Soil and Water Conservation Society Honors Award Winners
Six leaders in Nebraska resource conservation, as well as the Nebraska Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), were honored by the International SWCS at this year’s international SWCS Annual Conference in Denver. The Nebraska Chapter SWCS also honored four individuals recently at the state chapter meeting. The society is a nonprofit scientific and educational association dedicated to advancing the science and art of good land use and improvement of natural resources.
International SWCS Award Winners
Excellence in Conservation
Dave Bedlan, Fairbury, received the Harold and Kay Scholl Excellence in Conservation Award. The award recognizes individuals who provide technical assistance and demonstrate effectiveness and creativity in conservation planning and plan application.
Dave started his career in private land and community conservation in 1998, with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in Iowa. From 2006 to present, Dave has served as Resource Conservationist in Fairbury, Nebraska and is personally connected to this area as this is where he grew up. Throughout his career, he has worked on various projects, including municipal source water protection, community erosion control, wetland easements, and community wellhead protection, as well as working one-on-one with ag producers through various USDA programs. Dave has been an SWCS member since 1999.
One of the two Conservation Research Awards was bestowed upon Julie Peterson (2021), an assistant professor and Nebraska Extension educator with the University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, Nebraska.
The award is in recognition of Society members or teams of members whose research has led to exceptional improvements in soil conservation, water conservation, and/or related natural resources research.
Julie’s research and extension programs have developed a strong national reputation in the conservation and management of insects in row crop systems, and she has built a very strong level of trust in her work locally among her regional producer clientele, as well as nationally among her colleagues and regulators. She combines strong field ecology with traditional applied crop entomology and has established herself as a global authority on biological control of noctuid pests of row crops, with her principal emphasis on the western bean cutworm, a major migratory pest of corn and dry beans that has greatly expanded its range in recent years. Her research in noctuid ecology and resistance management and active involvement with the EPA Scientific Advisory Panel on Lepidopteran Pests and Plant-Incorporated Protectants are influencing important national regulatory conversations on resistance management with plant-incorporated insect management traits in transgenic crops.
SWCS Conservation Professional of the Year
Steve Tucker (2022), from Venango, was awarded the SWCS Conservation Professional of the Year Award, in recognition of outstanding accomplishments in practicing and advancing the science and art of natural resource conservation.
He has been learning over the past 25 years how soil becomes healthy and sustaining, and in turn, preserves the soil for the future. It is through his conservation efforts that have made Tucker Farms a productive dryland farm in Western Nebraska. Being successful in an area that averages 14 inches of rainfall is truly an accomplishment. Steve switched from conventional farming to no-till farming in 1994. In 2010, he added the use of cover crops and in 2015 he added livestock — chicken, pigs and cattle — to graze the fields.
Steve was named a Soil Health Champion in 2016 by the National Association of Conservation Districts Soil Health Champions Network, which is made up of more than 350 farmers, ranchers and woodland owners from across the nation who practice good soil health management on their operations and promote the use of soil health management systems in their communities. He has been on the speaker’s list many times for NRCS’s Farming Evolution over the past seven years. Farming Evolution reaches 150-200 farmers each year from all over the country and Canada, and is held in Holyoke, Colorado.
SWCS Society Service
Edwin Harms (1971), Bridgeport, was awarded one of two Society Service Awards, in recognition of Society members for service to their chapter or to the Society.
Ed was hired as a conservationist by the USDA Soil Conservation Service in 1971 and retired from NRCS in 2011. Ed served in seven different SCS/NRCS field offices throughout Nebraska. Ed worked with farmers and ranchers in on-site planning, application and certification of needed soil and water conservation practices. He promoted soil erosion control through his work with programs such as CRP, WHIP, CSP, CREP, GPCP and others. He was part of the SCS National Resources Inventory (team leader in Western Nebraska), Plant Materials committee, and Wetland Inventory team. Ed became a member of Soil Conservation Society of America (SCSA) in 1971 and was a member of the Lincoln, Mid America, and Panhandle, Nebraska chapters. He was Nebraska SCSA state president in 1982.
He is presently the Panhandle area representative of the Nebraska Chapter SWCS and president of the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Foundation. He has provided leadership in conducting several Nebraska State SWCS meetings and is presently an Earth Team Volunteer.
SWCS Editor's Choice Honorable Mention
Two Nebraskans were co-authors of an article in the Journal of Soil and Water Conservation that received the SWCS Editor's Choice Honorable Mention, in recognition of an Article of Excellence appearing in the “A” Section in the previous year. Humberto Blanco-Canqui (2009), a professor of agronomy at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Chuck Hassebrook, vice-president for project development at Sandhills Energy LLC, co-authored the paper, Integrated biochar research: A roadmap.
In addition, the Nebraska Chapter SWCS, was one of seven chapters given the Outstanding Chapter Award in recognition for the chapter’s success in carrying out its overall program during the past year. The chapter produces two newsletter editions a year, has an annual state meeting and a legislative/informational breakfast. The chapter’s Facebook is gaining regional and national attention. Chapter Member Spotlights are being emailed weekly, and the historical archives are being digitized for broader use. The chapter supports the UNL Soil and Water Resources Club. The chapter also supports two charitable foundations, one with the University of Nebraska Foundation and the other with the Nebraska Soil & Water Conservation Foundation — each providing student scholarships annually to deserving young conservationists.
State SWCS Award Winners
Each year the Nebraska Chapter SWCS recognizes and honors work that promotes its goals in the state.
The Commendation Award recognizes SWCS members for service to their chapter or council of chapters.
Patrick Cowsert (2007), Norfolk, is a soil scientist with NRCS. In graduate school, he did research comparisons of tillage treatments on effect on water infiltration rates of reclaimed surface-mine soils. He was an early adopter of GPS/GIS use in soil sampling/mapping, and conducted wetlands determinations and handled appeal defense for Swampbuster rules in the Farm Bill. He has assisted with land judging contests, created study guides, exams and served as judge for the Nebraska Envirothon, and also wrote soil tests for the National Envirothon when it was held in Nebraska. As assistant state soil scientist, he administered the Prime Farmland program and the National Resource Inventory program. Patrick is currently the Northeast Nebraska director for the chapter and was pivotal in developing the program and tours for this year’s annual meeting in Norfolk.
Andy Keep (2006), Imperial, began working as a Wastewater Treatment Plant Operator for the City of Lincoln. Then he started with the USDA NRCS and received Certified Conservation Planner certification. With stints in southwest Nebraska, western and northwest Colorado, north-central Nebraska and back to southwest Nebraska, Andy has worked on a variety of conservation projects including gravity feed irrigation systems, brush management, livestock watering systems, snow surveys and wetlands reserve program contracts.
Stephen Kennedy (2002), Auburn, is a resource conservationist with NRCS who is working in the area he grew up, one with a long family history. He was detailed to many offices during the early days of the Conservation Stewardship Program and wrote well over 1,000 contracts with producers. He and his wife carry on the family tradition of being the fifth generation on the family-run fruit orchard and vineyard, and they value conservation, have a passion for trees, a desire to maintain the land for future generations.
The Honor Award recognize non-members for outstanding accomplishments reflecting the society’s objectives.
Jeff and Jolene Steffens, Crofton, have 600 acres of row crops, rent 200 acres of pasture, and custom graze cow-calf pairs. They utilize a diverse crop rotation of corn, soybeans, oats, peas and whatever spring crop they can use to benefit their rotation. Their farm was previously tilled for 80 years until their conversion to the current continuous no-till system which they used for the past 30 years. While not seeing enough improvement in organic matter, the Steffens began using cover crops for the past 10 years and have witnessed the benefits. They believe their farm is more than a way to make a living — it is about preserving a way of life and farming sustainably for all future generations, including for their grown children.