JACK'S INSIGHTS: Change, and what comes with it

 Jack Whittier, director UNL Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

The Scottsbluff/Gering United Chamber of Commerce Agribusiness Committee was one of the early groups I was included in when I arrived in Scottsbluff as Director of Panhandle Research and Extension for the University of Nebraska. During my first meeting, I remember recognizing that this group was an assembly of many of the pertinent and prominent organizations and businesses in the Panhandle.

During the intervening months and years, I have further come to appreciate the many contributions and impact the Agribusiness Committee has had on so many who are directly, or indirectly, involved in agriculture. It has been said that if you eat, you are involved in agriculture. So, isn’t that all of us?

This month, I’d like to give a shout out to this group, and mention a few of the contributions they make to the region. The most recent event was the Ag Safety Day held at the Scotts Bluff County Fairgrounds in Mitchell. This event is coordinated by Agribusiness Committee and I confess this was the first Ag Safety day I have attended in person – shame on me! 

Wow, what an event and impactful experience for the 120 third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders from local schools. It consisted of 11 safety-learning stations where capable volunteers used “show and tell” teaching techniques to impress the importance of safety on this young, attentive audience.

Many of the young students had never seen the danger of unsafe practices from a power takeoff (PTO) on a tractor attached to a hay baler. However, seeing Balloon Bob immediately pulled into the PTO shaft, after the shaft grabbed a piece of baling twine wrapped around Bob, created an indelible memory that will live in these students’ minds for the rest of their lives. 

Another impressive and memorable station at Ag Safety Day was the irrigation canal safety display taught by Dennis Strauch, general manager of Pathfinder Irrigation District. Dennis built a model canal system with running water to illustrate the risks of people floating in the canals on innertubes, going over a spillway and being caught in the current. In my mind I can still see the little toy model spinning hopelessly in the back current as the water from the spillway kept it rotating under the water after he floated off the drop-off into the whirlpool. 

Including local FFA students as group guides was another brilliant idea by the organizers. I applaud this committee for the work and wisdom to host such an impactful event as Ag Safety Day each year.

In addition to the Ag Safety Day subcommittee, currently co-chaired by John Dillman and Dennis Strauch, there are four additional subcommittees of the Chamber Agribusiness Committee:

The Sugar Tour subcommittee, co-chaired by John Dillman and Branden Hessler, coordinates a tour of the Western Sugar factory in December.  The date for this tour will soon be announced and advertised.  This is a great opportunity for community members to go into the sugar factory and see first-hand the amazing process of making sugar from the sugar beets grown in this region, and to better understand the economic impact of the sugar industry to our region.      

The Water Tour Subcommittee is co-chaired now by John Berge and Jack Whittier.  This is a popular tour of the canal, reservoir and hydropower system built upstream from this valley in the North Platte River drainage in the late 1800s and early 1900s by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.  The irrigation system brings water to more than 300,000 acres of cropland to greatly increase productivity.  The system includes the canal tunnels prevalent in the news this summer.

Bob Busch previously coordinated the water tour since its inception many years ago.  Bob announced early this year that he would like to pass the water tour torch to others.  As a result, John Berge and myself will lead coordination of the tour in 2020.   Filling Bob’s shoes is a monumental task, but we will try our best.  The dates for this tour are now set for Aug. 4-5, 2020.                    

The Ag Education Subcommittee is co-chaired by Galen Larson and Paul Burgener. On Oct. 11 (this coming Friday), this subcommittee is coordinating a “Careers in Ag” day for local high school agriculture students. The event will include local business leaders who will overview their own career paths and provide words of wisdom about choosing a career and how best to prepare for it.  The event will be held at the Panhandle Research and Extension Center on north Avenue I (Highway 71) and begins at 9 a.m. Friday. Presenters will also include some of the research and extension specialists at the Center.

The Scholarships Subcommittee is co-chaired by Amy Yeager and Dan Carter. Monies earned by the Chamber Agribusiness Committee in the events described in this article are used to financially support these scholarships.  Each year this subcommittee receives, reviews, and awards post-high-school scholarships to area graduates to support their further education.  Students should watch for application details from their high school counselors after Jan 1. Contacting the Scottsbluff/Gering Chamber of Commerce office is also a way to learn more about these events (http://www.scottsbluffgering.net/,  or 308-632-2133).

Finally, the Chamber Agribusiness Committee is always open for additional members to participate.  The committee meets the first Friday morning of each month at 7 a.m. in the Chamber of Commerce boardroom, 1517 Broadway, Suite 104, Scottsbluff. Ya’ll come! Participating with the Chamber Ag Committee is a good way to give back to this wonderful community and rub shoulders with many generous and successful people.

Have a good month.

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