Jack's Insights January 2017

By Jack Whittier, Director
UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

As we close out 2016 and open 2017, it’s fun to look back over the happenings and accomplishments here in the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Panhandle Research and Extension District.    I know it is risky to call out certain events because I will undoubtedly overlook some other important ones, but here goes. 

Dr. Jack Whittier

On my desk, I have a quote from UNL Chancellor Ronnie Green that reads, “Remember that we are the people’s university.”  I try daily to remember this important point.  Perhaps my list will give insight into how we are using the state resources we are stewards of. 


  • We welcomed our new Weeds Specialist, Nevin Lawrence, to the PHREC team.  Nevin is off and running, we are glad he joined us and look for great things from this talented young scientist.
  • Several of our specialists participated in Bean reporting day at the Gering Civic Center.
  • I had the opportunity to learn more about one of Nebraska Extension’s up-and-coming STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) programs at the 4-H Lego League and Robotics event coordinated by Cynthia Gill, 4-H Youth Development Educator in Sidney.
  • Our group participated in the Western Sugar annual research reporting event held in Loveland, CO and are grateful for their financial support of some of our research projects.
  • We lost a dear friend and Panhandle icon when Charlie Fenster passed away in January.  His contribution to Panhandle agriculture lives on.


  • A number of extension workshops were held across the district in January and February, including Ranch Profitability, Landlord Lease workshops, Master Gardner and Pesticide Training.
  • Visits to the Panhandle by NU Foundation development personnel occurred in February and again in August.  The University of Nebraska Foundation is a private, nonprofit corporation that has encouraged giving to the University of Nebraska since 1936.
  • We planned and started some upgrades to the roadways and parking lots at the Panhandle Center.  Still more work to do, but we got a good start in 2016.


  • The annual visit to the Panhandle by the current Nebraska LEAD class participated in the 2-day visit. The Nebraska LEAD Program began 35 years ago to develop agricultural leaders from Nebraska's future generations.  We are fortunate to have many of these LEAD alum as leaders in the Panhandle today.


  • Several Panhandle folks were recognized for their contributions to Nebraska Agriculture by the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement, including Ivan and Doris Rush of Scottsbluff and Frank Johannsen of Bayard.  Dennis Strauch, manager of Pathfinder Irrigation District, was also inducted into membership in the Hall of Ag Achievement this year.
  • I’m privileged to serve as an ex-officio member of the Nebraska Dry Dean Commission.  Meeting regularly with this group allows me to stay in touch with their needs and foster research and educational programs to address their objectives.


  • Student summer interns joined us at the Center and across the district working in county extension offices.  These interns do an amazing job while they are with us; it also gives them a chance to better understand what we do and often channels them on to a career with the University of Nebraska.  We are beginning to solicit 2017 interns and summer workers. Let us know if you are interested.
  • Then-Vice-Chancellor Ronnie Green, along with IANR Deans Chuck Hibberd and Archie Clutter, visited the Panhandle in May to stay in touch with what is happening in the west.  We held an enjoyable dinner at the Country Club with a few Panhandle stakeholders that evening to update Ronnie, Chuck and Archie.
  • University of Nebraska President Hank Bounds came to the Panhandle and made visits to the Western Sugar factory in Scottsbluff and the Kelley Bean packaging facility in Morrill.  It’s great to have the support of these two industries for the University of Nebraska.


  • I had the opportunity to attend a Nebraska Wheat Board research planning meeting held in Grant, NE along with Cody Creech, our Dryland Cropping Specialist.  The Wheat Board, as well as several of the other commodity boards, have been gracious in their support of research and education programs in the Panhandle.   We work hard to make these relationships win-win for all parties.
  • A Backyard Farmer episode with Kim Todd was filmed on a winding day at the Legacy of the Plains museum.  This was an opportunity to spotlight the Panhandle lawn and garden programs. Backyard Farmer airs live Tuesdays on NET1 at 6p.m. MDT from March through September.
  • As an invited speaker for our seminar series at the Center, Dr. Katrina Cornish from Ohio State University presented research on “rubber dandelions,” a plant that produces a molecule that can be used to make natural rubber.  Her presentation has since lead to a multi-million-dollar research proposal involving several of our PHREC faculty.  There is some potential that “rubber dandelions” may lead to an important cash crop for Panhandle growers in the future.  Stay tuned on this one.


  • July was a busy month as researchers collected samples, evaluated crops and trained graduate students.  County Extension Educators were busy preparing for county fair season that took place in late July and August across the district.


  • A new Beef Systems Extension Educator, Jack Arterburn, joined our faculty this month.  Jack is located in Rushville and is off to a great start with his range and grazing training from UNL.
  • Jeanna Boland began working as 4-H Youth Development Assistant and office manager in Sioux county located in Harrison.  Jeanna’s experience and network adds an important element to this area of the district.
  • Bijesh Maharjan, new Soils and Nutrient Management Specialist, joined our faculty.  Bijesh’s training in North Dakota, Minnesota and UNL make him a good fit for the Panhandle.


  • We collaborated with North Platte Natural Resources District and Midwest Theatre on a screening of “Thirsty Land,” a documentary outlining the importance of water use in agriculture, communities and all aspects of our lives.  An invited panel of local water experts participated in a discussion and responded to questions following the movie showing.  Our own Jeff Bradshaw did an excellent job as moderator for this panel discussion.


  • NU President Hank Bounds held his regional President’s Advisory Meeting at the Panhandle Center.  Many local leaders participated in a listening session and luncheon with President Bounds that day as well.
  • To address the impact of the agricultural financial downturn, a number of evaluation and education workshops began across Nebraska.  In the Panhandle these have included workshops on financial health, calculating unit costs of production in cattle herds, ranch transition and on-line webinars addressing “profit tips” for crop and livestock operators.


  • Interviews for an irrigation/water management specialist were conducted.  This process is continuing and we hope that we will be able to announce a successful hire early in 2017.
  • Members of Leadership Scottsbluff visited the Center in November and were given an overview of how the UNL Panhandle District fits into the fabric of Scottsbluff.
  • Several members of the Panhandle district were honored at the Nebraska Extension Fall Conference.  These included Gary Stone for the Extra Mile Award; Jeff Bradshaw as Innovative Extension Specialist; and the Outstanding Programming Team Award to the Animals Inside and Out program, whose Panhandle members include Jana Schwartz, 4-H Associate in Scotts Bluff County, Terri Lemmon, 4-H Assistant in Dawes County, Deb Kraenow, 4-H Assistant in Box Butte County, and Melissa Mracek, 4-H Assistant in Sheridan County; Also the Innovation in Team Programming Award went to went to the Go NAP SACC program, whose members include Erin Kampbell, Nutrition Education Program Assistant in Scottsbluff.


  • Carlos Urrea received the Omtvedt Innovation Award from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.  This award was presented in Lincoln in early December.

I hope it is clear that the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension District is keenly aware that we are truly the people’s university and that this year in review will demonstrate some of the ways we strive to accomplish our mission.

Have a great 2017.