Producer Driven Education to Improve Bio-Diversity in Semi-arid and High-Plains Cropping Systems

2005 Annual Report for LNC03-222

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2003: $141,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2005
Region: North Central
State: Nebraska
Project Coordinator:
Gary Hergert
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
David Baltensperger
University of Nebraska

Producer Driven Education to Improve Bio-Diversity in Semi-arid and High-Plains Cropping Systems


First-time producers participated in an incentive program to promote the production of “alternative crops”, with the potential to improve bio-diversity in semi-arid cropping systems in the High Plains region. A primary, program incentive is research/extension based support from university specialists and production/management support from mentor producers. The program has resulted in an increased knowledge base for the production and marketing of “alternative crops” through informational meetings, workshops, field tours, and the development of printed and electronic materials. In 2005, approximately 4,550 acres of program crops were planted.

Objectives/Performance Targets

Short-term: Increase knowledge of sustainable production practices for alternative crops in the High Plains.

Intermediate: 75 producers will have had a successful experience with production of an alternative crop.

Long-term: Increase bio-diversity in the region.



A core group of mentor producers was organized for the second year of the project, each with background experience in the production of an “alternative crop” that has bio-diversity and economic potential in the High Plains. “Alternative crops” selected for the project were brown mustard/canola, sunflower, grain/forage pea, specialty millets, perennial grass seed, and chickpeas.

Outreach of the project resulted in gaining first-time participation by a minority producer and a producer transitioning into an organic cropping system. Mentor and first-time producers were instrumental in enhancing the knowledge base of alternative crops by sharing the pros and cons of their production experiences at informational meetings and field tours. This feedback information, in addition to research updates by university specialists, helped facilitate and empower new producers.

Mentor producers and university specialists highlighted production and/or economic information for “alternative crops” at various research and production meetings, including: a) Sunflower Production Meeting, Scottsbluff, NE, b) Crop Tech Conference, Gering, NE, c) Brown Mustard Production Meeting, Scottsbluff, NE, d) Nebraska Dry Bean Meeting, Mitchell, NE, e) Wheat Technology Conference, Sidney, NE, f) High Plains Ag Lab Advisory Board Meeting, Sidney, NE, g) Regional No-Till Conference, Greeley, CO, h) National Sunflower Association Meeting, Fargo, ND, i) Ag Horizons Conference, Pierre, SD, and j) ASA-CSSA-SSSA Meetings, Salt Lake City, UT.

First-time producers planted approximately 4,550 acres of “alternative crops” during the second year of the project, including: brown mustard/canola (350 acres), sunflowers (2,550 acres), chickpeas (600 acres), forage/grain peas (1,000 acres), and perennial grass seed (50 acres).

Follow-up visitations with participants indicated that their learning curve for the production of an “alternative crop” was advanced by one to two years by participation in the project. Most producers remain optimistic about the potential benefits of an “alternative crop” in their cropping systems, but continue to have economic and marketing concerns.


Mentor and first-time producers are being identified for participation in the third year of the project (2006 production year), with a goal of an additional twenty-five first-time producers involved in the production of an “alternative crop”.

Project participants completed a Cooperative Extension Circular, “Alternative Crop Budgets and Decision Making”. It is currently available in hard copy and is planned to be available online ( in mid-2006. A grain/forage pea production guide is currently in print, a regional (multi-state) production manual for sunflower was revised, and a regional brown mustard manual and a cool-season grass seed production guide are under development.

A user-friendly, educational website ( has been developed to provide general information and educational materials about the manufacture of biodiesel and its potential importance to the production of brown mustard, and other oilseed crops, on the High Plains.

A target of fifty, first-time producers has been realized during the first two years of the project. These producers have planted approximately 6,500 acres of “alternative crops” during this period.

Long term:

The accomplishment of long-term objectives will be a direct reflection of the success achieved in addressing short-term and intermediate objectives. To date, the active participation and positive response by mentor and first-time producers is certainly a measure of success in the advancement of bio-diversity into regional cropping systems. Informational networks and educational materials have now been developed for various “alternative crops”, which allow potential producers to assess the risks and potential benefits of a new crop.

While not likely to occur during this project, the extension of “alternative crops” into the region will be carefully monitored. Regardless of how this extension may evolve, the chances for future producers to have a successful experience in producing an “alternative crop” have been and will be significantly enhanced.

Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes

Fifty, first-time producers have participated in an incentive program that provides research, production/management, and limited financial support for the adoption of “alternative crops” into regional cropping systems. Approximately 6500 acres of program crops have been planted during the first two years of the project, including: brown mustard/canola, sunflowers, chickpeas, forage peas, and perennial grass seed.

The visibility and promotion of alternative crops, in regional cropping systems, has significantly increased due to: 1) informational meetings for program crops, 2) producer driven field tours, workshops, and on-site visits, 3) coverage of program events by newspaper, radio, and television, and 4) increased availability of informational materials in hard copy and electronic form.

The ongoing development of a supportive network has provided a unique opportunity for first-time producers to directly communicate with researchers and mentor producers about real-time problems in an effective and timely manner.

As the result of a cooperative effort among project participants, an expanded audience of regional producers and agri-business personnel now has the opportunity to access a developing resource base for “alternative crops”. Currently, extension circulars and production guides are available in hard copy and/or electronic form that detail best management practices, marketing strategies, and budgeting decisions for chickpea, brown mustard, sunflower, and grass seed production.

Project participants are instrumental in providing regional research and production support for the development of “alternative oilseed crops”, including brown mustard, as renewable energy resources for the manufacture of biodiesel. Production of biodiesel has the potential to significantly enhance regional economies, improve air-quality, and reduce dependence on foreign oil.

Camelina sativa, a crop with both pharmaceutical and biodiesel potential, will be included in the project next year.

To date, the most serious project limitation is that development of the waxy proso market, and its subsequent production demand, has been slower than expected.


Walter Kielian

First-time producer - sunflower
3479 Road 63 East
Dix, NE 69133
Office Phone: 3086825090
Jessie Agler

First-time producer - chickpea
HC 516, Box 108
Hay Springs, NE 69347
Office Phone: 3082324590
Bert Keller

First-time producer - field & forage peas
R. R. 1, Box 17
Eustis, NE 69028
Office Phone: 3084865653
Bruce Brockmeier
First-time producer - field peas
Rt. 1, Box 19
Eustis, NE 69028
Office Phone: 3084865656
Rex Peterson

First-time producer - sunflower
1401 600th Road
Gordon, NE 69343
Office Phone: 3082820880
Lon Eisenbarth

First-time producer - spring canola, brown mustard
3395 State Hwy 152
Yoder, WY 82244
Office Phone: 3075327821
Damon Birkhofer

First-time producer - sunflower
3963 Road 20 South
Kimball, NE 69145
Office Phone: 3082357296
Jim Duncan

First-time producer - sunflowers
480 Co. Rd. 62
Hemingford, NE 69348
Office Phone: 3084873625
Mark Watson
Producer/Mentor - chickpea
1561 Co. Rd. 61
Alliance, NE 69301
Office Phone: 3087628237
Dan Laursen
First-time Producer - camelina
7678 Madison Rd
Alliance, NE 69301
Office Phone: 3084875541
Wayne Crawford
First-time Producer - winter canola
7767 Madison Rd.
Alliance, NE 69301
Office Phone: 3087624414
Carl Thomas
Mentor/Producer - perennial grass seed
10038 Co. Rd. 10
Morrill, NE 69358
Office Phone: 3082472096
Robert Harveson
Plant Pathologist
University of Nebraska
4502 Avenue I
Scottsbluff, NE 69361
Office Phone: 3086321239
Ray Yuill

First-time producer - forage peas
1115 Hudson Ave.
Alliance, NE 69301
Office Phone: 3087626396
Brad Hansen
Producer/Mentor - Grain/Forage Peas
D & S Hansen Farms
P. O. Box 141
Hemingford, NE 69348
Office Phone: 3087600189
Jim Young, Jr.
First-time producer - chickpea
102 Ridge Rd
Kimball, NE 69145
Office Phone: 3082352006
Mark Kautz

First-time producer - sunflower
110492 Co. Rd. 31
Minatare, NE 69356
Office Phone: 3087831438
William 'Bill' Booker
Producer/Mentor - Sunflowers
1956 Road 6
Bushnell, NE 69128-9602
Office Phone: 3086735333
Neal Weyers

First-time producer - chickpea
Weyers Ranch, Inc.
4046 451st Trail
Hay Springs, NE 69347
Office Phone: 3082324491
Drew Lyon
Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist
University of Nebraska
4502 Avenue I
Scottsbluff, NE 69361
Office Phone: 3086321266
Gary Hein
University of Nebraska
4502 Avenue I
Scottsbluff, NE 69361
Office Phone: 3086321369
Dennis Bakely

First-time producer - chickpea
HC 77, Box 271
Cody, NE 69211
Office Phone: 6056851331
Leon Kriesel
Producer/Mentor - Speciality millets
Kriesel Certified Seed
4626 Road 111
Gurley, NE 69141
Office Phone: 3088842424
Jay Child

First-time producer - field peas
7823 245th Trail
Gordon, NE 69343
Office Phone: 3082820649
Mike Strasburger

First-time producer - forage peas
1690 330th Trail
Ellsworth, NE 69340
Office Phone: 3082822753
Paul Burgener
Ag Economist
University of Nebraska
4502 Avenue I
Scottsbluff, NE 69361
Office Phone: 3086321241
Steve Sanders

First-time producer - forage peas
R. R. 1, Box 159
Gordon, Ne 69343
Office Phone: 3082821017
Brian Frank

First-time producer - sunflower
4501 East Hwy 30
Kimball, NE 69145
Office Phone: 3082355097
Orval Weyers

First-time producer - chickpea
Weyers Ranch, Inc.
4826 392nd Trail
Hay Springs, NE 69347
Office Phone: 3082324567
Patrick Petersen

First-time producer - spring canola
1401 600th Rd
Gordon, NE 69343
Office Phone: 3082820880
Joe Heiting

Fisrt-time producer - chickpea
5078 460th Lane
Hay Springs, NE 69347
Office Phone: 3086384585
Joe Dolezal

First-time producer - forage peas
7598 370th Trail
Rushville, NE 69360
Office Phone: 3088624206
Richard Van Pelt

First-time producer - spring canola
3585 Road 20
Kimball, NE 69145
Office Phone: 3082352762
Tim Hashman

First-time producer - sunflower
1550 Co. Rd. 63
Alliance, NE 69301
Office Phone: 3087626905
Charles Laif Anderson

First-time producer - spring canola
393 Road 18
Pine Bluffs, WY 82082
Office Phone: 3086735657