • Responsibility
  • Respect
  • Fairness
  • Truth

Seek to understand the other person’s values by listening and asking questions.  Then share by communicating about common values telling your food and ag story.  We can’t really script this.  We can’t be so vague that we’re not credible.  For example, the following is vague and perhaps over-used:

By doing X we help the environment.

Instead, we need to be willing to talk about the hard issues with authentic transparency…to share our own individual stories.

I also desire water that is safe for my family to drink and desire for there to be enough water for future generations.  That’s why my colleagues and I work with farmers to use research-based irrigation scheduling tools.  Doing so helps reduce over-irrigation which can reduce the nitrate levels reaching our groundwater and the amount of water being pumped from the aquifer.

There were a few surprises for me.  The first being the progress in one year (based onIMAG4865-1 the Center for Food Integrity’s research) that we’ve made in consumer trust.  This slide is essentially saying that 42% of consumers feel the food system is going the right direction (up from 34% last year).  Men are more trusting of the food system at 48% believing the food system is on the right track.  32% of women feel the food system is on the wrong track.

Another surprising, yet encouraging piece of information for IMAG4868-1me to see is which people are trusted the most on sensitive topics.  On the topic of genetically modified foods, University Scientists topped the list, a Scientist that was a Mom was second, and Farmers were third.  This is different than other research I’d seen, so I was excited about this.  It was a survey of 2005 individuals conducted in 2014 and was encouraging from the standpoint that we do still have an opportunity to share our stories with those who truly desire to know more about where their food comes from.  We will never change the activists, but we can reach the middle.

Finally, I loved the following quote which is so true:

A picture is worth 1000 words; a video is a library.

They showed the following video from Similac entitled, “The Mother ‘Hood“.  Instantly, my mind went to how easy it would be for ag to do something similar.  We tend to be so divided, but division is killing us.  We are in the business of providing a safe, affordable, food supply to the world…but beyond that, our diversity provides consumer choice.  If you watch the video, consider what is the common issue that could bring all of ag together.  I have some ideas and my team members and I have discussed what a similar video with diverse agriculture groups would look like.  What are your thoughts and ideas?

Ag Reflections from 2014

Happy New Year!  Wishing all of you and your families a wonderful 2015!  As I look back at 2014, there are several ag-related observations that I noted throughout the year.

tornado damage in Sutton

Cleanup after the tornado in Sutton on Mother’s Day 2014.

The first observation continues to be the way communities and people in this County/area pull together in difficult times.  Whether after tornadoes/wind storms or helping other farm families who had an injured family member or had lost a family member, it’s just a blessing to see the way people pull together to help each other in time of need.  It was also a blessing for many who were unable to harvest in 2013 due to the August 1st storm, to harvest fields in 2014, and for many in the area to experience really good irrigated and dryland yields this year.

The dry winter of 2013/14 allowed for very mellow ground during planting time.  Often seeding depth ended up ½-1” deeper than intended.  The dry winter also didn’t allow for good residue decomposition leading to problems during planting and ensuing stand emergence.  Cutting off residue and high rains in May led to unintended consequences of replant situations when residue was moved off of farmers’ fields onto neighboring fields, suffocating emerged plants in portions of fields.  I’m not sure what the solution is for the future other than it really needs to be something worked out with neighboring farmers, but perhaps mentioning it here opens an opportunity for future conversations.

Cover crops have been incorporated into more operations in recent years, yet the ultimate goal for using them remains important in determining what species/crops are used in the fields.  We also realized the importance of determining amount grazed prior to turning cattle into fields (whether for grazing cover crops or crop residue), as high winds in winter 2013/14 in overgrazed fields led to soil blowing throughout the winter.

Systemic Goss Wilt Clay Co-Rees

Systemic Goss’ wilt showed up in some fields that were hail and/or frost damaged by V6.

The May frost showed us emerged soybeans at the cotyledon stage held up well to the frost compared to the corn.  We also again watched Goss’ wilt show up systemically by 6 leaf corn that was injured early by frost or hail in fields where Goss’ wilt had been a problem in the past.  We need more research/understanding of this disease.  Wheat continues to show us its resiliency as it winterkilled in portions of fields, withstood drought-stress, and then made up yield in the last 4-6 weeks.

Perfect pollination conditions coupled with high solar radiation, low night-time temperatures, and timely rain events were keys to the bountiful corn crop we experienced this year.  Soybeans were more of a mixed bag. In walking fields and in conversations with farmers, I think the disappointment in some irrigated yields could be attributed to early/over-irrigation, disease problems, and planting date.  UNL on-farm research showed on average a 3 bu/ac yield increase when soybeans were planted in late April to first week of May (regardless if growing season was warm/dry or cold/wet like it was this year) and those I’ve talked to who achieved 80+ bu/ac in the area this year planted in that time-frame.  I’m curious if there’s something to planting a 2.4-2.5 maturity early vs. a 3.0+ maturity early as some area producers are seeing strong yields from a shorter season hybrid planted early the past few years.  So if you’ve also seen this and/or are interested, that will be an on-farm research project to try next year.  Please let me know if you’re interested!

Here’s wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2015!

My Hero

Every Veteran’s Day is an opportunity to thank those who bravely served to keep our Country free. My husband and I spent some time together late Monday night viewing Facebook posts together of our military family and friends; all of us reflecting on past deployments. There is something about the comaraderie developed during difficult times, yet it is good to reflect on the people who were there with us during those times. Thankful for the “battle buddies” in our lives, for the military members and families who have sacrificed so much through the years and continue to do so, and for my hero! Here’s a few photos reflecting on Chris’ deployment to Afghanistan.

A corn field.  Corn seed is spread by hand-it's not placed into the ground-so that is one project the ADT team will be working on teaching this spring.  Things such as hand-planting into the soil and hybrid corn could result in significant yield increases!  Typical ear size resulting from fields such as this is maybe a few inches long.  This is open pollinated corn.  Tall hybrid corn was introduced in some regions of Afghanistan, but the Taliban would hide in it, so a shorter hybrid was introduced in those regions of Afghanistan instead.   Photo by Chris Rees.

Chris in an open pollinated corn field. The team taught the people how to plant seed in the ground vs. scattering on the surface. The result between this and hybrid seed was larger ears with more yield in which the people brought their corn to the next Team to show them.  Photo by Chris Rees.

This photo was taken at a Women's Development Center where women and their children have a safe place to stay.  This is a greenhouse where vegetables are grown and this little boy kept picking cucumbers and giving them to the soldiers so they got a picture together.  The cucumbers were returned to the Center.  Photo via Chris Rees.

This photo was taken at a Women’s Development Center where women and their children have a safe place to stay. This is a greenhouse where vegetables are grown and this little boy kept picking cucumbers and giving them to the soldiers so they got a picture together. The cucumbers were returned to the Center. Photo via Chris Rees.

Part of the Ag team holding a banner with the NE ADT2 logo at the Demonstration farm.

Part of the Ag team holding a banner with the NE ADT2 logo at the Demonstration farm.

My soldier and me at the Boss Lift for Nebraska National Guard Agribusiness Development Training

My soldier and me at the Boss Lift for Nebraska National Guard Agribusiness Development Training prior to NE ADT2 deployment. It was such an honor to watch them train. So thankful for and proud of you Chris!!! You are my hero!!!

Public Issues Leadership Development Experience

As President-elect of the Nebraska Agricultural Agents Association, I had the opportunity to participate in the Public Issues Leadership Development (PILD) ConferenceIMAG3313 in April of 2014.  The goal of PILD is professional development and public issues education.  I never had the opportunity to visit D.C. that time of year before and the cherry blossoms were just opening when the group of us from Nebraska arrived. By the time we left they were in full bloom-just beautiful with an amazing fragrance! Our delegation was Monte Stauffer (representing 4-H), Patricia Jones (representing Food/Nutrition), Diane Vigna (representing community development), and myself along with our Dean and Director Dr. Chuck Hibberd.

For me, these conferences are about networking and people and I truly enjoyed seeing my Ag Extension colleagues from across the U.S.  The conference was very much focused on celebrating 100 years of Cooperative Extension and the challenges/opportunities Extension faces in the next 100 years.

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Presentation on the History of Cooperative Extension by a North Dakota State University alum where he does charcoal drawings as he speaks.  I had seen this at an NACAA conference in the past; he is so talented!

Sessions included discussing how to determine public value of what we do and the debate continues to be how do we extrapolate information and who gets the credit.  I think Nebraska is on track with much of what we do in this area as we’ve had many similar discussions here.  There were also discussions about the relevance of Extension and the need to share information several ways; again, I think we have people in Nebraska leading the way in this effort.  But it is critically important for ALL of Extension to be repackaging our information several ways to reach our customers where they view information.

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John Wilson presented on the Missouri River Flood in a panel discussion regarding controversial issues in Cooperative Extension. He did a great job as always!  Additional controversial issues included fracking and the oil boom in other states.

We had the opportunity to interact with National Institute of Food and Agriculture program leaders to express the critical needs for the people we serve in hopes of influencing where research and extension initiatives should be focused in future grant releases.  We also spent a large portion of time discussing different bills of importance to all of our States and determining the key messages we wished to share on the Hill with our Congressmen and Senators.

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Wednesday was the highlight for me.  On Wednesday, each State visits their Congressmen and Senators on the Hill. The Ag Section rep typically sets up the visits, so I was thankful for my experiences in organizing CWF trips! We began the morning at the Nebraska Breakfast and had the opportunity to visit with Senator Fischer immediately afterward. We had the amazing opportunity to meet with all of our representatives  and/or their  staffers that day: Congressman Smith, Senator Johanns, and then Monte and I split up so he visited Congressman Terry’s Office while I visited Congressman Fortenberry’s Office. In between we also had a Capitol tour and visited the Senate Gallery as Monte and Pat had never experienced that before. It was a wonderful day with great visits sharing the great things Extension has done and continues to do for the people of Nebraska! Our Senators and Congressmen also supported the Smith-Lever bill for recognizing 100 years of Cooperative Extension, so we were happy about that!

Night tour of Memorials and Monuments the first evening.  Pat was gracious in listening to all the tidbits I shared from my CWF experiences.

Lincoln Memorial during night tour of memorials and monuments the first evening-always neat to see.

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We had an amazing seafood supper during one of the evenings with Dr. Hibberd who graciously paid for our meals. 

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It was an honor to represent the Nebraska Ag Agents at the 2014 PILD Conference and I thank our Ag Section and Dr. Hibberd for paying my expenses for this trip! This photo is of cherry blossoms with the Washington Monument in the background.

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