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Haskell Ag Lab called key to UNL’s work in Northeast Nebraska

December 19, 2018

CONCORD — What a difference a few months can make.

The future of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Haskell Agricultural Laboratory here was in doubt earlier this year when the possibility of steep budget cuts had the facility on the chopping block.

The lab’s future improved when budget cuts didn’t have to be a severe as initially thought. And now, a statement Monday by Mike Boehm, UNL’s vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, paints an even brighter picture for the lab.

Boehm said the outcome of numerous conversations with Northeast Nebraskans in recent months have concluded that the lab should play a key role in expanding the university’s engagement in Northeast Nebraska.

A “listening tour” resulted in lots of ideas, which university leaders have been brainstorming about in regard to how to best to implement those changes suggested, Boehm said.

For instance, leaders from the university’s College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, Haskell Ag Laboratory and Nebraska Extension have connected with leaders at the Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture, Wayne State College, Northeast Community College, Nebraska Indian Community College, Little Priest Tribal College and Wayne Community Schools.

“They have begun to explore ways to build on each institution’s unique strengths. These innovative partnerships will help prepare Nebraska’s next generation by providing a seamless education and career pathways for lifelong learners,” Boehm said in his statement.

One idea being discussed is the formation of an education compact, based upon similar initiatives elsewhere in the nation. A Northeast Nebraska Education Compact would bring together public school superintendents and representatives from Nebraska colleges and universities.

“Compact members would work collaboratively on issues that matter to Nebraska families, like high school graduation rates, postsecondary attainment, and improved community and economic vitality. The compact would also provide greater exposure to career opportunities in resilient food, energy, water and societal systems that address skill gaps in agriculture and natural resources,” he said.

Boehm said workforce development, specifically in feedlots, was another common theme during the listening tour.

“Because Northeast Nebraska is home to so many cattle, it is critical that the region’s workforce be adequate to manage the large number of cattle on feed. Using feedback from the listening tour, planning is underway to reactivate the Haskell lab’s feedlot, which could be used to provide technical training for future feedlot workers,” he said.

Boehm said water quality was another issue repeatedly raised during the listening tour.

In response, the university is partnering with three natural resources districts to hire an extension educator who will be based at the Lower Elkhorn NRD in Norfolk to work with farmers on managing water and nitrogen, and to help communities address high nitrate levels.

“The Haskell lab will be key to moving these initiatives forward. The lab is ideally positioned to serve as an experiential discovery center where learners of all ages can explore where their food comes from, how it is produced, and the importance of our taking care of our precious water and soils,” Boehm said.

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Want to learn more?

To read the full statement by Mike Boehm, please turn to today’s Commentary page.

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