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   from the issue of September 28, 2006

Mentors teach sustainable grazing practices


A rancher-organized and driven grazing and ranch management mentor program is providing grassland guidance and counsel to those new to ranching or to western Nebraska.

The program, sponsored by UNL Extension, the Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition and Nebraska's Natural Resources Conservation Service, started about two years ago with the goal to minimize grassland management disasters, said Pat Reece, extension rangeland ecologist at UNL's Panhandle Research and Extension Center at Scottsbluff.

"The group wants to help other ranchers - outside or young - avoid career ending mistakes," the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources specialist said.

"Land ownership has changed a lot in Nebraska's Sandhills," said Lynn Myers, who along with his wife, Marlene, are grazing and ranch management mentors and run the family's cattle operation near Lewellen. "Some people don't understand or have any idea how fragile the Sandhills are."

To contend with these changes, Myers and nine other western Nebraska ranch families offer their expertise on what's worked for them.

"We felt there was a need out there for ranchers helping ranchers," said Brent Plugge, UNL Extension educator in Buffalo County. "They have the experience in a number of different areas and are willing to offer their assistance. It's basically neighbors helping neighbors."

The group uses rotation grazing systems and is diverse enough in its operations that no one operation is the same, thus having an abundance of information to give to those participating in the mentorship program.

"The concept is one where ranchers that have been successful are wanting and willing to provide information to other people that are considering some of the management practices that they have tried in the past or are using," Reece said.

Reece added the grazing and ranch management mentors are highly respected and have been in business long enough that they are clearly knowledgeable experts in their area and their areas of expertise.

Some going through the mentor program have never sought information from the University of Nebraska, and a group of ranchers noticed this and wanted to do something about it, Reece said. If the mentors don't know the answer to a question, they can call advisers, university faculty and extension educators.

"Another important reason the mentors started talking about offering this program was because of the progressive increase in the average age of ranch owners. They realized the average age of ranchers in their ranch communities keeps going up. So, there is an outreach to young or new people coming in," Reece said. "We really want to help the next generation of ranchers."

Another substantial component of the program is participation in UNL's Nebraska Ranch Practicum. The group awards scholarships for participation in the intensive educational program for ranchers.

"The opportunities for young people are very tough on these ranches," Myers said.

"I really want to give something back to this industry," Myers said. He added although he won't make millions doing what he does, it is a good life, which he hopes others will have the opportunity to enjoy as well.

"It's really quite an outreach. The whole mentorship program is rancher organized and driven," Reece said.

The program is supported by a grant from the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education organization.

The group hopes to receive another grant so the program can be offered statewide.

For more information about the grazing and ranch management mentor program, go online to



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