Raising Nebraska: Your Food and the Families Who Grow It

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By Chuck Hibberd

Nebraska is about agriculture. We have almost forty-seven thousand farms and ranches that produce food for Americans and the world. Our state is first in beef cattle, red meat production, great northern beans, popcorn, and irrigated acres, second in ethanol, third in corn, fifth in soybeans, sixth in pork. Cash receipts from Nebraska farm marketing contributed over $24 million to Nebraska’s economy in 2012. Over 95 percent of our farms are family-owned, and these farm families foster strong rural communities that grow strong kids.

Nebraska also hosts the most diverse growing conditions of any state. In southeast Nebraska, annual precipitation averages more than thirty inches per year at an elevation of one thousand feet above sea level. The elevation increases to almost five thousand feet in northwest Nebraska (about five hundred miles west of our eastern border), and annual precipitation decreases to less than fourteen inches per year. Much of the state is covered by highly productive soils that form the canvas on which Nebraska’s crops and livestock are produced. The Sandhills are a very unique geology featuring rolling sand dunes covered by high-quality grasses and supporting a rich ecosystem of plants and wildlife.

A critically important asset to Nebraska is our surface and groundwater resources. If the water in our aquifers were placed on the surface of Nebraska, it would cover our state to a depth of thirty-eight feet. That is a lot of water. Nebraska farmers and ranchers don’t take our rich water resources for granted. They apply irrigation management strategies to conserve ground- and surface water to protect this incredibly valuable resource.

In spite of Nebraska’s prominence in ag production, many people are not familiar with ag production, the science that goes into crops and livestock production, or the efforts Nebraska ag producers make to sustain their valued natural resources. A coalition led by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, UNL Cooperative Extension, the Nebraska Department of Agriculture, and the Nebraska State Fair is committed to helping Nebraskans learn about our agriculture industry and our role in feeding the world.

A new learning experience at the Nebraska State Fair is all about Nebraska agriculture. The Nebraska State Fair is providing twenty-five thousand square feet in the new Nebraska Building to house “Raising Nebraska,” a high-tech, high-touch learning experience focused on Nebraska agriculture that will engage people in interesting and exciting ways.

The exhibit is titled “Raising Nebraska” to reflect our rural Nebraska focus on raising crops, raising livestock, raising kids, and raising communities. Nebraska ag producers are in the business of “raising,” and they do it very well.

Commodity groups, ag organizations, and ag businesses have stepped up to help fund this project. This exhibit is much more than the “petting zoo” experience that some might expect. Fairgoers will have the opportunity to learn about Nebraska’s ecozones on a walkable map that will explain climate, soil, growing seasons, crops, and livestock as the participant “walks” from eastern to western Nebraska. A combine cab experience will demonstrate the high-tech world of modern farming and the way farmers collect data to inform their economic and management decisions. Commodity groups using the state-of-the-art demonstration kitchen will produce delectable foods created from Nebraska ag products. And a center-pivot span will help learners understand Nebraska’s water resources and how modern farmers work to conserve water, our most precious natural resource. In addition, real Nebraska farmers and ranchers will be available to help visitors learn about how they produce food. In total, fairgoers will be able to experience Nebraska agriculture in interesting and engaging ways.

In addition to learning exhibits about Nebraska agriculture, this venue will help visitors learn about important topics such as sustainability, genetic improvement of crops and livestock, waste management, farm practices that protect food safety, technology applications in agriculture production, and food and fuel products derived from Nebraska agriculture. An open conversation about these and other topics is important to Nebraska’s ag producers.

In addition to fairgoers who experience “Raising Nebraska” during the twelve days of the Nebraska State Fair, UNL Extension has hired Beth Janning to develop and deliver learning experiences during the other fifty weeks of the year. Schoolchildren, 4-H clubs, FFA chapters, businesses, organizations, civic groups, and tourists will be able to access this learning experience to engage in focused learning experiences.

A new Science Literacy program at the UNL Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources will help design and implement learning experiences in the “Raising Nebraska” learning experience. This group was recently named the National Center for Agricultural Literacy by USDA. “Raising Nebraska” will be a powerful resource that will help IANR’s Science Literacy experts better understand how people learn about agriculture and the science behind it.

“Raising Nebraska” opens on August 22 at the 2014 Nebraska State Fair. Please stop by and experience Nebraska agriculture in new and exciting ways.

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