Soil and Water Conservation Society Honors Nebraska Award Winners

Soil and Water Conservation Society Honors Nebraska Award Winners


SCOTTSBLUFF, Nebraska -- Three leaders in Nebraska resource conservation, as well as the Nebraska Chapter of the Soil and Water Conservation Society (SWCS), will be honored at the 79th SWCS International Conference, July 21-23 in Myrtle Beach, SC. The Nebraska Chapter SWCS also honored 8 individuals or groups recently at the state chapter meeting in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. SWCS is a nonprofit scientific and educational association dedicated to advancing the science and art of good land use and improvement of natural resources.

International SWCS Award Winners

Society Service Award
Two Nebraska SWCS members received the Society Service Award, which is given in recognition of distinguished service in helping the Society to develop and carry out its program over a long and sustained period of time.

  • Corey Brubaker, Lincoln (SWCS member since 1983), has served on the Board of Directors of the Nebraska Chapter in various capacities since being elected as a director in 1999. He served as president in 1999-2000 and has been serving as treasurer since 2017. As Chapter Treasurer Corey is responsible for planning the annual golf tournament to raise funds for scholarships awarded by the chapter and the Nebraska Soil and Water Conservation Foundation. Corey was instrumental in planning the annual Chapter meeting in 2001, 2007, 2013, and 2023 and helped plan the 2002 North Central Regional Workshop entitled “Excellence in Conservation Planning”. Corey is recognized for his knowledge of conservation practices to control soil erosion, protect water quality, and improve soil health. He has made numerous presentations at meetings and conferences across Nebraska both as a member of the SWCS and in his professional role as the State Conservation Agronomist for Nebraska Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
  • Darwin Hinrichs, Gibbon (1991), started a Nebraska Student Chapter for SWCS at the University of Nebraska College of Technical Agriculture in Curtis. As the student chapter advisor, Darwin took student members to Billings, MT to receive the National Student Chapter Award in 1986. Darwin was chairman of the Environment and Education committee for the Nebraska SWCS chapter (1983 – 1985), Chapter President (1986 - 1987 and 2011 – 2012), received the Chapter Commendation Award in 2011 and the National SWCS Commendation Award in 2012. He is currently Chapter secretary, director for the Central Nebraska region, and also serves on the Awards Committee. Darwin has an M.S from UNL in soils and taught at Nebraska College Technical Agriculture for 15 years. He then worked for North Dakota State Extension as a water quality specialist, then for Cass County, ND, in the noxious weed and mosquito programs. He returned to Nebraska in 2003 to work for NRCS as the Resource Conservationist in Hitchcock County, retiring in 2014.

Outstanding Chapter and Exceptional Chapter Event Award
The Nebraska Chapter SWCS, is one of 14 chapters given the Outstanding Chapter Award in recognition for the chapter’s success in carrying out its overall program during the past year. In addition, the chapter was recognized with an Exceptional Chapter Event award for its 2023 annual meeting. The chapter produces two newsletter editions a year, has an annual state meeting and a legislative/informational breakfast. The chapter’s Facebook is gaining regional and national attention. Chapter Member Spotlights are emailed to members, and the Chapter’s historical archives have been digitized for broader use. The chapter supports the UNL Soil & Water Resources Club. It also supports two charitable foundations, one with the University of Nebraska Foundation and the other with the Nebraska Soil & Water Conservation Foundation – each providing student scholarships annually to deserving young conservationists. An annual golf tournament is held to raise funds for supporting the foundations and student scholarships. The 2023 annual meeting was held in Nebraska City and featured talks and tours of conservation activities in the area. Speakers included representatives of the Nemaha Natural Resources District (NRD), NRCS, Nebraska Extension, Arbor Day Farm, and Iowa State University.

WIN Conservationist of the Year Award
Presented by the National Organization of Professional Women in NRCS (WIN), this is given in recognition of a non-WIN member and outstanding woman farmer, producer, or conservationist who demonstrates a vital role in supporting women in agriculture and conservation and who has shown conservation ethics and practices in a woman-owned business.

  • Nancy Fisher, Crawford, is a great supporter of protecting Nebraska’s valuable rangeland and wildlife habitat on her own and surrounding land in the Pine Ridge region. She’s been an active advocate of conservation in the local community and across the state, serving as a board member on the Upper Niobrara White NRD.

State SWCS Chapter Award Winners
Each year, the Nebraska SWCS Chapter recognizes and honors work from people who promote its goals in the state.

Commendation Award
The Commendation Award recognizes SWCS members for service to their chapter. Four members received this award in 2024:

  • Gary Stone, Scottsbluff (2008) is a Nebraska Extension Water & Integrated Cropping Systems Educator located at the Panhandle Research, Extension, and Education Center. He obtained a B.S. from the University of Wyoming and an M.S. from the University of Nebraska. He promotes the use of and educates producers about the importance of irrigation water management utilizing Evapotranspiration Gages (ET) to determine crop water use. He publishes seasonal weekly crop water use estimates for Panhandle crops to assist producers in determining irrigation applications. He has written a series of articles that deal with the North Platte River, basic water law, and the major river drainages across Nebraska. He is a graduate of the Nebraska Water Leaders Academy, and a member of SWCS, the American Society of Agronomy, the Western Society of Weed Science, and a Certified Professional Agronomist and Certified Crop Advisor. He’s also a member of the Scotts Bluff County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) and the Nebraska Extension EDEN (Extension Disaster Education Network).
  • Bijesh Maharjan, Scottsbluff (2018), is an Associate Professor of Soil Science and Agronomy at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center in Scottsbluff, NE. He received his undergraduate degree from Moscow State University, a M.S. in environmental engineering from the University of North Dakota, and Ph.D. in Soil Science from the University of Minnesota. He leads research and extension programs focused on soil and water conservation, soil productivity, and precision nutrient management in irrigated, limited-irrigation, and dryland crop and forage production systems in the Nebraska Panhandle. He is an associate editor of the Journal of Environmental Quality and Agronomy Journal. He is a member of the American Society of Agronomy, the Soil Science Society of America, the Crop Science Society of America, the International Society of Precision Agriculture, the American Geophysical Union, the International Union of Soil Sciences, and SWCS. Dr. Maharjan authored/co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed scientific articles. Recently, his team coined and proposed two impactful concepts – Soil Health Gap and Soil Health Cycle - to promote science-based soil conservation and overall soil health management.
  • Brian Dierberger, North Platte (2021), has assisted landowners for the last 5 years in management of their USDA Wetland Reserve Program (WRP) conservation easements. He strives to help them achieve a sustainable wetland ecosystem while providing wildlife habitat when appropriate. Prior to that, he assisted NRCS in Michigan to deliver certified wetland determinations and highly erodible land determination, helping producers maintain compliance with USDA programs. Whenever possible, Brian worked directly with producers to help them understand their wetland determination and to encourage wetland restoration when possible. Brian was on the Livingston County, MI, conservation district board. During that time, he helped create an annual field day at the district’s property and staffed a “booth” of a soil pit, explaining the soil profile and the importance of soil conservation. As a field agronomist for several seed companies in MI, he always encouraged conservation practices to his customers.
  • Galen Wittrock, Lodgepole (2000), received his Bachelor of Science Degree in Biology from Bethany College, Lindsborg, KS, before pursuing interests in conservation. He is the General Manager of the South Platte NRD. He has spent 34 years with the NRD; the first 31 years as Assistant Manager. He has worked with many conservation projects in the Southern Nebraska Panhandle during this time. He was involved in planning numerous windbreaks in the NRD; many of which he helped plant, thousands of trees across the District, by sitting on the tree planter. He planned and created many wildlife plantings. Galen works cooperatively with other conservation agencies such as the NRCS, UNL Extension, NE Game & Parks, Nebraska Department of Natural Resources, and Nebraska Department of Environment & Energy to conserve natural resources. He has addressed many sediment and erosion issues through the Sediment & Erosion Control Act and was involved with water quality & quantity issues and policies to conserve this valuable resource. When time allows, he enjoys working on his farm and continues to experiment with various tree selections concentrating on hybrid oaks for Western Nebraska.

Honor Award
The Honor Award recognizes non-members for outstanding accomplishments reflecting the society’s objectives.

  • Dallas Johannsen, Scottsbluff, was raised on a farm in Morrill County. He became a member of SWCS in the mid-eighties, worked on the International SWCS Conference in Billings, MT, in 1987, and served as the Northern Plains Region Education Committee Chairman. He was the Montana SWCS Chapter President for a term and attended 4 SWCS International Meetings during his membership. Dallas started with the USDA Soil Conservation Service in 1980 as a soil conservation technician. He also spent 5 years as a Resource Conservation & Development (RC&D) Coordinator in Eastern Montana. He worked in Montana for 20 years, Wyoming for 3 years and Nebraska for 13 years as NRCS District Conservationist covering the Scottsbluff, Bridgeport, and Oshkosh Field Offices. He wrote conservation plans on over a million acres of Highly Erodible Land during the implementation of the 1985 Food Security Act - without the benefit of a completed soil survey. He was involved in starting the Pumpkin Creek Special Initiative for the retirement of irrigated land where water was so short that it was not possible to pump and deliver the water rights in the watershed. This implementation has become a model for other watersheds. He also played an integral part in completing the Yensen Drain, the final part of the Gering Valley Watershed. As District Conservationist, Dallas worked with staff to develop 20+ WRP easements, write contracts, and implement conservation practices on 965,000 acres through various NRCS conservation programs. He was active in the Panhandle No Till Partnership helping to put on numerous conferences, teach about soil health, and demonstrate the NRCS rainfall simulator. He retired in 2016.
  • Mark Watson, Alliance. Mark’s first exposure to conservation agriculture began early in his farming career watching his father work with UNL researcher, Dr. Charlie Finster. They were working on improving stubble mulching practices in a winter wheat-summer fallow rotation. From family photos, Mark’s grandfather is pictured in a field of rye and hairy vetch, the farm’s first cover crop, although soil health likely wasn’t on his radar. After graduating from UNL with a degree in Agronomy, Mark returned home to the farm, which has been in the family since 1891. Working with his brothers, they began their path towards no till crop production in the late 1980’s after a tour of Dakota Lakes Research Farm with Dr. Dwayne Beck, who explained the concepts of no till production practices, cropping sequences and their effects on your soil, the improved use of the resources at hand with continuous cropping rotations, utilizing all the rainfall received on your farm, and putting all your land to work every year. Mark and his brothers put together their own crop rotation of winter wheat, corn, and yellow field peas and or chickpeas on our dry land acres. They have mostly followed this rotation ever since. The system worked so well that by 1994 they had their irrigated acres in no till as well, with a winter wheat, corn, dry edible bean rotation. With their rotation of corn, yellow field peas, winter wheat followed by the rye cover crop, edible beans and the use of soil water monitoring equipment, they have lowered the annual irrigation pumping to 6.5 inches per year on heavier silt clay loam soils and 8.5 inches per year in the Valent fine sand soils. Mark began work as a no till educational instructor in the early 2000’s. He began doing no till educational conferences around the state as well as the region. He helped form the Panhandle No Till Association, which held educational field days along with the annual winter conference. For numerous years he wrote weekly articles on no till crop production practices which were distributed across the state for publication, appeared in numerous agricultural magazines, and widely distributed electronically.

Merit Award
The Merit Award is given in recognition of an outstanding effort or activity by a group, business firm, corporation, or organization that promotes wise land use. There are two recipients this year:

  • The Business Farmer’s first issue hit the newsstands on January 16, 1926. What began as a sugar beet news source, the publication was devoted to the interest of the co-operative association of the North Platte Valley, under auspices of Farm Bureau Federation. From the first publication, the Business Farmer has played a joint role with many organizations, committees, foundations, and growers. During the last 98 years, the Farmer has become a reliable news source for leading agriculture information including comprehensive weather and crop reports, agriculture market reports and main streamed local news you can trust. Once owned by the Star-Herald, the Business Farmer became a part of Wyoming Newspapers, Inc., nearly 20 years ago continues to provide the same trusted agriculture news for nearly 100 years. The Business Farmer is active in Wyoming, Nebraska, Colorado, and parts of Montana.
  • North Platte Natural Resources District, Scottsbluff. Established in 1972, Nebraska’s natural resources districts (NRDs) take their boundaries from the major river basins and are governed by locally elected boards of directors, enabling them to respond to local needs. NRDs build partnerships with other agencies and organizations, including the USDA NRCS, the Nebraska Natural Resources Commission, other state and federal agencies, municipalities, counties, and private organizations. The North Platte NRD has many different programs to help the residents become better stewards of our natural resources. Ranging from conservation tree planting and cost-share on livestock watering systems to flow meters and education outreach, NRD programs are open to anyone living in the District. The NRD sells trees for conservation purposes, such as erosion control, windbreaks, and wildlife habitat. Over 7 million trees have been planted in this District. The NRD provides conservation cost-share programs that provide financial incentives to landowners to protect soil, water, and other resources. The North Platte NRD has had a part in developing several projects in the basin including prevention of damages from flood water and sediment, drainage improvement, channel rectification. The NRD built the Greener Gardens Greenhouse as an outdoor educational facility, including a geothermal greenhouse, 70 plots of native and introduced grasses, a learning/classroom area, tree identification plantings, and a perimeter of pollinators. Over 4,600 pounds of vegetables have been donated to local food pantries. Plants and seeds have also been donated to various groups to help promote learning.

More information about the Nebraska SWCS Chapter can be found at and on Facebook.

South Platte NRD General Manager Galen Wittrock, right, accepts the Commendation Award from Jonathon Sliva, Nebraska SWCS awards committee.

North Platte NRD Special Projects Coordinator in Greenhouse Kirstee Moore-Schutte, right, accepts the Merit Award for the North Platte NRD from Darwin Hinrichs, Nebraska SWCS awards committee member.