Nebraska Pork Leadership Program Engages and Educates

Nebraska Pork Leadership Program Engages and Educates

By Amy Schmidt

Members of the Nebraska Pork Producers Association Pork Leadership Program participated in their third seminar July 25-26, 2016. As usual, Kyla organized a packed agenda providing two full days of fun and engaging activities!


Day One:
Stop One: University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center

dsc_6607We departing from Lincoln on the morning of July 25th. The group headed west to visit the University of Nebraska West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte, NE. After a brief welcome and overview of the WCREC mission by District Director Dr. Kelly Bruns, the group set off to tour the research laboratories and field research sites. We learned first-hand about the cutting-edge research being conducted to address current and emerging issues of concern to agricultural production in West Central Nebraska.

Dr. Julie Peterson, Extension Entomologist, provided an overview of research projects currently underway at the Agroecosystems Entomology Lab. Her projects focus on soil food web dynamics, insect behavior, insect resistance management, and other topics relating to integrated pest management of arthropod pests of west central Nebraska crops.

Plant disease management methods were the focus of the group’s lab tour and discussion with Dr. Tony Adesemoye who studies soil-borne pathogens and integration of biological control with other plant disease methods. From there, the group visited the Pesticide Application Technology (PAT) Lab operated under the direction of Dr. Greg Kruger to learn about research on spray nozzle selection and testing to minimize spray drift and environmental contamination.

Drs. Daran Rudnick and Tim Shaver then provided an overview of their collaborative field research on in-season nitrogen management, variable rate irrigation, and subsurface drip irrigation. They also discussed the increasing focus on utilizing unmanned aerial vehicles (a.k.a. drones) for monitoring plant color as an indicator for adjusting nitrogen application on growing crops.


Stop Two: Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture

Departing the WCREC, the group headed south to Curtis, NE. There we visited the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture (NCTA). The NCTA has seen steady growth in enrollment with around 240 fulltime students currently.  Additionally, it is  a great place for high school students to earn college credits and develop skills in agricultural fields like irrigation technology, agronomy and agricultural chemical applications. Dr. Doug Smith, Assistant Professor of Animal Science & Agricultural Education and Livestock Judging Coach, and Kevin Martin, Academic Advisor, talked about the desire to re-establish a swine program to benefit their very popular veterinary technician program. A highlight of the tour of NCTA was a visit to the Vet Tech teaching labs. Group members met a wide variety of domestic and exotic animals, including snakes, birds, hedgehogs, chinchillas and turtles!

Day one ended in Holdrege, NE where the group enjoyed dinner and discussed highlights of the day. Our visit to Holdrege coincided with the Phelps County Fair. Some of our group attended the Swine Show that evening. One of our Leadership Program members, Austin Zimmerman, was able to watch kids show pigs originating from his family’s farm, Zimmerman Hog Farms!


Day Two:

Day two began with one of Kyla’s famous “icebreaker” activities! After passing around a roll of toilet paper with the simple instruction of “Take only what you need to get the job done!” everyone was encouraged to share one thing about themselves for each square of toilet paper they had taken. Luckily, no one needed the whole roll…and everyone took at least a few squares!


Stop One: Schwarz Family Farm

On the road again, the group headed to Schwarz Family Farm, an organic farm near Bertrand, NE. Alex Schwarz provided a tour of their production fields, greenhouses, and packing facilities. During the tour he explained the history and current marketing strategies of the farm. Six generations of the Schwarz family have farmed the land where Alex, his parents, Tom and Linda, and his sister, Becky currently farm. They now grow organic corn, wheat, soybeans, sorghum, and alfalfa along with tomatoes, peppers, garlic, herbs, and sugar pea greens.dsc_6622

Rather than marketing their products at farmers’ markets like many niche producers, Alex and Becky have established relationships with several retail outlets in Nebraska where they deliver their fresh vegetables throughout the growing season. We got to take a box of tomatoes and garlic with us at the end of our tour! You can find Schwarz Family Farms produce in Hy-Vee stores from Kearney to Papillion, Elmwood Market in Elmwood, NE and Countryside Market in Bertrand, NE!


Stop Two: Lunch at The Alley Rose

dsc_6629Our next stop on day two was for lunch at The Alley Rose in Kearney, NE. There we  joined with Heidi Wietjes, a Registered Dietician who works for Cash-Wa Distributing (CWD) in Kearney. Heidi shared with us her story of how she came to work for Cash Wa and what her job involves. Her role in the Dietary Department of Cash Wa is to develop menu programs for schools, care centers, and other organizations to meet the dietary needs of customers. She also conducts trainings, consults with customers on menu development and nutrition, and provides expertise on safe food handling practices.

After lunch, we traveled to the CWD facility in Kearney for a tour hosted by Heidi. Cash-Wa is known today for their distribution of food products throughout Nebraska and several other Great Plains states (ten others, to be exact!). However, the company initially focus was solely on delivering candy to neighborhood grocery stores in Kearney.  Today, the company includes two distribution centers and multiple sales offices and shuttle locations responsible for the logistics of delivering products to 11 states.

One of the primary features of the nearly 400,000 square feet of warehouse space in Kearney is an impressive technology system. This system was designed to maximize efficiency of product storage and distribution. We were all fascinated as we watched numerous forklift operators buzz around the facility (at a pretty good clip!), picking products, putting together orders, and loading them on to trucks. The facility seemed like its own little ecosystem. It has multiple temperature zones in coolers and freezers. As well as climate-controlled dry product storage areas, and a refrigerated dock. These are all designed to ensure that thousands of products are stored and shipped under optimal conditions.


Stop Three: Grand Island Hy-Veedsc_6631

Our final stop on day two was the Grand Island Hy-Vee. We spent time with Meat Market Manager Doug Noer learning about Hy-
Vee’s meat marketing strategies, discussing consumer food preferences. The best part – sampling pork loin and bacon prepared for us by Doug! His secret to making bacon even more delicious (I didn’t think that was even possible!) was to season it with Misty’s Bar-B-Q Seasoning. We all left our visit with Doug with very satisfied stomachs for our return to Lincoln and the conclusion of the seminar.


Final Thoughts:

As always, the Pork Leadership Group thanks Kyla for her outstanding dedication to making this and other NPPA outreach programs so rewarding to participants. This seminar was full of great learning experiences in addition to being a lot of fun…and maybe a bit exhausting. We couldn’t ask for a more enthusiastic and driven host for these experiences than Kyla.