Lower Elkhorn NRD Conservation Awards Banquet

Lower Elkhorn NRD Conservation Awards Banquet


NORFOLK, Nebraska -- The Lower Elkhorn Natural Resources District (LENRD) board honored outstanding conservationists at their annual awards banquet on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2020. The event was held at the Stables Event Center in Norfolk.


Outstanding Partnership Award
LENRD Board Chairman, Gary Loftis of Craig, presented the partnership award.  Loftis said, “The District works with various agencies and partners each year as we strive to improve the quality of life for the citizens across Northeast Nebraska.  The Outstanding Partnership Award recognizes excellence in community outreach efforts that highlight our mission of protecting our natural resources for future generations.”

Loftis said, “We want to recognize Steve Rasmussen of Wayne, District Forester with the Nebraska Forest Service, for his outstanding partnership with us, in promoting our projects and programs across our 15-county district.”

For the past 37 years, Steve has held a strong partnership with the NRDs across the state.  He started with the Nebraska Forest Service in 1982 working as the NFS Forester and the NRD Forester for the Lower Loup NRD in Ord.

In 1984, he became the Nebraska Forest Service – Northeast District / Extension Forester at Concord.  In 2007 he became the Coordinator for the four-state Great Plains Forestry Initiative until 2010.  He then returned to the Nebraska Forest Service as the Northeast District Forester from 2010 to the present.  He has also been a member of the Society of American Foresters for 30 years.

Steve’s work involves providing professional forestry assistance to 15 counties in 5 NRDs across northeast Nebraska. He works primarily with the design and management of conservation tree plantings as well as riparian forest and woodland management. He also deals with the marketing and utilization of wood resources. Educating our youth and the public about the importance and care of trees is also a large part of Steve’s work. He has partnered with the NRDs to bring education programs to the schools and communities across 5 districts. He continues to promote our programs to community leaders and presents Arbor Day and other tree celebration programming. Working with communities with tree resources and tree planting grants is also a highlight of Steve’s career. Promoting and assisting with local arboretums and overall technical assistance to tree owners on the care and management of trees takes much time and effort.

Loftis added, “Steve has always been a strong supporter of the NRDs and our mission. He has worked side by side with us to inform the public of our programs and to assist in tree planting projects across the area. In the aftermath of the 2019 flood, Steve assisted with many calls and visits to producers across our district. We appreciate Steve’s support of our projects and his willingness to jump in and assist us. Thank you, Steve, for your partnership in protecting our natural resources for future generations.”

Sustainable Agriculture Award
The Lower Elkhorn NRD’s Conservation Honor Farm awards were first presented in 1973. The winners are selected for their demonstrated excellence in soil & water conservation. Dan & Melinda Stelling & Family of Pierce were honored at the banquet for their outstanding conservation work as the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Award winners.

Dan Gillespie, NRCS No-till Specialist for Madison County, nominated the Dan Stelling Family for this award. Gillespie said, “Over the past 40 years, Dan Stelling has utilized innovative techniques to conserve soil and water in his farming practices. Dan describes his journey in conservation and regenerative agriculture as a series of steps taken that culminated in the systems he now operates on his farms.”

Dan’s first step was starting to no-till all crops in 2004. He gives no-till the credit for starting his transition to regenerative agriculture on his farms.  The no-till stopped soil erosion from water and wind on his Valentine sands and reduced evaporative losses from the cropland.

Step two came in 2006 when Dan flew cereal rye on his soybean ground as a participant in the LENRD Cover Crop Incentive Program. He grazed the cereal rye cover crops in the spring with the cow calf herd, then would remove the cows and plant the corn right away, terminating the rye a week or two afterwards. After a few years of trials, they have been planting green since 2009. Planting green allows the cover crop to grow more biomass in the soil and allows for a friendly soil biological environment for the newly germinated seedlings.

In 2019, Dan diversified his crop rotation to include small grains on one quarter. After planting cereal rye as a cover crop in soybean stubble and terminating it, he planted half the quarter to oats and peas that were later harvested as hay.  He followed that with a mix of BMR Sorghum, mung beans, guar, buckwheat and black oil sunflowers. Dan will utilize that half quarter for winter grazing for the cow herd. The other half quarter was planted to a grazing corn, cowpeas, forage soybeans, and sunflower mix, and was chopped for silage. The field was then planted to a mix of grazing popcorn, spring peas, spring oats, cereal rye, forage collards, purple top turnips, and radishes. That mix will be grazed in the spring with cow calf pairs. The implementation of small grains into their crop rotation has enabled them to plant multi-species cover crops that provide quality forage for their cowherd to graze, while providing opportunities to take pressure off pastures.

Dan farms two quarters in the Bazile Groundwater Management Area and has plans to implement cover crops on them next year. The implementation of continuous no-till with cover crops will keep soil out of the creek and nitrates out of the groundwater. Planting cover crops also sequesters nutrients unused by the cash grain crops, making them available to the next cash crop.

Gillespie added, “Dan and Melinda have been leaders ‘in the field’ by adopting soil health practices and implementing regenerative agriculture systems.  The diverse crop rotations and diversified ag enterprises they enlist on their farms are modeling the way to reduce expenses and increase profitability.  The time savings that no-till farming provides also allows them to be active in their community. Dan and Melinda are Huddle Group Leaders for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes at Pierce High School. Congratulations to the Stelling family as the recipients of the 2019 Sustainable Agriculture Award.”

Staff Awards
Staff awards were also presented during the banquet by Chairman Loftis and General Manager Mike Sousek.

  • Char Newkirk of Stanton – Conservation Aide in the Stanton County NRCS office – 20 years of service
  • Valissa Tegeler of Battle Creek – Programs Assistant in the Madison County NRCS office – 20 years of service
  • Danny Johnson of Decatur –  Logan East Rural Water System Technician in the Oakland office – Danny recently retired after 25 years of service.
  • Julie Wragge of Pierce – Information & Education Specialist in the Norfolk office - 25 years of service
  • Vickie DeJong of Pierce – Administrative Supervisor in the Norfolk office – 40 years of service