Peterson Family Receives 2016 Leopold Conservation Award

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALocated on the northern edge of the Nebraska Sandhills is Plum Thicket Farms, a diverse crop farm and cattle ranch owned and managed by Rex and Nancy Peterson, and their son Patrick and his wife Krista.

The farm sits atop 2,300 acres of carefully managed pasture and cropland. When the Petersons purchased the property in 1998, they were cautioned about its vulnerabilities to drought and blizzards. The family immediately set out to take important steps to make the pastures drought-resilient, developing water sources, cross fencing implement a deferred rest rotation grazing system, and planting and fencing windbreaks.

Under Patrick’s leadership, the farm was transformed to no-till to prevent erosion and improve water retention, despite knowing the crop yields would initially take a hit. After eleven years, their investment in no-till management is paying off.

Cover crops are an important aspect of the Petersons’ commitment to biodiversity. The family uses a multispecies “cocktail” of annual forages for intensive grazing. The mix contributes to the health of the soil, while also providing a nutritional food source for the cattle and pollinator habitat.

The Petersons are committed to improving productivity on their acreage by enhancing the quality and diversity of their ecosystems on pastures and cropland. Their crop rotation includes corn, pinto beans, field peas and wheat. To avoid having to feed their cattle harvested forage, they moved the calving date to May to calve on cereal rye, allowing their cattle cycle to align with the nutrition provided in the forage cycle. Rather than bailing their sorghum, the cattle graze it in the swathes during winter.

One of the biggest testaments to the resilience of their land occurred during the 2012 drought, the worst in the last 25 years. After a pasture holding a third of their herd was depleted early, the Petersons successfully weaned 60 to 90-day old calves and significantly culled the herd to reduce pasture use. By late summer, when others had run out of grass, the Petersons had not.

“The Petersons want to inspire other producers to think about the end results of land management practices they pursue,” said David George, Rangeland Management Specialist, USDA NRCS. “It is not all about making a profit and the Peterson’s want to leave a legacy of being good stewards of all that is in their care.”

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Nebraska Partners

Sand County Foundation

SCF-Logo-Black-2014Sand County Foundation is a non-profit conservation organization dedicated to working with private landowners across North America to advance ethical and scientifically sound land management practices that benefit the environment.


Nebraska Cattlemen

nc_logo_webThe Nebraska Cattlemen is a grassroots organization whose individual producer members determine issues of importance to the Nebraska beef industry. The mission of the Nebraska Cattlemen is to nurture profitability for Nebraska beef producers and to provide leadership to the cattle industry in Nebraska, across the United States, and around the world.

Nebraska Cattlemen performs three basic functions. First, the association represents the beef cattle industry to the legislative and administrative branches of the state and federal governments. Second, it explains beef production (including safety of the product, use of natural resources, care of animals, and beef economics) to the public and opinion influencers. Third, it provides economic and other information to members to aid them in their own planning and management.


Cargill_thumbAs a food and agricultural company, Cargill’s goal is to nourish people. Human food and animal feeds depend on clean water, soil, air, and light. As the world’s population continues to grow, so too do the demands on the environment. A sustainable future requires investing in environmental innovation today. At Cargill, we are aware that our global reach creates high expectations for leadership in resource stewardship. We look to innovation as a way to preserve and protect the environment, whether by using energy and resources more wisely (which also helps reduce energy costs), pioneering profitable business and product lines that make use of renewable raw materials or helping customers shrink their environmental footprints.

Nebraska Environmental Trust

NETseal_black_webThe Nebraska Environmental Trust was established in 1992 to conserve, enhance and restore the natural environments of Nebraska. It was created on the conviction that a prosperous future is dependent upon a sound natural environment and that Nebraskans could collectively achieve real progress on real environmental issues if seed money were provided.