Western Sustainable Ag Conference Dec. 6

Western Sustainable Ag Conference Dec. 6

Nov. 21, 2014

Nebraska Extension is hosting a Sustainable Ag Crops and Livestock Conference on improving soil health through cover crops and crop diversity Dec. 6 at Ogallala.

Cover crops and soil health, field peas, cropping practices' effects on insects, alternative enterprises, and a program for women in ag are among the sessions planned for the 8th annual conference. It will run from 8:45 a.m. to 4 p.m.  at the Mid-Plains Community College Ogallala Extended Campus, 512 East B
St. South in Ogallala.

Keynote speaker Keith Berns, co-owner and operator of Green Cover Seed, will discuss "Seven Things I Have Learned about Soil Health."  Berns combines 17 years of no-till farming with 10 years of teaching agriculture and computers. He grows irrigated and dryland corn, soybeans, rye, triticale, sunflowers, peas and buckwheat on his 2,500- acre no-till farm in south central Nebraska.

Berns was awarded a North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) Farmer/Rancher grant in 2008 to try cover crops. This led to helping neighbors locate cover crop seed and eventually grew into a family business, Green Cover Seeds. 

Through Green Cover Seed, one of the major cover crop seed providers and educators in the United States, Berns has experimented with over 80 different cover crop types and hundreds of mixes planted into various situations, learning about cover crop growth, nitrogen fixation, moisture usage, and grazing utilization of cover crops.

Berns also developed the SmartMix CalculatorTM, one of the most widely used cover crop selection tools on the internet. He has a master's degree in agricultural education from the University of Nebraska and teaches on cover crops and soil health more than 20 times per year to various groups and audiences.

Over the past several years, Keith and his brother Brian have researched and incorporated cover crops into their no-till system.  They have researched cover-crop water usage, cover crop nutrient content, and cover crop effect on following crops. They offer workshops and field tours to teach about opportunities offered by cover crops, such as improved soil structure, organic matter, biological life, water infiltration
rate, nutrient cycling, and wildlife. 


Attendees can select among several topics:

  • Field Peas as a Potential Alternative Crop in Western Nebraska — Dipak Santra, UNL alternative crops breeder, will address research on field pea varieties that perform in western Nebraska
  • Identification and Integrated Pest Management (IPM) of Flies Associated with Livestock — Kristina Friesen, USDA-ARS Medical and Livestock Entomologist, will discuss four problem flies for Nebraska livestock, their economic impact, and how to tailor IPM plans.
  • Field Peas, a Viable Crop for Western Nebraska — Courtney Schuler, business development manager, Stateline Producers Cooperative in Scottsbluff, will cover the markets and uses for field peas. Steve Tucker, a producer from Venango, will discuss the methods of pea production that work in this region. He will share what he has learned over the past few years raising field peas as a cash crop.
  • How Can On-Farm Diversity Impact Pest Management in Your Fields? — Julie Peterson, UNL extension specialist, will discuss options for increasing on-farm plant diversity, including non-crop habitat (such as CRP or wildflower strips) or diversifying crop fields through cover crops, rotation or companion planting. She also will discuss how these practices affect insect pests and beneficials, and related management strategies.
  • Farmer Panel and Discussion — Farmers will describe how they have incorporated field peas and cover crops into their farming operations. Audience participants can ask questions and share their ideas.
  • Nebraska Food Cooperative – Local Food Hubs — Liz Sarno, organic producer, and Scott Hanson, Ogallala farmer, will discuss how to develop a local food hub.

The conference is jointly sponsored by UNL Extension and the Organic Crop Improvement Association (OCIA) Nebraska Chapter 2.


Space is limited so early registrations are encouraged. Walk-ins are welcome; however, the meal is not guaranteed unless pre-registration is received by Nov. 26. The cost is $35 per person. To register call (308) 254-4455 or mail the registration form to UNL Extension - Cheyenne County, Box 356, Sidney, NE  69162.

For more information about the conference contact: Karen DeBoer, extension educator, at 308-254-4455 or kdeboer1@unl.edu.

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