Celebrate Beef Month

As we enter the spring and summer months, nothing smells better than a delicious, juicy hamburger or steak on the grill and being able to barbecue outside with friends and family. It’s no surprise then that May is National Beef Month!  The beef industry is especially important to Nebraska’s economy. In fact, according to the USDA National Ag Statistics Service, Nebraska is the #1 commercial red meat production state in the United States (February 2021). So, why is Nebraska, the beef state?  It has a unique mix of natural resources and according to the Nebraska Beef Council, cattle turn grass from 24 million acres of rangeland and pasture, more than one half of Nebraska’s land mass, into protein and many other products for humans. Land that is grazed allows more people to be fed than otherwise possible and more than one billion bushels of corn are produced in Nebraska, of which 40% is fed to livestock in the state.

Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.2 million acres of the state’s total land area – that is 91% of the land! There are nearly 23 million acres of rangeland and pastureland in Nebraska – half of which are in the Sandhills. Here is another fun fact – January 2012 data shows that cattle outnumber Nebraskans nearly 4 to 1.

Photo by Gonzalo Guzman on Pexels.com

Now that I have explained how and why the beef industry is important to Nebraska, let’s explore the health benefits of beef. Beef is a good source of zinc, iron and protein and there are 29 cuts of beef that meet the government labeling guidelines for being lean. In fact, a 3-ounce cooked serving of lean beef (which is about the size of a deck of cards) provides 10 essential nutrients and about half of the daily value of protein in about 170 calories. According to recent research from Purdue University, the cuts of beef considered lean can be included as a part of a heart-healthy diet to support cardiovascular health and has consistently demonstrated that the nutrients in beef promote health through life.

If you would like more information on beef production, you can view our Nebraska Extension website beef.unl.edu. Our Extension experts have a variety of articles from beef nutrition to reproduction to lease information. If you would like recipes or tips for preparing beef, you can also check out Nebraska Extension’s food.unl.edu website. There are some great tips on saving money when purchasing beef and links to the Nebraska Beef Council website which has great recipes as well.

Enjoy some beef today! 


Communicating with Farmers Under Stress

Farmers and ranchers have many stressors in their lives. Weather challenges and disasters like many Nebraskans have recently experienced have led to uncertainty in their crop and livestock operations. Machinery breakdowns, debt loads, volatile markets, sleep deprivation, changing regulations, and the stress of holding onto a multi-generational farm/ranch all play a part of the stress and mental health of a farmer or rancher. Farmers and ranchers know the importance of planning and talking about their financial health to bankers, financial planners, spouses, etc. but might not realize how important it is to spend time on their mental health. 

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

Nebraska Extension, in partnership with Michigan State University Extension, offers a free online webinar, “Communicating with Farmers Under Stress.”. This workshop is beneficial for individuals who work with farmers and ranchers on a regular basis, such as bank lenders, ag suppliers, educators and consultants, healthcare professionals, and anyone involved with the lives of farmers and ranchers. In addition to being helpful for working with farmers and ranchers, the workshop educates participants about managing stress in their own lives and teaches how stressors can affect physical health and relationships with family or coworkers.

This webinar will be Wednesday, May 5th from 10-11:30 a.m., CDT. Registration and more resources can be found on Nebraska Extension’s Rural Wellness website at https://ruralwellness.unl.edu/. For more information, contact Nebraska Extension Educators myself, Brandy VanDeWalle, brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu or Susan Harris, susan.harris@unl.edu.


Practicing Gratitude

One of my goals for 2021 was to be better about practicing gratitude. I have heard from colleagues they keep a gratitude journal to help them reminder all they have to be thankful for. I am happy to say that I purchased one and am mostly diligent about writing in it, but still have room to improve. When difficult things happen that we can’t explain, it can be hard to cope. I searched for ways gratitude can help us in tough times and found a lot of research and science behind how practicing gratitude can help. A team of 15 researchers and mental health practitioners runs a website, positivepsychology.com which I’ve decided to share some tips on handing difficult situations.

Photo by Gabby K on Pexels.com

As I write this, the Nebraska Extension community is grieving the loss of a respected member of our team, Leanne Manning. Leanne was an extension educator at the Saline County office since 1988. She not only taught me about 4-H as I grew up and help me excel in many areas but was a mentor for me in my professional career as a Nebraska Extension educator. While many of across the system have been struggling with her passing, I felt inclined to dedicate this article to her and share ways to cope with grief by practicing gratitude.  

Psychologists have defined gratitude as a positive emotional response that we perceive on giving or receiving a benefit from someone (Emmons & McCullough, 2004). You might have heard the expression that “it is better to give than to receive’. This reminds me of gratitude. Gratitude can actually enlighten the mind and make us feel happier. Research documents physical, social and psychological benefits from expressing gratitude on a regular basis. Gratitude improves interpersonal relationships at home and work (Gordon, 2012). The connection between gratitude and happiness is multi-dimensional. Expressing gratitude not only to others but also to ourselves, induces positive emotions, primarily happiness. 

A study by Moll, Zahn, et al. 2007 showed that the effect of practicing gratitude on the brain is long lasting. For example, it releases toxic emotions, reduces pain, improves sleep quality, aids in stress regulation and reduces anxiety and depression. Positivepsychology.com has tips on “Gratitude and Grief”. First, the article says to cry your heart out; crying doesn’t make us weak. This helps us vent to the pain we are experiencing. Secondly, collect the broken pieces. In other words, grieving with gratitude allows us to appreciate what we still have (job, family, etc.). Also, ask for help; it is ok to seek professional help when all other of your coping mechanisms fail. Finally, keep a gratitude jar. This can be a glass jar or clean box with paper beside it. Place one sheet of paper in the container every day to express what you are grateful for that day. As the container is fuller, you will feel more gifted and hopeful.

This is not to say that grief is easy to handle, rather providing strategies to gain and strength to look beyond it.  I am truly blessed and honored to have known Leanne Manning as “my” extension educator growing up and also as a mentor and colleague in my current professional role.


Ag Safety Day

Progressive Agriculture Safety Day

Statistics from those impacted by a farm-related injury or death are sobering. Many know someone who was impacted by a farm accident that in many cases could have been prevented. This is why I feel so passionately about conducting the Annual Progressive Safety Day each year. The Progressive Agriculture Foundation provides safety and health information to rural communities that need it, which is why I’ve teamed up with them. The mission of Progressive Agriculture Days is simple – to provide education, training, and resources to make farm and ranch life safer and healthier for children and their communities. The vision is that “no child become ill, injured or die from farm, ranch and rural activities.”

During the program’s first year, a total of 2,800 participants and volunteers were reached throughout the South and Midwest and now the program impacts close to 110,000 annually. To date, the program has impacted more than 1.6 million children and adults. The Progressive Agriculture Foundation is in its 27th year of programming in the United States and 20th year in Canada.

Locally, since I have been involved with a Progressive Agriculture Safety Day in Geneva, we have grown from approximately 60 participants to 140 youth from surrounding counties. This half-day event involves many volunteers and local sponsors to make the program what it is today. Every year, business staff or volunteers help teach the hands-on activities. In addition area FFA chapters assist in delivery of sessions and guiding youth participants to each session.

Current 1st through 6th graders are invited to attend Progressive Agriculture Safety Day on Thursday, May 27, 2021 at the Fillmore County Fairgrounds in Geneva, NE.  Youth will participate in a variety of events designed to help them be aware of safety in potentially hazardous situations in and around rural and agricultural settings, including electricity, mental wellness, ATV safety, animal safety, food safety, etc.  NE Extension hosts this event in Fillmore County, along with Shickley, Fillmore Central, Exeter-Milligan-Friend FFA chapters, 4-H, W.I.F.E. and Fillmore County Emergency Management. Early registration forms and $5 are due April 30th; forms can be downloaded at fillmore.unl.edu. After April 30th, registration is $10/youth. For more info or to register, call 402-759-3712 or email brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu.


Nebraska LEAD Program Update

Many of you know I am a LEAD alum which provided so many excellent leadership opportunities, networking and confidence building which have helped me with my career. Recently the LEAD program came out with the following news release announcement which I’ve decided to share this week

After a year hiatus, due to the pandemic, the Nebraska LEAD Program will resume seminars in September 2021. “We are anxiously anticipating the resumption of LEAD programming this coming fall. We have spent our pause year reassessing the entire program,” said Ed Woeppel, Chairman of the Nebraska Agricultural Leadership Council, which sponsors the program. “We are confident that the Nebraska LEAD Program is positioned to continue to be a leader in agricultural leadership development. We look forward to continuing the experiences for LEAD 39 after a one-year pause as well as to welcome in a new group in LEAD 40.”

“Up to 30 motivated men and women with demonstrated leadership potential will be selected from five geographic districts across our state,” said Terry Hejny, Nebraska LEAD Program director. Fellowship applications for Nebraska LEAD (Leadership Education/Action Development) Group 40 are now available for men and women involved in production agriculture or agribusiness.

Applications are available via e-mail from the Nebraska LEAD Program office: leadprogram@unl.edu, by writing to Nebraska LEAD Program, PO Box 830940, Lincoln, NE 68583-0940, or by calling (402) 472-6810.

 For information about the selection process please click on the above application to program tab on the website which is lead.unl.edu. Applications are due no later than June 15, 2021.

The Nebraska LEAD Program began 40 years ago to develop agricultural leaders from Nebraska’s future generations. The constant changes that occur in agricultural policy, marketing, economics and technology point to the need for strong leaders to advocate for the heart of Nebraska’s economy–agriculture. Now in our third decade of forming pioneering agricultural leaders, we have evolved into one of the nation’s premier agricultural leadership development programs.

The program is recognized both statewide and nationally as an innovative organization that has improved Nebraska in many ways. For example, many members of commodity boards, extension boards, local school boards, or local church councils, count themselves among our 1000+ alumni. After you look through our website, search out and speak to our alumni. Encourage them to describe their LEAD experiences. Take time to learn what they have accomplished since graduating to serve their local community, our state or our nation. We believe you will be impressed. If you cannot locate a past participant or have other questions, contact Shana at sgerdes2@unl.edu or 402-472-6810.

If you have any questions, would be glad to share my experiences with you and can be reached at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu or by phone at (402) 759-3712.


Disaster Anniversaries

Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are days to celebrate annually with joy and happiness. If you are like me, I’m sure there are also dates that might bring feelings of anxiety, stress and sadness. For example, I’ll never forget where I was when September 11, 2001 happened. I’ll never forget days that various people in my life were impacted by serious illnesses or passed away. Many Nebraskans will never forget March 15, 2019 when the ‘bomb cyclone’ hit causing massive and historic flooding in the state. This date forever changed the lives of many and will take years for many to recover. Then to top it off last year during March of 2020, COVID-19 hit, causing schools to go virtual, business disruptions, etc. As March 15, approaches, our Nebraska Extension team put out resources which I decided to share in my column this week.

Photo by Rachel Claire on Pexels.com

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has the following tips for how to cope with these trigger events.

  • Be aware that special days may be difficult. It’s common for some stress and other emotional reactions to happen around the anniversary of an event. Simply recognizing that your feelings are normal will help. Dealing with some of your losses and the new realities you’re facing after a disaster can be challenging. Try not to be too hard on yourself.
  • Be gentle with yourself. Show yourself the same kindness and patience you’d give to others during this time. Allow yourself to feel angry or sad and recognize that these emotions are natural.
  • Participate in activities that you enjoy. This may be different depending on the individual. Some people like to reflect in solitude while others may prefer spending time with family and friends for support. Some of these activities may include singing, prayer, meditation, attending a spiritual service, going to the movies, or just getting together with loved ones to share a meal.
  • Talk about your losses if you need to. If you want to talk about your losses since the disaster, you can. If you want to talk about the future, you can do that, too. Be sure to share your thoughts and feelings with someone you trust. That can be a friend or family member or a health care professional.
  • Draw on your faith/spirituality. For many, faith and other spiritual beliefs are a source of strength and comfort every day, and most especially during difficult times. Reach out to your faith adviser, spiritual community, or anyone that you feel comfortable talking with about your beliefs to support and console you.
  • Accept kindness and help from others. Support from family and friends is essential to healing. It’s often difficult for people to accept help because they don’t want to be a burden to others, or don’t want to appear weak. Allow the people in your life to show their care and concern.
  • Help others. For some people, volunteering is a healthy way to heal and they get a great deal of satisfaction from helping others. Some activities can be as simple as donating food, clothing, and other items.

While it is hard to cope with these trigger dates, know that you are not alone and you are cared about, especially by Nebraska Extension. Nebraska Extension, along with numerous other partners has recently created the “Nebraska Needs You” campaign and is working to support others in times of difficulty. We have the Rural Family Stress & Wellness Team, that I am a part of which participates in activities supporting the wellness of rural Nebraska communities by working with community partners and the University of Nebraska. Resources can be found at ruralwellness.unl.edu.

(Source: The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services



In Nebraska Extension, educators have areas we specialize within, providing clients the best, current information available. This week, I’ve decided to feature Nicole Stoner, extension horticulturist for our area with her article on houseplants. The following was was written by Nicole who is based out of the Gage County Extension Office.

The winter is a great time for Houseplants. We can’t be outside with our plants, especially in the sub-zero temperatures we are seeing right now in Nebraska. However, we can enjoy our houseplants from the warmth and comfort of inside our homes. And now is a great time to go out and purchase a new houseplant, or possibly you will get one as a gift for Valentine’s Day.

There are so many great houseplants to choose from. They can be found in a lot of colors, including their foliage colors, some are admired for their greenery and some for their flowers. I have a few, they are all grown primarily for their greenery. Aloe, philodendrons, hoya, snake plant or Mother-in-law’s tongue, and cactus are all plants I enjoy in my office. There are also some great dumbcane plants, African violets, corn plant, and peace lily among many others to choose from.

Houseplant Care
Light is critical for any plant, but houseplants can have real problems if placed in incorrect lighting. In the winter months, plants struggle with poor lighting. Our homes don’t provide houseplants with enough light in the winter so you may need to supplement light for proper growth. Be sure to check on the light needs for your houseplants. Plants such as Boston fern, Peace lily, philodendron, and snake plant are tolerant to low light. These plants will “sunburn” if placed in too intense of lighting, causing the leaf or leaf tips to turn tan in color and become papery.

According to Sarah Browning, Lancaster County Extension Educator, South facing windows provide the brightest light, while across the room from a north window is the darkest location. As a comparison, if light intensity near a south window is ranked as 100%, east and west windows provide about 60% as much light intensity, and north windows only provide about 20% light intensity. This should help you decide which window is best for your plant.

If you do not have a window or location near a window with enough light intensity, you may need to supplement the light around your plant. You can purchase plant lights from many stores and online shopping locations.

Sarah Browning also discusses how humidity is another critical care factor for your houseplants. Many houseplants are tropical in nature and our homes are quite dry in comparison, especially in the winter months. Plants need 70-80% humidity for best growth. Increased humidity in the room can be accomplished through the use of a humidifier or by placing plants in bathrooms which are typically more humid. A pebble tray can also be used. Place plants on a tray of pebbles with water among the pebbles, keep the water level below the plant container. Do not leave plants sitting in water, this can lead to root rot issues.

Also, be sure to keep the plants sufficiently watered. Just feeling around in the soil to test for moisture can be an effective way to know when to water. Don’t just water weekly on the same day, test the soil first. If the soil feels wet don’t water, if it feels dry water the plant. Some plants will tell you when they need watered with droopy or wilted leaves. Remember, the watering needs of your plants will differ so be sure to water only as needed. Add water until it runs out the drainage holes in the container.

GroBigRed Houseplant Series
If you would like to know more about houseplants, you can gain some great information through an upcoming webinar series from Nebraska Extension. The Houseplants 101 is a free webinar series on Saturdays. You can register at go.unl.edu/houseplants101

  • February 20th, 10am-Choosing a Healthy Houseplant, 11am-Picking your plants: Easier & Lower Need Plants
  • February 27th, 10am- How do I keep it alive? (Environmental Considerations) & 11am-Fertilizing & Watering
  • March 6th, 10am- What’s eating my plants? Basic Pest & Disease Management & 11am- Potting and Repotting

On-Farm Research

When I first started my career in Extension in late 2005, I had the opportunity to work with the Quad County On-Farm research group which was comprised of Clay, Fillmore, Hamilton and York Counties. Since then, a statewide On-Farm research effort has evolved, and the annual Nebraska On-Farm Research Network research results update meetings will be offered in-person and online in 2021. Farm operators and agronomists from across the state will obtain valuable crop production-related information from on-farm research projects conducted on Nebraska farms by Nebraska farmers in partnership with University of Nebraska faculty. These research projects cover products, practices and new technologies that impact farm productivity and profitability. 

The Nebraska On-Farm Research Network is a statewide, on-farm research program that addresses critical farmer production, profitability and natural resources questions. Growers take an active role in the on-farm research project sponsored by Nebraska Extension in partnership with the Nebraska Corn Growers Association, the Nebraska Corn Board, the Nebraska Soybean Checkoff and the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission. 

The programs will provide an opportunity to hear growers who conducted on-farm research share their results from the 2020 growing season. Field length replicated treatment comparisons were completed in growers’ fields, using their equipment. 

The following dates/locations are planned for Thursday, Feb. 25th:

  • Auburn, Nebraska — 4-H Building Nemaha County Fairgrounds, 816 I St. 
  • Beatrice, Nebraska — Gage County Extension Office, 1115 West Scott 
  • Clay Center, Nebraska — Clay County fairgrounds, 701 N Martin Ave. 
  • David City, Nebraska — David City Library, 399 N 5th St. 
  • Wahoo, Nebraska — Lake Wanahoo Education Building, 655 County Road 16, East side of Lake Wanahoo 
  • York, Nebraska — Cornerstone Event Center, Fairgrounds York, 2400 N. Nebraska Ave. 

Online options are also available on Friday, Feb. 26  

  • Clay Center, Nebraska — Clay County fairgrounds 701 N Martin Ave. 
  • Kearney, Nebraska — Buffalo County Extension Office, 1400 E. 34th (Fairgrounds) 
  • Nebraska City, Nebraska — Kimmel Orchard Education Building, 5995 G Rd.  
  • Norfolk, Nebraska — Madison County Extension, 1305 S. 13th St. 
  • Osceola, Nebraska — Polk County fairgrounds, Ag Hall, 12931 N Blvd. 
  • Seward, Nebraska — Harvest Hall, Fairgrounds Seward, 1625 Fairgrounds Circle 
  • West Point, Nebraska — Nielsen Center – West Point, 200 Anna Stalp Ave. 
  • Wilber, Nebraska — Saline County Extension Office, 306 W 3rd St. 

Online options are also available. Programs start with check-in at 8:30 a.m. CST and conclude at 12:30 p.m. CST.   Visit the On-Farm Research Network meetings page for registration, details and program updates.  Pre-registration is required. Walk-in registration will not be permitted. Early registration is encouraged due to capacity limitations at each location. Once a location is full, it will no longer be listed as a registration option. Please pre-register for in-person training at least two days in advance for planning purposes. In-person meetings will only be held if local and UNL directed health measures allow and if weather conditions are suitable for travel. If a meeting is canceled, registered participants will be notified via email, phone, or text message. Facial coverings/masks guidelines may vary based on local directed health measures. For information about the COVID-related health measures that will be in place at each meeting, please contact the local site host. Contact information available on the website. 

For more information and general inquiries about Nebraska On-Farm Research Network, contact Laura Thompson, Nebraska On-Farm Research Network & Ag Technology Extension Educator by email or 402-245-2224. 


Innovative Youth Corn Challenge 2020 Results

To remain relevant in the ever-changing world, agriculture must evolve and find creative solutions for positive economic growth in U.S. agriculture. The USDA’s Economic Research Service website says, “It is widely agreed that increased productivity, arising from innovation and changes in technology, is the main contributor to economic growth in U.S. agriculture.” A five-year employment study initiated by the USDA expects that in the United States, “employment opportunities will remain strong for new college graduates with an interest and expertise in food, agriculture, renewable natural resources and the environment” between 2020 and 2025.  

Since 2012, the Innovative Youth Corn Challenge has engaged 147 youth with in-depth, experiential learning. This partnership between the Nebraska Corn Board and Nebraska Extension has created an awareness of agronomic-related career opportunities and successfully 

involved youth in rigorous hands-on inquiry-based learning through completion of on-farm research or demonstration plots in corn fields across Nebraska. This year, seven teams signed up with two teams able to glean harvest data from their plots to complete the program.  COVID-19 made 2020 such a difficult year with everything and of course with such uncertainty and unable to meet in person for many events, it created obstacles for many of our 2020 teams.  

The winning team from 2020 growing season was Boone Central FFA which consisted of Dustin Andreasen, Carson Maricle, and Cody Maricle with Abby Hitchler as their FFA Advisor. Their irrigated test plot consisted of 4 main variables compared to a control. The first variable they tried was including a biological with their starter. The second was trying an earlier side dress timing of 32% UAN at V5 compared to V8 for the rest of the plots and the control. The third variable was a plot without a 6-24-6 pop up starter fertilizer, while last variable was population, where they compared populations of 36,000 and 38,000 seeds/acre compared to a control of 34,000 seeds per acre. Their controls were the same hybrid of corn with an in-furrow pop-up, planted at 34K seeds/ac, and side dressed with 32-0-0 at the V8 growth stage.  Looking at the results, the biologicals yielded 249.49 bu/acre, the earlier side dressed N application yielded 258.85, the without in-furrow pop-up was 249.26 bu/ac, the 38,000-population yielded 263.74, and the control plot yielded 255.52. 

Receiving second place was the Fillmore Central FFA team included Mackenzie Mumm, Kaylea Geiser, Abby Geiser, Connor Asche, Dakota Nun & Jorden Engle with their irrigated plot located in Fillmore County. They tested the effects of Realize biostimulant applied in furrow at planting. The purpose of this is for a quicker seed emergence and consistent stands and cost $7.06/acre.  Their challenge plot with Realize increased yield by one bushel at 255.2 bu/acre compared to 254.1 bu/acre on their control plot. Using a corn price of$3.90 per bushel and the cost of the Realize at $7.06, the 1 bu/acre increase was not cost-effective. Their project sponsor was Kurt VanDeWalle with help from Brian Mumm as the producer and Zach Ekeler as their agronomist.  

Other teams that participated but due to various circumstances were unable to finish their project included Arthur FFA Chapter, Wayne FFA, Rising Stars 4-H club from Platte Co., the Rolling Meadows from Frontier county and the Kornhusker Kids 4-H Club 4-H Club of Cuming County. 

As a team, youth worked with an adult mentor throughout the process. Mentors can be extension faculty, ag teachers, or other qualified agronomy professionals.

Other awards handed out during the banquet held on UNL’s East Campus included:

  • The Extra Mile Award went to both Fillmore Central and Boone Central FFA Chapters.
  • The Innovation Award was presented to the Boone Central FFA Chapter.

This program continues to evolve and has exciting changes planned for the 2021 growing season with IYCC 2.0. A citizen scientist component will encourage youth to connect with researchers on a real problem facing corn growers and assist in collecting data or designing a tool to solve a real-world problem.  

The IYCC 2.0 will also feature an agricultural literacy piece which will help others understand corn production practices and highlight teams’ efforts. This will allow youth to promote their own work through creative works such as a video or other multimedia tool. Nebraska Extension will execute this evolving, innovative and in-depth program in 2021, which will be the tenth year creating agricultural, science-informed graduates in the agricultural industry. 

            Prizes for participation in this project include 1st place – $1,000, 2nd place – $500, 3rd place -$250, “Extra Mile” Award $200, CORN Communications Award $200 and $50 for completion of the project. In addition, each team receives a crop scouting kit valued at over $200, plot sign and the opportunity to engage with UNL agronomic professionals through “ask an agronomist” sessions. 

For more information about this program and to register in 2021, go to https://cropwatch.unl.edu/youth/cornchallenge. Registration is due March 15th. Contact Brandy VanDeWalle at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu or (402) 759-3712 for details about this program.