Jack's Insights May 2017

One year ago, the theme of my Jack’s Insights column was “We’re in Good Hands with Ronnie!”  I felt this was true In May 2016, and I believe it is still true. Today I want to focus on Ronnie Green’s replacement as Vice Chancellor of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources (UNL-IANR).

Dr. Jack Whittier
Jack Whittier, Director, UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

On Jan. 1 Dr. Mike Boehm (pronounced bame, as in came, or fame) began as the UNL Harlan Vice Chancellor for IANR and University of Nebraska Vice President for Agriculture and Natural Resources.  That long title means he is in charge of all the components of agriculture and natural resources for both the Lincoln campus and out-state units. In this role, Mike reports to Chancellor Green. As a vice president, Mike has responsibility for agriculture and natural resources for the entire University of Nebraska System.  In this role, he reports to Hank Bounds, University of Nebraska President.

So why does all this matter, and really who cares? Let me explain further. This past Saturday, Vice Chancellor Boehm (he prefers to be called simply Mike) spent the day in the Panhandle. Back in December, even before Mike officially started with the University of Nebraska, he was touring central Nebraska with a few members of his soon-to-be leadership team members like Chuck Hibberd, Dean and Director of Nebraska Extension, and a few others. Their intent was to make it all the way west to Scottsbluff. However, due to unforeseen circumstances, Mike and the group did not make it this far on that trip. 

Ever since Mike officially started, he had been telling me that he still had the objective to come to the Panhandle. However, as you can likely imagine, his calendar and commitments made that a challenge. So about two weeks ago, Mike said to me while I was in Lincoln, “Jack the only way I’m going to get out to the Panhandle is to do it on the weekend. I’m coming on Saturday, April 29th, can you make that work?”

I told him of course, and it worked out great and provided a wonderful opportunity to give Mike a real taste of the Panhandle – and for those who were able to meet him, to become better acquainted with Mike.

I should also mention that another of our new UNL leaders from Lincoln, Dr. Clint Krehbiel, new head of the Department of Animal Science, was along with Mike for their visit to the Panhandle. Clint also began his position on Jan. 1 and visited the Panhandle earlier this year. It was nice to have Clint out again, and I’m sure Mike and Clint enjoyed being travelling companions for the weekend. I’m certain there was a lot of cross-pollination that took place during their drive, as Mike’s academic background was at Ohio State University as a plant pathologist working primarily with turf grasses, and Clint’s background and expertise before moving to administration at UNL was as a feedlot nutritionist at Oklahoma State University.

We started the day last Saturday with a small breakfast group of stakeholders. Courtney Schuler with the Nebraska Dry Bean Commission, Bob Kelley from Kelley Bean, and Paul Burgener, an Ag lender with Platte Valley Bank, joined for breakfast and a lively discussion about ideas and challenges pertinent to the Panhandle and the ag industries here.

It was evident to me then, as reaffirmed throughout the day, that Mike is a big-idea thinker with a vision for agriculture and natural resources in Nebraska.  Our breakfast discussion about the dry bean industry and potential opportunities for the Panhandle was invigorating to us all.

After breakfast, we met with our faculty at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center and toured the facilities on North Avenue I, where the Center is located. Much like the stimulating discussion at breakfast, Mike continued to explore and inquire about the role and opportunities for the University of Nebraska in the Panhandle. His vision for big ideas and potential collaborations with other segments of the University of Nebraska system were evident, including discussions of interface with the University Medical Center, UNO and UNK. Mike’s comments and challenges gave all present new ideas and perspectives to consider.

Next, the day included a visit to the Owen and Brian Palm Ranch in Sioux County to participate in their branding. As many know, brandings in western Nebraska are a community affair and there were plenty of cowboys present to coach Mike and Clint on the art of wrestling calves in the rope and drag procedure.

Since we were late arriving, the work was nearly done when we arrived, but there were about a dozen calves left, so that the Mike and Clint team of calf wrestlers were able to show their skills on a few calves.  Mike commented afterward that this was a highlight of the day. Our thanks to Owen and Brian for being kind enough to allow two university administrators to better understand what goes on at the ground level of agriculture in the Panhandle.

After a tour of the University Panhandle Research Feedlot and other facilities at Mitchell, we were hosted by Joe Burford for an inside look at the cattle feeding industry in the Panhandle and tour of the High Plains Feedlot. Joe gave a nice overview of how cattle feeding fits into the fabric of the cattle and cropping industry in this part of the state. He outlined the synergy between the byproducts from both the sugar factory and ethanol production, and the added value that beet pulp and distillers grains bring to both crop and cattle segments of agriculture here in the North Platte Valley.

The day concluded with a lovely dinner at the Country Club with another group of stakeholders who engaged Mike and Clint in a lively discussion. Those present were Bob and Elaine Pile from Gering, Bob and Wilma Post from Harrisburg, several of the Lapaseotes family from Bridgeport, and my wife, Robynn, and I.

I began today’s column by referring back to an earlier column I wrote about Ronnie Green. After spending the day with Mike Boehm, the new IANR Vice Chancellor, I can affirm that we are in good hands with Mike as well!