High Plains Ag Lab

Wheat plot tour at High Plains Ag Lab
Cover crop field day June 29 at HPAL

A field day at Sidney on June 29 will focus on “Incorporating Cover Crops and Annual Forages into Cropping Systems: Providing Research Based Information to Producers in Western Nebraska.”

The event, sponsored by Nebraska Extension, will run from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. at the UNL High Plains Ag Lab, Sidney. There is no charge to attend, but to make sure enough lunches are provided, attendees are asked to RSVP by June 19 to: Panhandle Research and Extension, 308-632-1230 or email kjenkins2@unl.edu

Topics include:

  • Are Cover Crops a Viable Option for Western Nebraska Dryland Crop Production? (Cody Creech, UNL Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist)
  • Annual Forages for Beef Cattle in Western Nebraska (Karla Jenkins, UNL Cow-Calf and Range Management Specialist)
  • Summary of Research on impacts of cover crops on soil and value of diversity in the mix (Bjesh Maharjan, UNL Soil and Nutrient Management Specialist)
  • Tour of ongoing cover crop research (Mitch Stephenson, UNL Forage and Range Management Specialist)
  • Working Lunch with group discussion over the use of cover
  • Crops and Annual Forages in Western Nebraska

The High Plains Ag Lab (HPAL) is a satellite unit of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff. Our mission is to improve the profitability of dryland crop and livestock production through applied research responsive to the needs of local producers.

  • Address: 3257 RD 109, Sidney, NE 69162.
  • Phone: 308-254-3918
  • Directions: Six miles north of Sidney, NE, on Highway 385, then west on County Road 32 (see map) In the heart of western Nebraska's major dryland crop production area.
  • High Plains Ag Lab directional mapAddress: 3257 RD 109, Sidney, NE 69162.
  • Phone: 308-254-3918
  • Directions: Six miles north of Sidney, NE, on Highway 385, then west on County Road 32 (see map) In the heart of western Nebraska's major dryland crop production area.
Administration and Staff

Panhandle Research and Extension Director: Dr. Jack Whittier
Ag Lab Supervisor: Dr. Cody Creech
Farm Manager: Mr. Jake Hansen

Paul McMillen, Animal Science Technician
Vernon Florke, Alternative Crop Breeding Technician

Research Capacity

Total acreage: the HPAL covers 2,400 acres, one-third in dryland crop rotations and two-thirds in pasture.

Annual Research Reports


Fifty to 60 research trials are conducted each year by scientists based at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center as well as University of Nebraska-Lincoln and neighboring states. Expertise includes agronomy; plant breeding, physiology, and pathology; soil fertility; irrigation; entomology; weed science; marketing and economics; and livestock nutrition.

HPAL building named for Charles Fenster
Charles Fenster building dedication
Posing with the new sign at the Charles R. Fenster Building are Charlie Fenster (immediately to the right of the sign) along with (from left) Jack Whittier, director of the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center; Gary Hergert, UNL soils specialist who was interim director at the Panhandle Center when the new building was dedicated; Cody Creech, current dryland cropping systems specialist at the Panhandle Center; Dipak Santra, faculty supervisor of High Plains Ag Lab and alternative crops breeder for UNL; Gary Peterson, retired soils specialist at Colorado State University of collaborated with Fenster on research at HPAL for many years; and Keith Rexroth of Sidney, chair of the building committee and High Plains Ag Lab Advisory Committee.

The headquarters building at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's High Plains Agricultural Lab (HPAL) north of Sidney was named for Charles R. Fenster of Gering prior to the Aug. 11, 2015, annual field day, in recognition of Fenster's lifetime work as a pioneering UNL cropping systems specialist who worked at HPAL for many years.

Fenster's contributions to agriculture and conservation were saluted by several speakers, including Jack Whittier, director of the Panhandle Research and Extension Center, the administrative unit to which HPAL belongs; Keith Rexroth of Sidney, chair of the building committee and HPAL advisory committee. Representing UNL administration were Hector Santiago, Assistant Dean and Assistant Director of the IANR Agricultural Research Division; and Josh Egley, Director of Development at IANR for the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Fenster's daughter Kay Dubois and son Larry Fenster also added personal memories before Fenster himself addressed the group. Fenster recalled how his life and career led him to work in dryland crop research in western Nebraska. He noted changes in agriculture over the decades and spoke about the importance of continuing research for the future of ag in the High Plains.

Ribbon cutting for the new building was held in 2014. It was constructed with help from a fund-raising campaign begun in 2012 and supported by numerous individuals, foundations, and agricultural businesses.

The 2,800-square-foot building provides offices for permanent staff; work stations for students or visiting scientists; a conference room; and space for seed and plant material handling.

Profile of Charlie Fenster and his work at HPAL

Crop Research

Crop rotation systems: Research crops are produced on 27 fields ranging in size from 22 to 36 acres. View a 2009 map of research plots. Seven different crop rotations range in length from two to six years. Various cropping system components are represented: summer fallow, no-fallow, minimum tillage and no-tillage. These systems allow research with the same crops and rotations used by our clientele. In 2006, 75 acres were certified for organic production.

Irrigated plots: A 15-acre, lateral-move irrigation system enables scientists to simulate different precipitation patterns.

Long-Term Tillage Plots: Established in 1970 to compare moldboard plow, sub-tillage, and no-tillage fallow systems on winter wheat and soil parameters. A native sod treatment has been maintained.

Grain dryer and storage: A continuous flow dryer and grain storage system allow direct harvest of proso millet and emerging alternative crops with a stripper header.

Livestock Research

Nine pastures: Cattle graze crested wheatgrass pastures to assess supplementation, feed additives or health measurements on performance.