Why Agriculture: An Open Letter from a High School Senior

kelli blog 2 photoHere I am, a high school senior, taking part in my final days of this stage in my life. Right now, as we approach graduation, filling out scholarships is a big task. The question “What’s your intended major?” arises quite often followed by “Why have you chosen the major stated above?” I always answer with, “Agricultural Communications” and then proceed with my reason why: “I grew up in this industry…I want to make a difference within agriculture…my passion lies here.” Although each of these statements is correct, my reasoning for why I am choosing a major in agriculture goes much deeper. It wasn’t until filling out a scholarship application today that I realized that. So, here’s a letter to agriculturalists in my community, state, and nation explaining why I choose agriculture. Here’s a deeper reason for why I’m choosing this major.

kelli blog 2 photo 2Dear dedicated agriculturalists,

It’s because of you. You are the reason I write “Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Communication” on every scholarship application. You are the reason I toured the college of agriculture on East Campus at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. You are the reason I met with academic advisors in agriculture areas. You are the reason I choose agriculture. Why? It’s simple. YOU give me hope. You’ve helped me see the importance of each and every agriculturalist. From farmers to bankers to chemists to advocates- they’re all important. It’s because of you and your dedication and drive that I am choosing agriculture. Yes, I’m selecting this major for other reasons as well. For the uninformed, those disconnected from agriculture, and the curious. But in the end, I’m venturing with this major because of you. I see the smile you get when you finish your last field of corn. I see the difference you’re making in informing others through social media, radio, and magazines. I see your passion ignite when you get to visit with agriculturalists as well as non-agriculturists. I see the fear in your eyes of being able to feed the world by 2050. But I also see hope. I see so much hope. So, with that being said, thank you. Thank you for showing me that a major and a career in agriculture will be a choice I will never regret. Thank you for investing in me. Thank you for investing in others. YOU make a difference in the lives of countless people without even knowing it. So, thank you.

Sincerely,

A high school senior that got her passion for agriculture by watching all of you

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Why drones?

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Why drones? What is causing such an increase in drones? In a time where technology is everything, it would only make sense for drones to be the new fad. The biggest question is what can they do for agriculture?

Drones and agriculture go together like peanut butter and jelly. It makes sense to use them to make the farmer and ranchers lives easier. How? There are several applications that can help make life on the farm a little easier.

First some background on drones. Drones are also known as UAV, which stands for an unmanned aerial vehicle. This means that they are flown by someone through a receiver on the ground. Did you know that the first flight of an unmanned aerial combat vehicle was in the early 1910s for the military? They started to focus more on UAV’s at that time to help with target training.

There are several types of drones as well. With all different types of drones out there, how are you supposed to know which one would work for your operation? That is a great question! Every operation is different and your needs with a drone with vary. Depending on the drone you pick you have to decide what you are going to use it for down the road. Will you be using it to check your cattle? What about flying across your fields to see your crop index? Those are questions you need to ask when you are shopping around.

DCIM100MEDIADJI_0003.JPGI have seen application of a larger drone by Slant Range with a NDVI sensor. NDVI stands for Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. A NDVI sensor can measure the solar radiation that the plants put back out after absorbing it to carry out the process of photosynthesis. The sensor is finding the near-infrared light that the plants are putting off from its leaves. By using a NDVI sensor you can measure the plant productivity, how much rainfall may have occurred, weedy areas that may be in the field, and other applications. Infrared in the NDVI also can measure the amount of heat being put off. Using this application of NDVI, you can fly over your cattle herd and see if any of them may have a higher temperature than normal. You can also use the regular camera to fly over your herd to see if there are any changes occurring in the herd.

While attending Southeast Community College in Beatrice, NE, I have had the opportunity to learn some about drones. I have been able to apply the information I gathered from the drone, to the fields on campus and create prescriptions and suggestions. The drone I have been able to fly the most is the DJI Phantom 4. The students on campus have been able to fly over most of the land on campus and see what it looks like from above. We tested out the DJI app that you download to fly the drone and used some of the features.

With some of those applications and different drones in mind, you can narrow down what may work for your operation.

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Orange Cream Scones

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Ingredients
Scones
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup cubed butter, cold
1 large egg
¼ cup sour cream
¼ cup heavy cream
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Glaze
1½ tablespoon butter, melted
¾ cup powdered sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon orange juice
½ teaspoon orange zest (optional, but it really adds good flavor)

Directions
1.    Preheat oven to 400º and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with cooking oil spray.
2.    Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and orange zest.  Cut in cold butter with a pastry cutter until the butter is about the size of peas and the dough resembles coarse crumbs.
3.    In a small bowl, combine egg, sour cream, heavy cream, and vanilla extract.
4.    Add liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
5.    Turn the dough out onto a floured surface; gently knead the dough until it holds together.  Pat into a 1-inch thick circle.  Cut into 8 triangles.
6.    Brush the tops of each scone with a little bit of heavy cream or milk.
7.    Bake for 15-18 minutes, or until scones are golden brown.
8.    While the scones are cooling, mix up the glaze.
9.    Spread the glaze over the sligntly warm scones.  Serve.

Yield:  8 scones

Sweet Potato Custards

sweet-potato-custardsIngredients
½ teaspoon butter
12 oz. sweet potatoes, cooked and cooled
1 cup low-fat dairy milk
½ cup brown sugar
2 eggs
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
4 teaspoons chopped pecans

Directions
•    Preheat oven to 350º.  Grease 4 or 5 oven-safe custard cups or ramekins with butter.
•    In a blender, combine the sweet potatoes, milk, eggs, sugar, spices, and vanilla.  Blend until smooth.
•    Pour blended mixture evenly between prepared custard cups, about ¾ cup per dish.
•    Sprinkle;e the top of each custard with about a teaspoon of chopped pecans.
•    Place custards on a baking sheet and bake for 25-30 minutes or until browned, set in the center, and slightly puffed.
•    Serve warm or chilled.

Yield:  4-5 servings

Humans, Just Like You

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Yesterday evening, I went to visit my grandpa in the nursing home. When he asked “Do you know when I’ll be able to come home?” I thought to myself, “Living at home isn’t something you’ll be able to do anymore.” However, I wasn’t going to tell him that. Instead, I looked at Grandpa with hopeful eyes and said, “Well, I’m not sure! I guess we’ll have to wait and see! What’s so bad with being here though? I think they treat you pretty good!” Grandpa replied with a smile, “They sure do! But there’s nothing like living on the farm with my wife.”

As Grandpa expressed his love for his farm life through those words, I was reminded of his journey. It’s been a long one. Cecil, my Grandpa, has been living his whole life for the Lord, his family, and for farming. In my opinion, the greatest things around! Now, as he grows older, he has to separate from one of those things. The Farm. There comes a time when we grow too old to care for our cattle and too weak to climb up the tractor. I know Grandpa wishes nothing more than to be rolling through the snow in 30 below wind chills to feed his black beauties. That’s the passion of a farmer. The devotion of a farmer is something that goes unnoticed. People disconnected from agriculture are often misinformed and don’t view us as hard working humans. They instead view this industry as a machine. Yes, we are industrialized, but we are much more than that. My grandpa is a prime example of what’s really at the roots of agriculture. Here are 3 things that I think go unnoticed by our consumers.

  1. The passion we have for taking care of the land is absolute. As farmers, we don’t just plow through our land without a care in the world. We have a passion for what we are working with. We take pride and joy in knowing that the land we are working with has been an art project in the making. We work hard to preserve our land over the years so the next generation can inherit it.
  2. The care we have for our consumers is far beyond what others believe. What many people forget is that we, as farmers, eat what we produce as well. We wouldn’t produce anything that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. Consumers are always in the back of our minds when we are working hard to produce quality food.
  3. We are humans, just like you. What people will often forget is that people in agriculture are just as human as everyone else. We have families, we have feelings, and we have jobs that have much more passion behind them than advertised.

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If you take anything away from this blog, take away this: when you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal this month, think less about the technical side of things and more about the personal side of things. Look at your hearty meal and see the hard work, dedication, and passion that farmers endured to produce what you’re eating. We aren’t just producing food to produce food. We are caring for our land, caring for our consumers, and being humans, just like you.

 

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The Ag Sack Lunch Program: Educating the Future of Agriculture

By: Abby Steffen

ag-sack-lunchI grew up in Northeast Nebraska, in a very rural area. Most of my summer days were spent on my grandparent’s farm, learning about agriculture before I even knew what the word “agriculture” meant. I would run through corn and soybeans while they grew in the fields, I would sit and watch my grandpa bring the cows into the milk barn, I would giggle as baby calves fought over which one got to suck on my fingers. At the end of the day, I knew what the food was that was on my supper plate. I knew how it was raised, how it was harvested, and how much work was put into getting that food from farm to fridge to fork. Knowing these things humbled me in a way I cannot describe, but also gave me some peace of mind to be able to see what I was eating and putting into my body. I wish every kid in America would be able to grow up with these types of experiences, but I know that is not possible. There are many children who are now completely removed from farms and ranches. They aren’t provided with many opportunities to learn about agriculture. The Ag Sack Lunch program is trying to change that.
ag-sack-lunch2In 2010, the Ag Sack Lunch Program was created to educate Nebraska fourth-graders, teachers, and parents about the different agricultural industries in Nebraska, all while providing 5,000 sack lunches each year. Each Ag Sack Lunch Ambassador is given a set of presentation cards that give the children a visual to look at during the presentation. The cards have fun facts that help the students not only learn about the seven main industries in Nebraska, but also make connections about how these industries impact their lives.  They learn about how much land in Nebraska is devoted to farming and ranching, and also that 1 in every 4 jobs relates back to agriculture. The Program covers both specific sectors of the livestock industry, such as beef, dairy, swine, and poultry; and also crops like soybeans, corn, and wheat. In their sack lunches, the students receive a ham, roast beef, or turkey sandwich. They also get carrots, Fritos corn chips, a rice crispy bar, mayonnaise and mustard, and a deck of cards that have fun facts about each industry and look just like the cards the ambassador presents with. At the end of the presentation, the group walks through every item in their lunches and talks about which industry they came from.
ag-sack-lunch3This is now the Ag Sack Lunch Program’s seventh year and I have worked as an Ag Ambassador for two years. I can honestly say it has been one of the most rewarding and educational life experiences I have ever had. It has kept me humble and open minded, as I did not grow up in a very diverse agricultural area. For many classes I presented to, I was not surprised when students knew most of the answers. However, once I began to present to more urban centered schools, there were times I felt truly heartbroken. Some students I interacted with did not even know where the meat on their sandwich came from before the store. I could see the want to learn in the students’ eyes.  When it finally clicked for them, the smiles on their faces was enough to make me fall in love with the Ag Industry all over again.

ag-sack-lunch4Agriculture is a huge and important industry in the state of Nebraska. It is crucial to the economy, the environment, and of course, to providing enough food to feed the growing population. Unfortunately, as more and more generations are being removed from farms and ranches, agricultural knowledge is not being passed along. Not many people know how this industry works and there are not many schools in Nebraska who implement ag-related courses. How can we expect people to understand and care about an industry and lifestyle they aren’t even familiar with? This is why the ag-literacy work that we do in the Farm Bureau Crew and in programs like Ag Sack Lunch is so important. By learning how to communicate to people of different ages and lifestyles we can improve ag-literacy in Nebraska. We can get people more involved and interested in agriculture to strengthen the future of the industry. In The Crew, I get to share different stories in agriculture through videos, photography, social media and blogging. In Ag Sack Lunch, I get to talk to students about where I grew up and how important agriculture is to people, especially in rural areas.
The experiences I have gained by working with The Crew and as an Ag Sack Lunch Ambassador have really made me appreciate the area in which I grew up and the educators who understood the importance of our state’s Agricultural Industry. I have experienced first-hand that programs like The Crew and Ag Sack Lunch are so important and influential to the Agriculture Industry. In the future, it will be up to their generation to find more sustainable food practices in order to feed the growing population while keeping the economy and the environment in check. They are the future of agriculture, and sponsored programs like The Crew and Ag Sack Lunch are preparing them in fun and interactive ways!

 

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The Joys of Fall

img_8345There is just something about fall and harvest that I love experiencing every year. Things like the cool morning air as the sun rises over the horizon, the deep rumble of the diesel engines warming, and the rows of finished crops just crying out to be picked. And while our harvest at the nursery is a bit different from more traditional row crop farming we also look forward to our fall harvest. For the Nurseryman, when we see fall colors coming onto our trees and we can begin our harvest, our hearts beat a bit faster. To me, fall really hasn’t arrived until I see the combines in the fields harvesting and our equipment digging fresh trees from our fields.

Every year as harvest arrives, whether it is acres of crops, fields of trees, or our own home landscapes and vegetable gardens, I believe we all smile a bit larger as we enjoy the fruits of our labor and the return of the fall.

img_8350Our fall harvest while similar to other farmers is also slightly different. Just as crop farmers wait for the beans or corn to dry to harvest, we need our trees to show good fall color before we can safely harvest them from our fields. Once harvested our job is just beginning, as we will spend the short time before winter planting our harvest in the landscapes of our clients. This means there is still plenty of time to install a new tree, shrub or even perennial in your landscape. Generally we feel you can safely plant perennials until early November, shrubs and evergreens through November, and shade & flowering trees until the ground freezes solid. Of course some years Mother Nature is kinder and other years a bit meaner so that schedule can vary from year to year based on weather so check with your local nursery professional for specific recommendations about your fall planting.

Beyond the harvesting and planting activities don’t forget that fall is also a great time to prepare for next year in our landscapes and gardens. Fall landscape cleanups and fall turf care are some wonderful ways to prepare for next year.

As cool fall weather arrives and our plants go into their dormant winter sleep, proper fall cleaning and trim back of our landscapes prepares our plants to sleep through winter and come back ready to grow next spring. Removing dead annuals opens the beds for next year’s planting and trimming off browned up perennial tops cleans them up and prepares them to regrow next spring. Also when removing your annuals or vegetables consider preparing your beds for next spring’s plantings by adding and tilling in some compost or peat moss & manure to further enrich your beds.

img_8349On the turf side when the leaves begin to fall don’t forget to spend time on your lawn. September to early October is the normal time for application of the third step of the four step lawn programs and November is perfect for the fourth step usually known as the Winter Turf Fertilization. Proper fertilization of your lawn this fall will give your turf what it will need next spring for a healthier lawn. Fall is also the time to aerate your turf to reduce compaction, encourage a vigorous root system and to increase water / air movement into the soil. And while you may need to mow a few more times, make an effort to rake up fallen leaves every week to ten days. Frequent rakings will reduce the possibility the leaves will get left in place caught under the snow. Short-term, leaves aren’t really a problem but if they are left to sit under the snow all winter they can mat down the grass and leave areas that could need to be reseeded or resodded next spring.

Finally, if Mother Nature doesn’t give us plenty of moisture this fall even as the weather gets cooler make sure to water your turf and plants to keep them hydrated as they head into their winter dormancy. By properly hydrating your plants, especially your evergreens, you ensure they are prepared for their winter sleep and your plants will be better prepared to begin growing again next spring. Just remember to detach your hoses between waterings to eliminate the potential of frozen or cracked pipes in your home.

When I think about it I really don’t know what it is about fall that I enjoy so much. Choices abound from the beauty of the fall foliage, the moderating weather, Husker football, the harvest, or any of the many other events that fall brings. What I do know though is that the events of fall, including the harvest, are such major parts of our lives here in Nebraska. So, as I will, make the most of a glorious fall this year and celebrate it before that evil beast winter shows up again.

 

Andy Campbell is manager of Campbell’s Nurseries Landscape Department. A Lancaster County Farm Bureau Member, Campbell’s, a family owned Nebraska business since 1912, offers assistance for all your landscaping and gardening needs at either of their two Lincoln garden centers or through their landscape design office. www.campbellsnursery.com.