If you’re a farmer or rancher in western Nebraska, right now drought is your biggest problem. That’s certainly the case for Kent Lorens, who both farms and ranches eight miles south of Stratton in Hitchcock County.
“Generally we just put the cattle out on grass with salt and mineral. But when it gets unusually dry and the grass is mature and dry, we put out protein blocks so they can use the dry grass,” Kent explains. He also puts out creep feeders with a concentrate for the calves.
Underground water is very deep in his area, so he’s down to one windmill pumping water. Instead, he’s installed 12,000 feet of pressurized pipeline so water is distributed among the three pastures he uses for rotational grazing for his cattle.
How dry is it? Kent’s June precipitation totaled about 1 inch – and that came in several little, fast-evaporating rains. May is usually the area’s highest-precipitation month, with 5 to 6 inches, but the monthly total was only 2 inches. Total rainfall was 50 percent of average at the end of May, and the situation has worsened significantly since then.
So it was a surprise when his winter wheat crop yielded in the 65- to 70-bushel range. “It was very welcome and none of us expected it as dry as it was,” he says.
In addition to his mostly Angus cow-calf herd and the wheat, Kent grows corn and forage sorghum using ecofallow production methods on his all-dryland farm. He and his family live on the farm his father started in 1945. He’s the youngest of five and the only one who’s farming and ranching. An older brother was a plant breeder for USDA and Land Grant universities.
Growing up, the farm was mostly self-sufficient, with a large garden and one milk cow to meet the family’s needs, along with potatoes, other crops and cattle. Kent was a 4-H’er and showed breeding heifers, among other projects.
Kent graduated from the University of Nebraska School of Technical Agriculture at Curtis (now the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture) in 1979 with a degree in crop production. He helped on the farm as an employee while also feeding hogs on his own and doing outside work that included construction and excavating.
Marilyn, Kent’s wife of 24 years, was a school teacher in Wallace, Kan. They met through Country Connections and exchanged letters through the U.S. mail before deciding to meet in person. They lived 85 miles apart and would meet in Colby, Kan., for dates. Marilyn is a stay-at-home mom and does all the bookkeeping for the operation. She loves helping on the farm, driving the tractor and doing other chores, along with raising a garden.
Kent and Marilyn have four children. Patrick recently graduated with an associate’s degree in telecommunications and is working for a local telecom company; he helps on the farm and takes time off for harvest. Michael is a senior at Stratton High School and FFA vice president; he’s Kent’s right-hand-man on the farm year-round and also enjoys athletics.
Rebecca is a high school sophomore who loves taking care of the bottle calves and the cats, and working in the garden. Matthew is a seventh grader and he’s happy to fill in as the grain cart driver. He also helps unload trucks, maintain and repair the combine, and mows the yard.
Kent and the boys do all the harvesting themselves. When they have time, the Lorens family enjoys water sports together at nearby Lake Swanson Reservoir.
Kent believes American farmers are the best caretakers of their land and animals of anywhere in the world. “We’ve made such progress in the 35 years that I’ve been farming. We are raising food for people in the most conserving way that there is,” Lorens said. For example, when he started out, very few crop fields had terraces and all weed control was done through mechanical tillage. “Today with reduced tillage and terraces, you don’t see near the soil erosion and runoff. We’re saving a lot of topsoil.”
Continue to check back to the blog each Thursday to get to know more farmers and ranchers from across Nebraska as they share their everyday stories. And to read past farmer and rancher profiles, click here.