Nebraska Annual State Report

Final report for NCNE17-001

Project Type: PDP State Program
Funds awarded in 2017: $110,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2018
Grant Recipient: University of Nebraska
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
State Coordinator:
Dr. Gary Lesoing
University of Nebraska-LIncoln
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Project Information


The Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Professional Development Program (PDP) has worked in cooperation with Nebraska Extension and partnered with other organizations in Nebraska to provide professional development and education in sustainable agriculture. Organizations we partner with include: Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Service Agency (FSA) Nebraska Natural Resource Districts (NRDs), Nebraska Department of Agriculture, Nebraska RC&Ds, high school vocational agriculture and college agriculture instructors,and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) i.e. Center for Rural Affairs, Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, Nebraska Buy Fresh, Buy Local Program and Nebraska Food Coop.

The Nebraska SARE PDP target audience includes: Nebraska Extension Educators and Specialists, NRCS field staff, Farmer Educators,NRD Staff,and NGO educators. Gary Lesoing, the Nebraska State Coordinator provides opportunities for professional development training at local, state, regional and national conferences and trainings. There were travel scholarships awarded to Extension Ag Educators, NGO Educators and Farmer Educators to attend conferences focusing on sustainable agriculture, particularly in areas of cover crops and soil health, and small scale food production. At local and statewide sustainable agricultural events, SARE resources and information is shared.

Soil Health and Water, Scaling Up Local Food and providing general information about sustainable agriculture through web-based education and statewide face-to face conferences has been the focus in 2017 and 2018. In 2017 over 500 people and in 2018 over 700 people attended SARE supported soil health/cover crop conferences across Nebraska in cooperation with Nebraska Extension, NRCS and Nebraska NRDs. These partnerships have provided opportunities for more education and research in soil health, potentially increasing adoption of soil health practices which will improve the sustainability of our farms. A major focus in 2017 was the development of the Midwest Cover Crop Conference Nebraska Selector Tool. This SARE supported project is scheduled for a test launch in early 2019. This tool will provide producers with the information needed for cover crop selection in Nebraska.

Interest in the development of local food systems in Nebraska continues. Seventy individuals participated in two SARE supported tours that visited local food producers in Nebraska in 2017. Extension Educators, members of NGOs and consumers are interested in programs that improve the sustainability of local food systems.  These tours increase the awareness of local food issues. In 2018 a SARE supported tour of several local food producers and sustainable farms in Nebraska drew 64 participants.

Approximately 225 people participated in two SARE supported sustainable agriculture conferences in Nebraska in 2017, while in 2018 over 200 people participated in one SARE supported sustainable agriculture conference in Nebraska. At each conference information was presented about SARE resources and potential grant opportunities. A variety of topics provided education on sustainable agriculture at these conferences.

Nebraska SARE continued to have a web presence in 2017. Our SARE webpage is used to advertise and promote SARE programs in sustainable agriculture and provide resources about sustainable agriculture. Four webinars about sustainable agriculture subjects were presented in 2017 receiving 359 views with 869 people viewing previously recorded webinars. In 2018 four additional webinars relating to sustainable agriculture were presented receiving 166 views with 189 people viewing previously recorded webinars. A blog initiated in 2016,; has 649 followers, an increase of 30% in 2017. The blog provides information about sustainable agriculture programs and highlights local food producers. In 2018 we continued to produce the blog described above. The blog currently has 737 followers. There were 874 views from 631 visitors this year. 




Project Objectives:

2017-18 initiatives are:

  1. Soil health and water
  2. Regional conferences focusing on sustainable agriculture issues
  3. Scaling up local food systems
  4. Web-based education of sustainable agriculture
  5. Emerging issues


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info


Educational approach:

For the Nebraska SARE Program, we provide a number of opportunities for agricultural educators to receive professional development in sustainable agriculture.  Through cooperative efforts with Nebraska Extension, NRCS and other organizations, we conduct and provide resources for conferences, field days, workshops and tours in areas relating to our initiatives; soil health and water, scaling up local foods and sustainable agriculture in general.  We provide travel scholarships to educators to participate in sustainable agriculture programs, locally, statewide, regionally and nationally.  We then generally require the scholarship recipient to provide an educational outreach program in return, usually relating to what they learned from their educational experience. They may give a webinar, present at a conference or workshop we are conducting or we may visit their farm on a tour.  This provides an excellent opportunity for the scholarship recipient to share and provide education in sustainable agriculture with others. We also provide mini-grants to educators who are interested in either learning about something new in sustainable agriculture, researching a new  method of teaching a concept or demonstrating a sustainable agriculture principle on a farm.  A committee of my SARE Advisors evaluates each proposal and determines if funding is warranted.  The recipient generally shares the results of their mini-grant project through an Extension Outreach Program. We also are present at programs with a display, providing SARE resources and discussing SARE programs and grant opportunities to visitors to our display.  

Education & Outreach Initiatives

Soil Health and Water

Through educational programs and travel scholarships, provide continuing education and resources to agricultural professionals and farmer educators about the issue of soil health/cover crops and water quality and how it impacts agriculture sustainability.


Farmers have become interested in the topic of soil health. Many are integrating the sustainable agricultural practice of using cover crops to improve soil health and the long-term productivity of their soil. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln and SARE provided opportunities for Extension Ag Educators, NRCS staff, and farmer educators to learn about the use of cover crops by providing support to attend conferences, field days, and tours. Nebraska SARE has cooperated with Nebraska Extension’s On-Farm Research Program, NRCS and the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalitions to establish cover crop/soil health research/demonstration sites across the state to help further evaluate the use of cover crops and the importance for soil conservation and soil health. This program will help address a number of questions and concerns in regarding cover crops related to drought and water, which is always an important issue in Nebraska.

8 Travel Scholarships

  • Four Extension Educators/Specialists received travel scholarships to attend the National Cover Crop Conference 2017
  • One former SARE grant recipient received a travel scholarship to attend the SARE 30th Anniversary Conference "Our Farms Our Future" in St. Louis and presented a poster at the conference. 2018
  • Three travel scholarships provided to two graduate students and an Extension Educator to participate in the North American Manure Expo in Brookings, SD. 2018

10 SARE Sponsored Conferences, Workshops and Tours 

  • A mini-grant provided funding for a Soil Health workshop in North Central Nebraska (120 participants) 2017
  • A mini-grant provided funding for a Soil Health/Cover Crop tour in Southeast Nebraska (30 participants) 2017
  • SARE co-sponsored the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference in East Central Nebraska (276 participants) 2017
  • SARE co-sponsored the Opportunities for Growing and Grazing Cover Crops Conference in Lincoln, NE (150 participants) 2017
  • SARE co-sponsored the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference in East Central Nebraska (213 participants) 2018
  • SARE co-sponsored Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference (100 participants) 2018
  • A mini-grant provided funding for a Soil Health/Cover Crop workshop in South Central Nebraska (120 participants) 2018
  • A mini-grant provided funding for a "Grazing for Soil Health" workshop in Central Nebraska  (150 participants) 2018 
  • A mini-grant provided support for a series of 3 soil health labs/workshops across Nebraska (100 participants) 2018
  • SARE sponsored Fall Cover Crop Tour in Southeast Nebraska (20 participants) 2018
Outcomes and impacts:
  1. The SARE Soil Health Initiative has been a very successful program in encouraging and leading Nebraska Extension and NRCS in Nebraska to cooperate and provide research, demonstration and educational opportunities for agricultural professionals and farmers in Nebraska. Through NCR SARE Grants, Nebraska SARE Mini-Grants, NRCS Programs and farmer cooperation, we are moving forward on research and education on soil health issues and the use of cover crops in Nebraska. Currently we have two issue teams in Nebraska Extension that are putting a great deal of effort into the topic of soil health and water quality.  A number of grants are providing funding that will allow research to be conducted on the use of cover crops in Nebraska and other recommended soil health practices. 2017-2018
  2. The Development of the Midwest Cover Crop Selector Tool for Nebraska will provide a tool for farmers to utilize as they plan the use of cover crops in their crop and or crop/livestock systems. It is scheduled to be tested in early 2018 and be available this year following a year of work by Nebraska Extension, NRCS and agricultural providers. 2017

The Nebraska Soil Health Conference (2018) provided an excellent learning environment of the 200 plus people that participated in this successful program. Survey results indicate: 

      1. With (n=160) 87% increased their knowledge of cover crops for corn and soybean producers.

       2. With (n=148) 86% agreed as a result of the Cover Crop Presentations and Panel they learned how you can use Cover Crops to improve their farms.

A survey following the Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference in 2018 (n=30) anticipated this educational event will assist in achieving changes on how to use cover crops in their operation for soil benefits with 46.67% likely and 20% very likely to make changes. 

A survey following a Soil Health Workshop at Green Cover Seed in 2018 and supported through a SARE mini-grant indicated: on a scale of 1-10; their understanding of integrating livestock, cover crops and grazing principles increased from 5.7 before the Field Day to 8.0 after the Field Day.

Participants understanding of soil carbon and why it is important and how can I increase it, was 5.3 before the Field Day and 7.5 after the Field Day. 

Participants were asked how likely are they to increase their soil health practices as a result of the Field Day and 8.7 out of 10 believe they will.

In the Field Day, " Grazing for Soil Health" in Central Nebraska in 2018, (n=64) 79.6% are likely or very likely to implement practices that build soil health in their operation or land that they manage. 


Regional Conferences Focusing on Sustainable Agriculture Issues

Through educational programs and travel scholarships, provide continuing education and resources to agricultural professionals, NGOs and farmer educators about current sustainable agriculture issues.


Within Nebraska there are conferences that focus on sustainable agriculture and provide opportunities for agriculture professionals to improve their knowledge in this area. Nebraska SARE has provided financial support for these conferences and also provides travel scholarships to educators to attend these conferences. In 2017 we supported the Healthy Farms Conference, held in Columbus, NE in northeast Nebraska. We also supported the Western Nebraska Sustainable Crop and Livestock Conference held in Sidney, NE in the Panhandle Region of Nebraska.  Approximately 200 and 25 people attended the Healthy Farms Conference and  the Western Nebraska Sustainable Crop and Livestock Conference respectively. Other conferences where Nebraska SARE supported travel included: No-till on the Plains in Salina, Midwest Cover Crop Conference in Grand Rapids, MI and the National Association of County Agricultural Agents (NACAA) Annual Meeting in Salt Lake City, UT.

10 Travel Scholarships

  • Four farmer educators to No-till on the Plains in Salina, KS 2017
  • One Extension Educator to Midwest Cover Crop Conference in Grand Rapids, MI 2017
  • One Extension Educator to Manure Management Workshop in Raleigh, NC 2017
  • One Extension Educator to NACAA AM/PIC Salt Lake City, UT 2017
  • One Graduate Student to Kansas Entomological Society Meeting in Kansas 2017
  • One Vocational Ag Instructor, spouse of Extension Educator to NACAA AM/PIC Chattanooga, Tn. 2018
  • One Extension Educator to American Society of Agronomy Sustainable Agronomy Conference in Madison, WI. 2018

SARE Sponsored Conferences and Workshops 

  • A mini-grant provided funding for a speaker that discussed holistic animal health in southeast Nebraska  (50 participants) 2018
  • A mini-grant provided funding for a Diversified/Sustainable Beef Production Field Day (44 participants) 2018



Outcomes and impacts:

While the Western Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Crop and Livestock Conference does not draw a large crowd, beneficial learning results from the conference. Results from a survey from the conference indicated:

  1. With (n=20) 87% have a moderate to significant increase in knowledge of the role of beneficial insects in improving yield and reducing input costs.
  2. With (n=20) 78% have a moderate to significant increase in knowledge of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE) and farmer/rancher opportunities. 2017
Scaling Up Local Food Systems

Through programs, travel scholarships, tours and other resources, provide continuing education to strengthen the awareness and knowledge of our local food systems and to increase the capacity of educators to serve their clientele.


There continues to be a focus on scaling up local food systems as the demand for local food and the support for local farmers remains strong. Two SARE sponsored tours visited several local farms in Nebraska that are producing food and either selling direct to the consumer or wholesale at various outlets. One farm grows its own food for their restaurant which is at the farm.  Another farmer sells vegetables wholesale and is part-owner of a food distribution company. Educators learned first hand what is involved in growing and marketing food locally and the challenges of scaling up local food. Fifty-one and nineteen people participated in these tours respectively.  A blog started in 2016 continued in 2017 to increase awareness to local food. It can be accessed at:

4 SARE Sponsored Tours

  • Sustainable Ag Tour (Local Foods & Organic Farming) 51 participants 2017
  • Local Food Systems Tour - Nebraska Extension Issue Team - Mini-Grant 19 participants 2018
  • SARE supported tour for Veteran Farmers touring sustainable farms in eastern Nebraska near Lincoln and Omaha that are producing local food and providing education about food and agriculture to urban children. (40 participants) 2018
  • SARE sponsored tour in southeast Nebraska to local food producers and diversified/sustainable farming operations. (64 participants) 2018

12 Travel Scholarships

  • One staff from NGO attended High Tunnel Workshop in Iowa 2017
  • Two  farmer/entrepreneurial educators attended the Slow Food Nations in Denver, CO 2017
  • Three staff from NGO attended WFAN Conference in Madison, WI 2017
  • Two staff from NGO attended National Incubator Farm Training Initiative in Salinas, CA 2017
  • One Extension Educator attended WFAN Conference in Des Moines, IA 2018
  • One Extension Educator attended High Tunnel Workshop in Iowa 2018
  • One Extension Educator attended Iowa Organic Conference in Iowa City, IA 2018
  • One staff from NGO attended the National Good Food Network Conference in Albuquerque, NM 2018




Outcomes and impacts:

Surveys were conducted following each of the tours that were conducted indicated significant impact.

  1. (n=32) 100% of tour participants gained knowledge on the tour and 66% will make changes based on what they learned on the tour. 2017
  2. For the second tour of 19 educators, specifically planned for Extension Educators that work with consumers, a follow up survey indicated (n=11) 64% are using the information they learned on the tour professionally. 2017
  3. My blog, SAREMANSAGNEWS had a 30% increase in followers from 499 to 649 in 2017.
  4. Presented at the NACAA AM/PIC in Salt Lake City in July 2017. "Increasing Awareness and Education of the Local Foods System and Sustainable Enterprises." p.188 

A survey following the 2018 SARE sponsored tour with (64 participants) of these farms with n=51, indicated on a scale of 0-5, with 0 – Poor and 5 –Excellent, the average knowledge gained was 4.25 for these five farm enterprises toured.

Web-Based Education of Sustainable Agriculture

Increase the educational opportunities for professional development in sustainable agriculture through web-based programs.


We continued to provide a web presence with the Nebraska SARE Program in 2017 and 2018. Our website is used to promote SARE sponsored programs and other sustainable agriculture events. We continue to offer webinars that provide information and education about issues in sustainable agriculture. In 2017 four webinars were presented that received 359 views. We also have 32 webinars archived from 2010 - 2016 available for viewing. These webinars received 869 views in 2017. In 2018 we had four webinars presented that received 166 views and previously recorded webinars received 189 views.

8 webinars

  • Nebraska Permaculture Design (65 views) 2017
  • Bio-based Weed Management Tools for Specialty Crops (219 views) 2017
  • Cattle Management and Performance in an Integrated Crop-Livestock System (44 views) 2017
  • Myths & Merits of Grazing Corn Residue (31 views) 2017
  • A Visit to Slow Foods Nation (43 views) 2018
  • Farmer Training of New Immigrant & Refugee Farmers (32) 2018
  • National Good Food Network Conference - Audrey Woita (78) 2018
  • Video - Using Drones for Corn Nitrogen Management Field Day (13) 2018


Outcomes and impacts:
  1. We had 1496 visitors to our website from 35 different countries in 2017 and 464 visitors from 18 different countries in 2018. 
  2. I have 465 Twitter followers and have 1216 tweets.

Educational & Outreach Activities

200 Consultations
5 Curricula, factsheets or educational tools
8 Minigrants
6 On-farm demonstrations
30 Published press articles, newsletters
2 Study circle/focus groups
8 Tours
30 Travel Scholarships
20 Webinars / talks / presentations
8 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

100 Extension
20 Researchers
40 Nonprofit
30 Agency
30 Ag service providers (other or unspecified)
750 Farmers/ranchers
100 Others

Learning Outcomes

500 Participants gained or increased knowledge, skills and/or attitudes about sustainable agriculture topics, practices, strategies, approaches
175 Ag professionals intend to use knowledge, attitudes, skills and/or awareness learned

Project Outcomes

5 Grants received that built upon this project
3 New working collaborations
200 Agricultural service provider participants who used knowledge and skills learned through this project (or incorporated project materials) in their educational activities, services, information products and/or tools for farmers
700 Farmers reached through participant's programs
Additional Outcomes:

Surveys following these conferences confirmed the significance of the impact these conferences had on the education of the participants.

  • For the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference - 89% (n=127) of the participants noted moderate to significant improvement on how cover crops managed on their farms. 2017
  • For the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference -60% (n=127) of the participants will expand/modify or start in the future how cover crops are managed on their farms. 2017
  • For the Opportunities for Growing and Grazing Cover Crops Conference, 73% responded they plan to expand, modify or start at least one practice discussed at the conference.2017
  • For the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference - (n=116) participants indicated the value of the knowledge and /or practice change on a per acre basis from attending was $11/acre for a total value of the program $30.4 million. 2018
  • For the Grazing for Soil Health Conference in Central Nebraska, with (n=45) the estimated value of the program was $12.33/acre 2018
  • For the Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference, with (n=27) the estimated value of the program was $16.52/acre 2018
Success stories:

The two SARE sponsored cover crop conferences showed significant impact for these programs. Quotes from the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference" Very good program.  Hearing from farmers own experiences is valuable." "Always good - learn something new and very useful environmentally & economically." A survey from the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference indicated the estimate value of the knowledge gained and or anticipated practice changes on a per acre basis was $19.27 per acre (n=89) over 456,228 acres bringing the estimated total value of the program to $8.8 million. Producers in attendance at the Opportunities for Growing and Grazing Conference, representing 80,000 acres and 9,600 beef cows (n=73), estimated the value gained from the conference at $18 per acre.

In 2018 we continued an emphasis on Soil Health and Cover Crop Conferences, Workshops and Tours. Interest continues for the Nebraska Cover Crops Conference with excellent participation and reviews. Comments from the past conference include, "I realize that cover crop production depends entirely on specific operations, but today's presentations are proof that they can work in the right environment." "Start using cover crops for erosion & possibly weed control. Investigate the possibility of including wheat in the rotation."

The Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference also was successful and covered a diverse mix of topics. Comments about this conference included, "Well planned and publicized. A positive conducive environment to foster learning. I enjoyed the multiple perspectives and dimensions of soil health. It provided a well rounded and complete view of soil health. Thank you!" 2018

The Local Food Systems Tour was a result of a mini-grant and attended primarily by Nebraska Extension Educators from the Extension Issue Team "Consumer Confidence in Food". Many of the participants in this tour were either nutritionists or worked in food safety. Comments from Extension Educators about this tour included, "Will tell the story to others as I teach/talk about our food system." I am now more informed about our food system."

In 2018 the SARE sponsored Diversified Ag Tour was a huge success. There were 64 participants on the tour, which sold out in about a week. One of the participants couldn't believe the small farmers could be so entrepreneurial.

Face of SARE

Face of SARE:

In 2017 we have continued to use our webpage for promotion of SARE Grants, resources and programs.  This has made access easier for stakeholders for travel scholarships, grant applications, and other SARE sponsored programs and activities in Nebraska. I also continue to promote SARE programs through list-servs, local newspapers, through webinars and newsletters. This has resulted in participation from Nebraska in the various grant programs in 2017.

In 2017, the SARE display was at a number of conferences and workshops throughout Nebraska. The exhibit includes SARE publications, resources of SARE grant opportunities and the Nebraska and NCR SARE displays. In 2017  Nebraska SARE participated in the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society (NSAS) Healthy Farms Conference in Columbus, NE, a SARE Sponsored Pollinator Workshop Conducted by the Xerces Society at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center (ENREC) near Mead, NE, the Triumph in Ag Show in Omaha, NE, Small Farm Workshop in Nebraska City, NE, the Veterans Beginning Farmer Workshop in Seward, NE, the Opportunities for Growing and Grazing Cover Crops Conference in Lincoln, NE and the Western Nebraska Sustainable Crop and Livestock Conference in Sidney.

We promoted the Farmer/Rancher Grant, the SARE Youth Educator Grant Programs and the Partnership Grants at these above listed conferences and at other activities throughout 2017.  SARE grants and publications were used as resources and promoted at programs conducted in Nebraska in 2017 and also on our website, on my blog, Facebook and Twitter. In 2018 we continued with similar programs and activities, bringing our SARE Display to a number of Programs. This year there were Field Pea workshops around the state as a part of a SARE R&E Grant. I was able to bring the SARE Display to some of these programs as well. I participated in the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Healthy Farms Conference in Lincoln, NE and also explained about SARE. I explained the SARE Farmer/Rancher Grant Program at the SARE Funded Farmer/Rancher Grant of Using Drones for Nitrogen Management of Corn to over 60 farmers at the program. I also provided resources and information to our Farm Beginnings class in Omaha, NE.  While I wasn't able to participate, I was able to have the SARE Display and resources at the Veterans Beginning Farmer Workshop in Hastings, NE in 2018. As in 2017, we participated in the Triump in Ag Show in Omaha in 2018. I was also able to promote SARE at the Nebraska Cover Crop Conference and the SARE Display and resources were at the Southeast Nebraska Soil Health Conference. This year we provided the Northeast Community College Agronomy Program with the SARE Book Publications on Cover Crops and Soil Management to use at their cover crop field day. 


500 Farmers received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
250 Ag professionals received information about SARE grant programs and information resources
Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.