Bluestem Valley Farms is a fourth generation family operation consisting of farming and ranching near Martell. Lyle and Alice Sittler and their daughter and son-in-law, Kristen and Todd Eggerling, work together to maintain all facets of the operation.
Both families have taken a number of steps to ensure the health of their land. The Sittlers and Eggerlings have entered into a Vegetative Treatment System (VTS) pilot project with the University of Nebraska – Lincoln Extension. The project, which is the first and only of its kind for a cow/calf operation, takes land out of production and provides a controlled feeding area for cows and calves that uses vegetation to limit runoff and increases animal health by giving them an area to loaf that is open and grassy.
The families have also planted a wildlife preserve area where trees and grass are fenced out to provide cover for wildlife, such as the native prairie chicken. In addition, a windbreak was planted along the 40 acres of the VTS and an adjacent pasture was cleared of unwanted trees, leading to the restoration of native grassland for grazing and wildlife habitat.
Bluestem Valley Farms is also engaged in a Conservation Reserve Program where highly erodible land is removed from production. A mixture of grasses are planted and inter-seeded with legumes for wildlife habitat. This land remains idle and is managed through prescribed burning to maintain plant health. The families also utilize no-till farming, which prevents soil erosion, increases water infiltration, and reduces labor and equipment costs.
Due to their close proximity to Lincoln, the Sittlers and Eggerlings understand the importance of protecting their land from development. For instance, the Sittlers placed 200 acres of native eastern tall grass prairie, which is used as rangeland and hay meadow, into a permanent conservation easement. The easement ensures that a portion of the Nebraska City/Fort Kearney cut off of the Oregon Trail is preserved.
Their location also gives the families an opportunity to share their land, water, and wildlife management approaches with those outside of agriculture. Many tour groups have visited the farm, including students, international visitors, and cattle groups from Nebraska and other states. Both families, which are highly involved in their community, have been called upon by media to speak about their land management practices, and Todd and Kristen have testified before the state and federal legislatures regarding agricultural issues.