Two ag producers receive Panhandle Outstanding Service to Ag Awards

Dean, Alton, and Grant Lerwick (left to right). Photo courtesy UNL Extension

Two agricultural producers, Rick Larson and Lerwick Livestock Inc., have been recognized with 2014 Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Awards from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension Center.

The announcement was made by Dr. Jack Whittier, Research and Extension Director for Nebraska Extension in the Panhandle. The Outstanding Service to Panhandle Agriculture Award recognizes persons or groups who provide outstanding service to agriculture in western Nebraska. Award criteria include value of work done or cooperation with UNL specialists or educators; leadership in agriculture; community service other than agriculture; and level of impact on Panhandle agriculture.

The 2014 award recipients are examples of leadership and innovation.

Lerwick Livestock Inc. includes Alton and sons Dean and Grant, who farm and ranch south of Stegall in Scotts Bluff and Banner counties. Alton Lerwick has been farming for 40 years. With his sons Dean and Grant, he has a diverse operation that includes dryland and irrigated cropland and a commercial cow-calf operation. The Lerwicks’ approach to cropping features a continuous no-till system with an assortment of crops and some annual forages.

After receiving a master’s degree in 1974 from Colorado State University in range ecology, Alton Lerwick returned home and began to farm with his father. He began to look at more intensive rotations in the late 1980s and early ‘90s and converted to a full no-till system in 1995. Alton was a pioneer in the production of several new crops, including sunflowers. A typical crop rotation consists of wheat, corn, sunflowers and millet on most of the Lerwicks’ farm ground. Wheat is planted into millet stubble.

In the ranching operation, Lerwick Livestock has been utilizing artificial insemination for 35 years to improve genetics and performance. The Lerwicks run cattle on owned and rented pasture land. Rotational grazing was instituted more than 30 years ago.

The Lerwicks utilize annual forages to supplement range and increase carrying capacity, and have worked to make management practices compatible with Mother Nature. In Alton’s words: “I’ve tried to design a system that recognizes and works within the constraints of our semi-arid climate with blizzards and wind erosion.” These include moving calving to a later spring date and instituting no-till to prevent soil erosion and improve soil structure.

Alton Lerwick has been an excellent cooperator with UNL since the 1970s, when he began working with specialist Louis Daigger on phosphorus fertilization of winter wheat, an uncommon practice at the time. He worked closely with a number of present and former researchers, including David Baltensperger and Drew Lyon. He was a key early adopter of no-till under irrigation. This made him an excellent choice for the Pumpkin Creek Demonstration project on limited irrigation from 2005-08 with Gary Hergert and Gary Stone. More recently the Lerwicks have worked with on Wide Area Pest Management with Gary Hein and John Thomas, and hosting wheat stem sawfly traps for Jeff Bradshaw.

Alton graduated from Morrill High School and University of Nebraska-Lincoln before receiving his master’s degree from CSU. He has also been involved in many local and professional organizations, including Wheatland School Board, UNL High Plains Ag Lab Advisory Committee, North Platte NRD Pumpkin Creek Advisory Committee, local tax equalization board, National Cattlemen Beef Association, High Plains Dry Pea Growers Association, Colorado Conservation Tillage Association, and Pumpkin Creek Demonstration Project.

Rick Larson farms and ranches in Banner and Kimball Counties. He and his wife, Diane, farm 1,500 acres of both irrigated and dryland wheat, corn, dry edible beans and alfalfa. Rick is a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a degree in animal science and has served on the Kimball-Banner County Extension Board. Since 2003 he has served on the Nebraska Wheat Board, where he has been supportive of many UNL research funding proposals. He is currently chairman. He also serves on the US Wheat Board and has worked extensively in recent years with the Nebraska Wheat Growers in implementing their mobile baking lab.

The Mobile Baking Lab, a 24-foot trailer with full-service kitchen, is owned by the Wheat Growers and operated with support from Wheat Board and ConAgra Foods. Its purpose is to educate consumers and connect farmers with consumers through fresh-baked wheat food to show their food comes from. Larson has worked in the mobile baking lab since it was founded in about 2009, travelling to numerous states to bake bread, cinnamon rolls, pizza, pasta, and other foods. Stops have included Iowa, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, New York, and Washington, D.C.

The mobile baking lab averages at least one event per month, and one of its main stops every year is the Nebraska State Fair. It has served more than 220,000 samples at the state fair alone, and more than a million total samples of baked goods over the years. The Larsons have traveled to the state fair and other states with the Mobile Baking Lab, including a tornado-relief effort in Oklahoma several years ago.

“I don’t know that we would have been as successful as we have been without some of the efforts he’s put into it,” said Caroline Brauer, ag promotion coordinator for the Nebraska Wheat Board. “We’re happy to hear that he’s receiving this award. Rick is the epitome of what you want in a farmer. He respects farming, environment, and loves educating people in what ag is and does.”

Larson also has hosted several international trade teams on his farming operation, giving them an opportunity to see first-hand how wheat is produced. The visitors are some of the people who make purchasing decisions for those nations.

He also has been involved in Banner County Wind Committee and served as grower representative on the National Jointed Goatgrass Steering Committee. As a sales representative for Land O Lakes Purina Feeds, he has been very innovative in adopting new technologies in his beef operation. He is viewed as a leader and a thinker by those that have worked with him over the years.

–UNL Extension