Panhandle Outstanding Service to Agriculture Award
2013 Winners: Rick Larson and Lerwick Livestock Inc.
Two agricultural producers, Rick Larson and Lerwick Livestock Inc., have been recognized with 2014 Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Awards from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center. The announcement was made by Dr. Jack Whittier, Research and Extension Director for Nebraska Extension in the Panhandle. The Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Award recognizes persons or groups who provide outstanding service to agriculture in western Nebraska. Award criteria include value of work done or cooperation with UNL specialists or educators; leadership in agriculture; community service other than agriculture; and level of impact on Panhandle agriculture.
The 2014 award recipients are examples of leadership and innovation.
Lerwick Livestock Inc. includes Alton and sons Dean and Grant, who farm and ranch south of Stegall in Scotts Bluff and Banner counties. Alton Lerwick has been farming for 40 years. With his sons Dean and Grant, he has a diverse operation that includes dryland and irrigated cropland and a commercial cow-calf operation. The Lerwicks' approach to cropping features a continuous no-till system with an assortment of crops and some annual forages.
After receiving a master's degree in 1974 from Colorado State University in range ecology, Alton Lerwick returned home and began to farm with his father. He began to look at more intensive rotations in the late 1980s and early ‘90s and converted to a full no-till system in 1995. Alton was a pioneer in the production of several new crops, including sunflowers. A typical crop rotation consists of wheat, corn, sunflowers and millet on most of the Lerwicks' farm ground. Wheat is planted into millet stubble.
In the ranching operation, Lerwick Livestock has been utilizing artificial insemination for 35 years to improve genetics and performance. The Lerwicks run cattle on owned and rented pasture land. Rotational grazing was instituted more than 30 years ago.
The Lerwicks utilize annual forages to supplement range and increase carrying capacity, and have worked to make management practices compatible with Mother Nature. In Alton's words: "I've tried to design a system that recognizes and works within the constraints of our semi-arid climate with blizzards and wind erosion." These include moving calving to a later spring date and instituting no-till to prevent soil erosion and improve soil structure.
Alton Lerwick has been an excellent cooperator with UNL since the 1970s, when he began working with specialist Louis Daigger on phosphorus fertilization of winter wheat, an uncommon practice at the time. He worked closely with a number of present and former researchers, including David Baltensperger and Drew Lyon. He was a key early adopter of no-till under irrigation. This made him an excellent choice for the Pumpkin Creek Demonstration project on limited irrigation from 2005-08 with Gary Hergert and Gary Stone. More recently the Lerwicks have worked with on Wide Area Pest Management with Gary Hein and John Thomas, and hosting wheat stem sawfly traps for Jeff Bradshaw.
Alton graduated from Morrill High School and University of Nebraska-Lincoln before receiving his master's degree from CSU. He has also been involved in many local and professional organizations, including Wheatland School Board, UNL High Plains Ag Lab Advisory Committee, North Platte NRD Pumpkin Creek Advisory Committee, local tax equalization board, National Cattlemen Beef Association, High Plains Dry Pea Growers Association, Colorado Conservation Tillage Association, and Pumpkin Creek Demonstration Project.
Rick Larson farms and ranches in Banner and Kimball Counties. He and his wife, Diane, farm 1,500 acres of both irrigated and dryland wheat, corn, dry edible beans and alfalfa. Rick is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in animal science and has served on the Kimball-Banner County Extension Board. Since 2003 he has served on the Nebraska Wheat Board, where he has been supportive of many UNL research funding proposals. He is currently chairman. He also serves on the US Wheat Board and has worked extensively in recent years with the Nebraska Wheat Growers in implementing their mobile baking lab.
The Mobile Baking Lab, a 24-foot trailer with full-service kitchen, is owned by the Wheat Growers and operated with support from Wheat Board and ConAgra Foods. Its purpose is to educate consumers and connect farmers with consumers through fresh-baked wheat food to show their food comes from. Larson has worked in the mobile baking lab since it was founded in about 2009, travelling to numerous states to bake bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza, pasta, and other foods. Stops have included Iowa, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, New York, and Washington, D.C.
The mobile baking lab averages at least one event per month, and one of its main stops every year is the Nebraska State Fair. It has served more than 220,000 samples at the state fair alone, and more than a million total samples of baked goods over the years. The Larsons have traveled to the state fair and other states with the Mobile Baking Lab, including a tornado-relief effort in Oklahoma several years ago.
"I don't know that we would have been as successful as we have been without some of the efforts he's put into it," said Caroline Brauer, ag promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Wheat Board. "We're happy to hear that he's receiving this award. Rick is the epitome of what you want in a farmer. He respects farming, environment, and loves educating people in what ag is and does."
Larson also has hosted several international trade teams on his farming operation, giving them an opportunity to see first-hand how wheat is produced. The visitors are some of the people who make purchasing decisions for those nations.
He also has been involved in Banner County Wind Committee and served as grower representative on the National Jointed Goatgrass Steering Committee. As a sales representative for Land O Lakes Purina Feeds, he has been very innovative in adopting new technologies in his beef operation. He is viewed as a leader and a thinker by those that have worked with him over the years.
2013: Keith Rexroth: Keith Rexroth farms near Sidney and has a passion for conservation. Rexroth is a longtime supporter of agricultural research in the High Plains. A member of the High Plains Ag Lab Advisory Board since 1973, he chaired the committee to raise funds for a new headquarters and laboratory building. Ground was broken on the project at the Aug. 6 open house. He also served on the board of the USDA Agricultural Research Service station at Akron, Colo.
A well-known figure in statewide conservation circles, Rexroth has served on the South Platte Natural Resources District Board of Directors since 1993, including a stint as chairman. He has been the NRD's delegate on Panhandle Area Development District (PADD) and Panhandle Resource Conservation and Development (RC&D). He served eight years on the Nebraska Association of Resource Districts Information and Education Committee, including five years as chair. He was named NRD Director of the Year for Nebraska in 2005.
He was appointed by the governor as advisor for the Three-State Cooperative Agreement on the Platte River. He also served on the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission and volunteered in classrooms for 15 years.
Rexroth also has a long involvement in ag leadership positions, both on the local and state levels. In 1983-84 he received the Outstanding Young Farmer Nebraska award. And he served for 10 years in state management for Outstanding Young Farmer program, during which time there were seven national winners from Nebraska. He served on the Dalton Co-op Board, and in the mid-1990s served two years as the Mid-States Advisory for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Chief Pearlie Reed. He has been Cheyenne County Extension Board Chair and South Panhandle Chair. He served two years on the UNL Chancellor's Advisory Board, and was vice president and held other offices on the Nebraska Wheat Growers.
Rexroth organized the Tri-State Ag Summit, which included the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the agriculture directors from Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado.
Rexroth has worked to pass on his love and knowledge of agriculture, volunteering in classrooms for 15 years and hiring high-school and college students to work on the family farm, a "classroom without walls."
The Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Award is given by Panhandle Research and Extension Center faculty in recognition of a person or group who has provided outstanding service to Panhandle agriculture. Award criteria include value of work done or cooperation with UNL specialists or educators; leadership in agriculture; community service other than agriculture; and level of impact on Panhandle agriculture.
Pictured: Kevin Hall (third from left) with parents George and Jeanette Hall and wife, Vickie.
2010: Kevin Hall: Kevin Hall is a leader in Nebraska's sugarbeet industry who operates a diversified farming operation near Bridgeport. Hall produces wheat, corn, dry edible beans, sugarbeets, and sorghum. In 2010 he harvested 6,600 total acres of crops, irrigated with 69 center-pivot systems. He is the largest, by acreage, sugarbeet grower in Nebraska with about 2,800 acres annually, and also has a beef feedlot. He has been a leader in agricultural organizations, especially those related to sugarbeets. He was one of the initial committee members to organize the growers' purchase of Western Sugar; has been on the Board of Directors of Western Sugar Cooperative since its formation; and is currently the board president. He has served on a national committee charged with preserving use of Roundup Ready sugarbeet seed.
He and his wife, Vickie, have three teen-age children. He is a church elder. Vickie is a full-time mother and also partner in the farming operation. Kevin grew up on his father's farm, rented his grandfather's farm when he was a senior in high school, and grew the operation from there. Machinery Systems Engineer John Smith, who nominated Hall, describes him as a leader by example in the Panhandle irrigated agriculture community, always willing to try something new if he can be convinced that it has a good chance of contributing positively to his operation. He's also willing to share his ideas with anyone. Smith said it's common for other farmers to look to Hall as an example, and many growers visit with him about his operation. Hall was the first Nebraska beet grower in recent times to purchase a European-style, self-propelled harvester, also one of the first in the United States. In the four years since, two other Nebraska growers have followed his lead. The harvester is not just bigger, Smith said, but also reduces soil compaction, harvest cost, and root damage.
Hall has participated with UNL on several projects and has allowed faculty to conduct demonstrations in his fields, including direct harvest of dry beans; field-scale comparison of 18-inch and 30-inch row sugarbeets; and comparison of harvest loss and soil compaction between the self-propelled system and conventional methods. Recently he has switched from 30-inch rows to 20-inch rows, a major system change but a progressive one to improve production efficiency.
2009 -- Lynn Myers: Lynn Myers of Lewellen is a Sandhills rancher who is dedicated to improving pasturelands and sharing what he learns with other ranchers. He ranches in northern Garden County. He works and manages the home place, the Tippet Myers Ranch, which has been in the family for 100 years, and several leased pastures between Ashby, Arthur, and Lewellen. His philosophy is to leave the pastures, rented or not, in better condition than he found them in, resulting in several long-term leases. Lynn has worked closely for years with UNL Extension and numerous other agricultural organizations, including the Nebraska Cattlemen and Nebraska Grazing Coalition. He worked closely with former UNL range specialist Pat Reece and preaches the importance of SanDRIS (a UNL Extension grazing management decision-support tool). He actively shares what he has learned. He started and serves on the Nebraska Ranch Mentor Program (now known as "Cowboy Logic") and has hosted student interns interested in grazing management.
Several years ago, Myers leased a new ranch, the Curry Place, and wanted to develop a technique to monitor the improvement in pasture health and production of the pastures. He called the local extension office. Working with Reece, Extension Educators Cindy Tusler, Jay Jenkins and Bethany Johnston, and NRCS staff, a photo-monitoring technique was developed. An Action Team grant led to a successful program to educate other ranchers on this technique. This program had an impact on more than 150,000 acres of rangeland and 12,000 cows. Immediately following the program, two ranches set up photo-monitoring on their ranches.
Myers also received a grant from Sandhills Task Force for improvements on the Curry Place, including the continuation of monitoring with assistance from Extension staff. Photo-monitoring workshops have been conducted at GSL, Women in Ag Conferences in Kearney and Sidney, Nebraska Cattlemen meetings, NRCS Drought Meeting, and Nebraska Grazing Conference as a result of Lynn's involvement with the various groups. The Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition will continue the efforts, and set up monitoring on 50 ranches in eastern Nebraska and 50 ranches in western Nebraska.
Myers' hobbies include roping Hereford cows, playing the banjo, and gifting colorful hats to friends.
2008 -- Charles Fenster: Charles Fenster is a pioneering researcher who retired nearly 30 years ago but remains active in Nebraska agricultural circles. During a long and successful career with the University of Nebraska, he became nationally and internationally known for his work in conservation tillage systems. His work on conservation tillage and ecofallow is fundamental to the environmentally sound cultural practices used in dryland farming today. Charlie and his wife, Eunice, live in Gering. He holds the title of professor emeritus at the Panhandle Center. He retired from university employment in 1980, but did not retire from an active life. After retirement, he volunteered to help the University of Nebraska Foundation and the University of Nebraska Alumni Association. When the Nebraska Crop Improvement Association could not find qualified inspectors for western Nebraska, Charlie was there to satisfy the need. He worked for NCIA for 12 years inspecting wheat, millet, grasses, dry beans and other crops. He also represented NCIA at grower meetings in the Panhandle. He has successfully nominated a number of Panhandle residents for membership in the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement. He still attends and actively participates in UNL programming.
Charlie and Eunice have generously funded a number of programs for the Panhandle District. They established the first endowed professorship for an off-campus site. They have also been major contributors to the Panhandle Dryland Crops Fund, the Panhandle Alumni Scholarship Fund, the Fenster Fund for Family and Consumer Sciences, and the Panhandle Research and Extension Center Director's Discretionary Fund. Charlie regularly tells the story of agriculture in the Panhandle to widespread and diverse audiences. He speaks to Nebraska LEAD groups about the history of agriculture in the Panhandle. He has been involved in FARM, the Farm and Ranch Museum, in Gering since its inception, and developed a major display on the development of conservation tillage in the High Plains. An active community member, he belongs to the Kiwanis Club and has been chair of the Gering Parks, Cemetery and Tree Board for many years.
2007 -- Robert Busch is a leader in numerous agricultural organizations in western Nebraska and a respected voice in statewide water policy discussions. He doesn't stand back and complain when he feels agriculture is getting the short straw from government. He gets active in the political process and educates those who need to know the situation in modern agriculture. Bob, who with his wife, Norma, operates an irrigated farm south of Mitchell, is a long-time member of the Sugar Beet Growers and active in the American Sugar Beet Growers. He has been on the corporate board of the Western Sugar Cooperative.
He has devoted considerable time to educating the general public and policy makers about water issues in Nebraska. He has served as chairman of the water tours of the North Platte System sponsored by the Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce. He sits on the North Platte Natural Resource District Stakeholders Group and also on the Platte River Basin Wide Stakeholders Group, which is concerned with issues of the five NRDs along the Platte River in Nebraska. He has made numerous visits to the U.S. Congress and the Nebraska Legislature to lobby for agriculture interests. He has made as many as five trips during a legislative session. He represents not only agriculture interests but the whole community in several capacities, including serving on the Regional Airport board.
2006 -- Ken Green is a leader in the beef cattle industry in the High Plains and a driving force behind the expansion of the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research Feedlot, which increased the number of pens and made numerous other improvements. In addition to advocating the project, Ken has been a major financial donor. As a key figure in the regional cattle industry, Ken recognized the need for research that provided timely, precise, science-based information to allow beef production to continue to become more efficient. Ken's vision for a profitable feedlot industry supported by a world-class research feedlot was key in the development of over $600,000 in private donations. Ken said his vision is for the Panhandle Research Feedlot to become the center of beef research for this part of the nation, with the just-completed improvements as one step in that process.
Ken is managing general partner of Agra Holdings LP, a liquid feed manufacturer based in Firestone, Colo., with facilities in Minatare, Lexington, and Bradshaw, Neb., Fort Morgan and Lucerne, Colo., Garden City and Scott City, Kan., and Merrill, Iowa. He also is a partner in Finney County Feeders of Garden City, Kan., and Pruvit Cattle Co. He is on the board of directors of Premium Protein, a further possessed meats company which operates a beef abattoir and is highly focused on the international markets. He is a director for Consolidated Beef Producers, the nation's largest cattle marketing cooperative; partner and director of Valley Bank and Trust; partner and director of Kansas Feeds LLC, a liquid commodity trading company with facilities in Dodge City and Scott City, Kan., and Dalhart, Texas; president and director of Dinklage Feedyards Inc.; partner and director of Premier Cattle Co. of Syracuse, Kan.; president of Evergreen Ranch Inc. of Scottsbluff.
Ken was raised in the Nebraska Panhandle and is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He and his wife, Trish, have two children and four grandchildren. They have raised and shown American Quarter Horses for the past 15 years and have earned seven World Champions.
- 2004: Dan Laursen, Alliance
- 2003: Dennis Strauch, Mitchell
- 2001: Hod Kosman, Scottsbluff
- 25th Anniversary Celebration Founder's Award: Terry Carpenter, James Massey, John T. (Jack) Selzer, John Weihing
- 1999: Fred & Viola Kriesel, Gurley; Leon & Cheryl Kriesel
- 1998 Harry T. Cullan, Hemingford
- 1997 Cliff Walker, Scottsbluff
- 1996 Gary Darnall, Harrisburg
- 1995 Doug Schmale, Lodgepole
- 1994 Doug Kizzire, Bayard
- 1993 Jim Gran, Gordon
- 1992 Terry Terrell, Hay Springs
- 1991 Virginia Smith, Chappell
- 1990 Connee Quinn, Chadron
- 1989 Jim Irwin, Alliance
- 1988 Frank & Tootie Johannsen, Bayard
- 1987 Merlyn Carlson, Lodgepole
- 1986 Calvin Coulter, Bridgeport
- 1985: L.D. "Lou" Towater, Scottsbluff
- 1984: Fred Ehrman, Gering
- 1983: Robert Gifford, Harrisburg
- 1982: Don Steen, Morrill
- 1981: Cliff Quick, Alliance
- 1980: Louis Knoflicek, Alliance; Jim Laessle, Scottsbluff
- 1979: William L. Siegel, Morrill; Dwight D. Baltensperger, Bushnell
- 1978: Ray Cruise, Lodgepole
- 1977 Jim Numon, Scottsbluff
- 1976: John R. Jirdon, Morrill; Charles Reisig, Scottsbluff
- 1974: J.G. Elliott Building Dedication, Terry Carpenter
- 1973 Cliff Ashburn
- 1972: Memorial to Chester I. Walters; Phil Sheldon, Honoree
- 1971 Lionel Harris - Honoree Dedication of Lionel Harris Building
- 1970 Progress in Agriculture: John R. Jirdon, John R. Jirdon Industries, Inc., Morrill