Nebraska 2016 Plum Thicket Farm Gordon Leopold Conservation Award Recipient

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

The farm is 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. They took steps to make its pastures drought-resilient and developed water sources.

Patrick transformed the farm by adopting no-till practices to prevent erosion and improve water retention.

Rex, Nan, Krista and Patrick Peterson

Plum Thicket Farms

Cover crops are another important part of the Petersons’ commitment to biodiversity. The family uses a multi-species 'cocktail' of annual forages for intensive grazing. The mix contributes to the soil's health, produces nutritious cattle feed, and provides pollinator habitat.

The Petersons are committed to improving productivity on their land 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 their calving season to May. This allow the cows to feed on cereal rye during the calving season. Rather than baling sorghum, the cattle graze on it during winter.

One of the biggest testaments to the resilience of their land occurred during the 2012 drought (the worst in a generation). 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, a rangeland management specialist with the USDA's NRCS. "It is not all about making a profit and the Petersons want to leave a legacy of being good stewards of all that is in their care."

In 2019, Nancy Peterson was inducted into the Nebraska Hall of Agricultural Achievement.

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