DODGE, Neb. Agriculture is a major industry in Nebraska, but many people who live in the state know little about how food is produced. The group Common Ground hopes to change that.
Common Ground is a group of farm women who want to be a resource for consumers who want to know more about how their food is grown.
Last week, the group went on a "Farm Road Rally" and led tours of agriculture facilities in Northeast Nebraska.
The tours allowed professionals in several different industries to learn more about big issues surrounding agriculture. Those professionals will use what they learned to inform their customers.
J & S Feedlots, Inc. – Dodge, Nebraska
One of the stops on the tour was "J & S Feedlots, Inc.” near Dodge, Nebraska. The business is owned by Steve and Joan Ruskamp.
The Ruskamps specialize in raising cattle, but they also grow crops-- like corn, soybeans and alfalfa.
The Ruskamps buy calves that weight 600-700 lbs and use locally grown ingredients to get the cattle ready for the market at roughly 1,400 lbs.
They also help other farmers in their community by donating the manure produced in the feedlot so growers can use it as fertilizer for crops.
While on the tour, professionals in the grocery industry learned about the use of hormones and antibiotics in beef.
Joan Ruskamp took the time to address these issues and talk about concerns many consumers have when it comes to treating livestock.
She says both hormones and antibiotics are regulated and only used when necessary to an animal's well-being.
Ruskamp says tours like the "Farm Road Rally" are essential so people understand the importance of the cattle industry around the world.
"We want to connect to our consumers," said Ruskamp. "We want to help share the farm story from the farmer and let them see first hand that we have nothing to hide.”
Ruskamp says tours like the “Farm Road Rally” illustrate the hard work many Nebraska families endure in order to bring food to the table for families around the world.
"We're providing the beef for people to eat because we know it's a great source of protein, iron, and zinc, which are all things that help people thrive. Our goal in thriving here is to help humans thrive where ever they are."
Hoegemeyer Hybrids – Hooper, Nebraska
While on the "Farm Road Rally," professionals also toured Hoegemeyer Hybrids near Hooper, Nebraska.
The business was founded in 1937. It sells corn, soybeans, sorghum and alfalfa to area farmers.
One of the big topics industry professionals talked about on the stop at Hoegemeyer Hybrids was genetically modified organisms (or GMOs).
A GMO, in short, is a plant that's modified using technology to provide better resistance to pests and herbicides.
Many people across the globe have concerns about eating GMOs and the impact it will have on their long-term health. Others are concerned about the potential impact on the environment.
General Manager of Hoegemeyer Hybrids Stephan Becerra spoke to those concerns.
“We’ve seen the benefits as far as production. Yields have increased dramatically, and our reliance on things like pesticides has gone down dramatically,” said Becerra.
He says GMOs have brought many benefits to the agriculture industry, and there are even more benefits ahead.
“We're going to be coming up with new technology and solutions that are going to help us make sure we can feed a growing population in the world,” said Becerra.
Kluthe Farms/OLean Energy – Dodge, Nebraska
The last stop on the tour was Kluthe Farms near Dodge, Nebraska—which is also home to OLean Energy.
Owner and Manager Danny Kluthe is a farmer who specializes in hog production. On top of that, he's also producing his own electricity, propane and fuel using hog manure.
He uses what's called an anaerobic digester. The manure produced by the hogs on his farm is funneled into pits under the hog barns. That manure is, then, directed into the anaerobic digester.
Kluthe says bacteria in the digester breaks the manure down and pushes methane gas up.
The gas is sucked through a pipe and produces electricity that powers a nearby generator.
After the manure has been processed, it flows into a lagoon and is later used as fertilizer for crops.
The farm has Nebraska's first on-farm generator powered by manure methane, but Kluthe says all hog farmers should be doing it.
“Right now this anaerobic digester makes so much sense that someday day there won't be a dairy built or a hog operation that won't have one of these,” said Kluthe.
“You can literally be energy efficient, and make your own electricity, diesel fuel, and propane from byproduct-- hog waste.”
Kluthe says another benefit is that the manure comes out odorless—which makes a big difference for nearby homes. He calls the entire process the ultimate renewable energy source.
“I take the corn that we produce, and feed the hogs,” said Kluthe “I take the waste the hogs make, run it through the anaerobic digester to get gas to make our electricity. It goes back into the grid; the effluent goes back down to the lagoon as fertilizer, and we pump it back out onto the ground to produce a lot of good corn.”
To learn more about the “Farm Road Rally” and Common Ground Nebraska, click here.