New Extension Educator Joins Panhandle Cropping Systems Team

New Extension Educator Joins Panhandle Cropping Systems Team

June 28, 2012

For two decades, John Thomas has helped conduct agricultural research in the Panhandle for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In July Thomas will put that experience to work directly with agricultural producers and agribusinesses.

On July 9 Thomas will undertake a new assignment as UNL extension educator for cropping systems, based in the Box Butte County office at Alliance. His appointment was announced by Dr. Linda Boeckner, director of the Panhandle Extension District.

John Thomas
John Thomas

Thomas will replace Bill Booker, who retired last year. Located in Box Butte County, Thomas will focus his efforts in that region, working with other cropping system educators throughout the Panhandle District, including Jim Schild at Scottsbluff and Karen DeBoer at Sidney.

“We are particularly fortunate to be able to fill the Box Butte position with an individual with John’s qualifications and familiarity with the area, and are happy that he will be joining other extension educators to carry out cropping systems education for our area,” said Boeckner.

As a research coordinator and technician at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Thomas has spent the past five years working in dry bean breeding, both in greenhouses and field research. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in entomology as it applies to production agriculture.

In that time Thomas got to know a number of Box Butte County ag producers, especially of wheat, sunflowers and dry beans. He has planted dry bean plots on several farms; helped with bean field days; and worked in cooperation with Stateline Bean on research in Box Butte County.

Thomas said he plans to get better acquainted with the county, connect with local growers to assess needs, and then develop relevant programs.

One issue that is always at the forefront, Thomas said, is water, especially related to irrigation efficiency and crop production. Groundwater levels have been declining in Box Butte County for years, and drought amplifies the importance of the issue.

“We’ll work in cooperation to meet local and regional needs,” he said. “And I’ll be developing some specific programs as I evaluate the needs assessment.”

Thomas has a master’s degree in entomology from UNL, and a bachelor of science degree in forestry and range management from Colorado State University. Thomas has worked with all the major crops in the Panhandle, particularly related to entomology issues.

Thomas has lived in the area for 21 years, but his family roots go deeper. His great-grandfather, Valentine Thomas, homesteaded north of Morrill. The sod house at the North Platte Valley Museum in Gering originally sat on Valentine Thomas’ homestead, Thomas said.

Dave Ostdiek, Communications Specialist
Panhandle REC, Scottsbluff