Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska

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Join the Conversation about GMOs in food

Join the Conversation about GMOs in food

August 28, 2017

"Pivoting the GMO Conversation" Food Dialogues Hosted by
Nebraska Soybean Board and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance

Food influencers, filmmakers and farmers convene Sept. 6 at University of Nebraska
at Lincoln to discuss the controversy surrounding GMOs' impact on today's food.
WHAT:  American shoppers have access to more information than ever before. As a result, they have more opportunities to share their opinions about how food is grown and raised. In many instances, these concerns have resulted in a response b  y major food companies to market food under myriad labels -- from "sustainable" and "natural" to "GMO-free" and "locally-grown." But what do these terms really mean, and what impact do they have on farm production practices? For farmers who have been focused on farming sustainably for generations,  the marketing-speak can result in changes on the farm that may have negative environmental impacts. For consumers, these phrases cause confusion and concern as food companies may unknowingly be contradicting the actual practices that make farming sustainable.
Join Nebraska Soybean Board and U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance for an engaging panel discussion about "Pivoting the GMO Conversation," which will include diverse viewpoints from thoughtful speakers.
This panel will aim to clarify modern farming practices, and how different farming methods strive to achieve a similar goal. Click here to learn more and register. The discussion also will be livestreamed on
WHO: Moderated by Scott Hamilton Kennedy, a film writer, director, producer & editor, with panelists including the co-founder of FoodTank; president of the Nebraska Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics; a Nebraska cattle, corn, pig and soybean farmer; a Texas organic cotton farmer; and executive director of the Office for Sustainability.

WHERE: University of Nebraska at Lincoln (Nebraska Innovation Campus) |2021 Transformation Drive, Lincoln, NE 68508

WHEN: Wednesday, Sept. 6

                 12:15 - 1:00 p.m. - Registration

                 1:00 p.m. "Pivoting the GMO Conversation" Panel Discussion with Q&A Session

                 2:45 p.m. Tour of University of Nebraska Food Processing Center (Optional)

About The Food Dialogues

The Food Dialogues® signature events are designed to bring together farmers, ranchers, industry experts, scientists, media, and consumers for dynamic panel discussions on some of today's most pressing topics related to food and food production. Since its launch in 2011, the U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance has hosted more than 30 panels across the country.
About the Nebraska Soybean Board
The nine-member Nebraska Soybean Board collects and disburses the Nebraska share of funds generated by the one half of one percent times the net sales price per bushel of soybeans sold. Nebraska soybean checkoff funds are invested in research, education, domestic and foreign markets, including new uses for soybeans and soybean products.

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Lightning Talks Strike at Nebraska State Fair

Lightning Talks Strike at Nebraska State Fair

August 24, 2017
Come learn more about conservation in Nebraska agriculture  
More than 97 percent of land in Nebraska is privately owned, much of that in use for agriculture, putting Nebraska farmers and ranchers on the front lines when it comes to environmental stewardship. That's one of the reasons the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN) encourages everyone to turn out for the inaugural "Conservation in Agriculture Day" offerings August 31st at the Nebraska State Fair.
 "Nebraska's is the only state fair presenting this kind of conservation program," said Kristen Hassebrook, executive director of AFAN. "Nebraska farmers and ranchers go to great lengths to protect the environment, while raising safe and nutritious food. We are excited that consumers will have an opportunity to engage on this topic at the state fair and speak one-on-one with conservation experts."
Sponsored by Sand County Foundation, which presents the annual Nebraska Leopold Conservation Award (NE LCA), the educational sessions comprise three rounds of "lightning talks." Leading voices in their fields will give five-minute presentations to provide fair goers the opportunity to hear about the importance that farmers and ranchers in Nebraska place on conservation.

"Over the past 11 years, we have been looking for a way to expand our education and outreach efforts," said Craig Utter, Nebraska coordinator for the Leopold Conservation Award for the Sand County Foundation. The Leopold Award, he said, "is more than an awards program. It's a platform from which to tell the great stories on conservation on private lands across Nebraska."

The lightning talks begin at 9 a.m., in the Raising Nebraska Building. The format will include three rounds of five speakers, each presenting about one of the five conservation topics - water, soil, wildlife, partnership and stewardship - as follows:
9:00 a.m.
1. WATER: Jacob Fritton, The Nature Conservancy
2. SOIL: Aaron Hird, Soil Health Specialist, NE Natural Resources Conservation Service
3. WILDLIFE: Laurel Badura, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
4. PARTNERSHIP: Andy Bishop, Rainwater Joint Venture
5. STEWARDSHIP: Homer Buell, rancher
9:30 a.m.
  • First five speakers available to discuss topics one-on-one in the Conversation Pit. 
10:00 a.m.
6. WATER: Katie Pekarek, University of Nebraska Extension
7. SOIL: Patrick Peterson, Plum Thicket Farms
8. WILDLIFE: Andy Houser, Pheasants Forever
9. PARTNERSHIP: David Sands, Nebraska Land TRust
10 STEWARDSHIP: Kalkowski family, ranchers
10:30 a.m.
  • Speakers 1-5 available to discuss topics one-on-one in Conversation Pit 
11:00 a.m.
  • Speakers 1-5 present again
  • Speakers 6-10 available in Conversation Pit area for one-on-one discussions.

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Brett Beavers: Bright Future for NE Robotic Dairies

Brett Beavers: Bright Future for NE Robotic Dairies

August 4, 2017 - "I have no idea why anyone would build a milking parlor over putting in robots."
That's the position of Brett Beavers of Carleton, Nebraska, who recently began operating one of only two robotic dairies in Nebraska. Beavers says the move can nip labor shortages in the bud, diversify the farm, improve animal management, and give dairy farmers "a more normal lifestyle, like everyone else."
"Robotic dairies are as much work for the owners," Beavers told the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska (AFAN). "However, those hours now become flexible. We can now attend family functions in the evening, where before, we were tied to a rigid milking schedule."
Beavers made the move from a traditional dairy operation to a 240-cow-capacity robotic one only after spending nearly four years planning the projects and touring 35 dairy operations.
"We felt the most profitable way to grow our operation was through livestock, but our old parlor and free-stall building were getting too aged, and I had goals to milk more cows than that facility would allow."
After doing extensive research, Beavers concluded he could make more money, long term, milking fewer cows with robots than milking three times as many cows in a parlor. Reducing stress of finding qualified labor and the accompanying savings in labor costs were plusses, as well. But setting up a robotic dairy is no easy task.
"For most dairies that go to a robotic operation, it involves construction of a whole new facility, designed for this type of operation, said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association and senior industry-relations manager for Midwest Dairy Association. "That includes the free-stall barn, manure handling, ventilation and, of course, the robotic milkers and the milk-handling system."

Here's how Beavers set up his new dairy: "We relocated to a new site and built a climate-controlled cross-ventilation barn. By keeping the barn enclosed, we were able to keep the facility 20 degrees cooler than the outside temperature by using cooling pads," he said. "Cooling pads are cardboard-type material that water passes through, and the fans in the barn suck the air through the pads, which provides evaporative cooling."

Beavers has installed five robots, each of which handles a substantial job, milking about 60 cows per day. Each cow wears a transponder, so as she enters the robotic milking machine, the system knows who she is and how much milk she is expected to give. The transponders provide rumination and activity data, which provide information regarding heat activity and whether a cow might be sick. "If any cow needs attention," Beavers said, "she is automatically sorted by the robot into the special-needs pen."
AFAN asked Beavers what advice he might offer to other dairy farmers in Nebraska who might be considering the transition to a robotic dairy. "In normal situations, it takes about two years to plan, permit, finance and build. But I highly recommend taking your time and doing lots of touring."
Johnson said that both robotic dairies in Nebraska - Beavers' in Carleton and Bill Demerath's farm in Plainview - have had positive results right out of the gate.
"Both had great success getting their cows adapted to the system," Johnson said. "The milk production has been increasing, and the labor requirements have been reduced.
Beavers said he is thrilled with the outcome. "It undoubtedly will pay for itself financially," he said. "I am already making plans to eventually expand our facility. Our site is designed and permitted with the Department of Environmental Quality to add up to seven more robots, and we have plans to do that down the road."
While robots initially were believed suited for small dairies only, they are proving to be a fit for any size operation. "There is opportunity for dairies that transition to robots to stay in or expand in the dairy business, while enhancing their production, their personal time, and the future sustainability of their farms," Johnson said.
Beavers agrees: "I believe robotic milking is the long-term future of the dairy industry," he said. "And I feel the future is bright!"

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Robots Bring the Future to Nebraska

Robots Bring the Future to Nebraska

July 26, 2017 - They aren’t science fiction or philosophizing droids, but Nebraska just might have some of the hottest robots going. Two dairy farms in the state – Demerath Farms in Plainview and Brett Beavers’ farm in Carleton – now employ robots to feed, milk and care for their cows!

Robotic dairy operations give farmers more control over their schedules and more time to do the things they simply couldn’t get to before – cleaning stalls more often, for example – and it eases shortage of skilled labor in the industry.

“Procedures with the robot are the same procedures that happen with a traditional dairy operation, except it’s a robot doing it all – cleaning the cow, attaching the cups on the udder, feeding, monitoring cow health, and more,” said Rod Johnson, director of the Nebraska State Dairy Association and senior industry-relations manager for Midwest Dairy Association.

“And when it comes to milking, the farmer gets a lot of additional information than a traditional milking provides: The robots are testing the milk, the temperatures, weighing the cow and feeding them. And the feed robot is called Juno,” Johnson added. “It pushes the feed up to the cow and makes sure the cows can reach it at all times. It really ups the information and technology on the farms where it’s in use.”

It’s sort of like a Fitbit for dairy cows.

Kim Clark, dairy educator with Nebraska Extension, said the robots really step up the game for farmers. “Milking is a 365-day-a-year, 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week job, so there’s really no break for the dairy farmer,” Clark said. “One of the biggest reasons for having these robots is time, so the farmer can devote more time to caring for his animals and their overall health. But it’s also been difficult to get labor on the farms – labor that knows how to milk the cows or has any animal experience and background.”

Brett Beavers, who started his 240-cow robotic dairy near Carleton thanks to a tour of robotic dairies that AFAN took him on, says the robots have allowed him the flexibility to engage more with his family.

“On all the farms I’ve toured, everyone said it’s life-changing,” Beavers said. “You’re still going to put in the hours that you do in a traditional setup, but those hours are now flexible. So now I can help coach my kids’ T-ball team, because we can work around our family’s schedules.

Kind of like what Rosie the robot provided for TV’s “The Jetsons”, just in a slightly different setting.

For more information about animal agriculture in Nebraska, visit, or find us on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

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New Technologies Available for Cow-Calf Producers

New Technologies Available for Cow-Calf Producers

April 10, 2017 - OMAHA, NE – Nearly 300 attendees packed a ballroom in Omaha to learn about some of the new technologies available for cow-calf producers. Over the course of two days, participants learned about calving under roof and heard from speakers discussing everything from design, economics, feeding and veterinary care to dry lot options. At the end of both days a panel of producers discussed the reasons they decided to put up a building and how they manage their cows under this type of setting. Drone footage and pictures of their barns gave attendees a better look at the layout of different barns and the panel was able to answer questions from the audience.

This is the second year an event like this has been held here in Nebraska, but this year AFAN, the Alliance for the Future of Agriculture in Nebraska, partnered with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) as well as the Nebraska Cattlemen and Iowa Cattlemen to make this event a multi-state event. “Both AFAN and CSIF work hard to provide our farmers and ranchers with learning opportunities,” stated Emily Skillett, Livestock Development Coordinator for AFAN, “These types of barns are a newer technology and with the decreasing availability of pasture land in eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, we wanted to make sure our farmers knew that there were some options out there for ways to expand their cow herd.”

With new management styles, comes new considerations to take when it comes to herd health. Cow-calf producers, Chad and Amy Wilkerson of Linden, Iowa, stated that prevention is key when using the calving under-roof approach. The Wilkerson’s answered questions at the symposium as two of the eleven producer panelists. They currently raise 160 cow-calf pairs in a hoop barn they filled for the first time in January of 2016. “In this setting you need a good nutritionist and a good vet,” Chad said. “You’ve got to have those two people in your back pocket that you know are going to be there and understand what you’re up against.”

Dr. Sara Barber, Veterinary Medical Center, explains that controlling the under-roof environment starts with proper bedding management. Dr. Barber says pens should always be kept dry and that bedding can easily be evaluated with what she calls the “dry knee test”. “Fall on your knees and if your knees get wet when you get up, you know you need more bedding.”

According to Kelly Jones, co-manager of Cactus Feeders’ cow-calf division, feed is a major cost in this production system and requires rations that can be modified to coincide with the reproductive stage of the herd. Jones suggests that too much bunk space is far better than too little, and that creep feeding areas featuring lowered bunks should be installed before calving begins. Other barn modifications may include incorporating maternity areas, working facilities and raising dirt levels around water tanks for calves. This kind of intensive management style may not fit every operation, so asking questions and reviewing research is always highly recommended.

To view the presentations and drone footage from the Midwest Cow-Calf Symposium and learn more about livestock development in Nebraska, visit our website at

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Gov. Ricketts Announces National Ag Week Visits

Gov. Ricketts Announces National Ag Week Visits

March 17, 2017 - Governor Pete Ricketts and Nebraska Department of Agriculture (NDA) Director Greg Ibach announced three days of activities and stops across Nebraska to support and celebrate National Ag Week.  During March 21-23 the Governor and agriculture industry representatives will visit several Nebraska communities including Ainsworth, Auburn, Fremont, Friend, Grand Island, Omaha, Plattsmouth, Scottsbluff, Wakefield, and West Point.  National Ag Week will be celebrated on March 19-25, 2017 across Nebraska.

“Visiting these communities during National Ag Week is a great way to highlight agriculture in Nebraska and celebrate our state’s number one industry,” said Governor Ricketts.  “Our planned stopovers around the state pay tribute to those who contribute to agriculture from livestock and crop producers to the innovative technology, processing, and infrastructure that goes along with it.”

NDA Director Ibach stated the three-day tour will showcase Nebraska’s number one industry – agriculture.

“Nebraska’s agricultural industry is quite diverse from the east to west,” said NDA Director Ibach.  “With three days of stops and activities planned, we’re able to highlight a variety of Nebraska agriculture products and family farm operations.  Nebraska is a leader in production of meat, grain, dry beans, and many other commodities while also showing promise in new areas, like hops production.”

Gov. Ricketts said the group will use the stops to talk about the importance of Nebraska agriculture, livestock and value-added agriculture development, international trade, and agriculture education.  The Governor will also unveil the 2017 edition of the Nebraska Agriculture and You magazine.

The public is invited to attend many of these events.  Private events are indicated below.

Tuesday, March 21st

11:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.          Fremont Chamber Agriculture Awards Luncheon

Fremont Golf Club - 2710 N. Somers Ave., Fremont, NE

2:30 – 3:30 p.m.                       Tour of Diamond 6 Feeders 

Diamond 6 feeders - 294 18th Rd., West Point, NE

4:30 – 6:00 p.m.                       Tour of Wakefield Farms, LLP

Wakefield Farms, LLP - 86051 588th Ave, Emerson NE

6:00 – 8:30 p.m.                       National Ag Day Celebration Dinner

Wakefield Legion Hall -211 Main Street, Wakefield, NE

Wednesday, March 22nd

9:00 – 10:00 a.m.                     Tour of Beel Ranch

Beel Ranch – 41347 Beel Lane, Johnstown, NE

11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.       Luncheon Event  

Mountain Time                          The Flight Deck, 250023 Airport Terminal St., Scottsbluff, NE

3:30-4:30 p.m.                          Raising Nebraska Open House

Raising Nebraska, S Locust St. & State Fair Boulevard, Grand Island

Thursday, March 23rd

8:30 – 10:00 a.m.                  Pork and Poultry Industry Breakfast

                                                          Pour House, 511 2nd St., Friend, NE

11:45 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.          Auburn FFA Tour and Town Hall Student Luncheon

                                                          (PRIVATE EVENT)

2:00 – 3:30 p.m.                       Tour of Midwest Hop Producers

18003 Club View Drive, Plattsmouth, NE

4:00 – 6 p.m.                              Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Celebration of Ag Week                                                                                                                                                    

Upstream Brewing Company, 514 S. 11th Street, Omaha

RSVP required as space is limited.  Please RSVP directly to:

RSVP Information for Events – You RSVP is not required, but appreciated.

To RSVP to attend any of the above events (unless otherwise noted), please email  In the email please include:  the location you are submitting the RSVP for, and all names / affiliations for all parties attending.

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