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Since 1999, the Nebraska Cooperative Development Center has provided technical assistance, education and training to groups who are developing or are considering the development of a cooperatively owned business. The primary objective has been and is to improve the economic condition of rural areas through cooperative business development. NCDC continues to be committed to working with communities and organizations from idea formation to implementation.

NCDC - celebrating 20 years

As we reflect on the 20th year of the Center, this article revisits the cooperative model. Often in economics, cooperatives are described as formed for a market failure. That may be the case, but that failure creates an opportunity to work together. Working together is a Nebraska way of doing things. The flood has emphasized that and the Nebraska Strong slogan. The model in rural communities may be the best solution and approach regardless of the situation.

Many in rural Nebraska are familiar with agricultural cooperatives. The most common types are marketing and supply cooperatives. A marketing cooperative may focus on bargaining, grading, transporting, processing, distribution, research and product development. The Nebraska Cooperative Council highlights other types of agricultural cooperatives such as service or regional cooperatives. These cooperatives have been successful at meeting the needs of its members. Meeting the needs of its members is a key tenant of the cooperative model.

Have you considered how your community or industry can apply the cooperative model?

Cooperatives are generally created for the following reasons:

  • To provide a service or need in the community
  • To improve bargaining power
  • To reduce costs
  • To obtain products or services otherwise unavailable
  • To expand new and existing market opportunities
  • To increase income

The cooperative WHY is important to bring people and/or communities together to work towards a common goal.

Definition & Principles

First, a brief definition and principles to the cooperative model. By definition, a cooperative is an association of persons (organization) that is owned and controlled by the people to meet their common economic, social, and/or cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically owned business (enterprise). A cooperative is an autonomous association of person united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.

Cooperatives are based on the values of self-help, self-responsibility, democracy, equality, equity and solidarity. In the tradition of their founders, cooperative members believe in the ethical values of honesty, openness, social responsibility and caring for others. (Source)

Type of Cooperatives –

Next, think of the types of cooperatives. Are you concerned that a business or service in your community will not transition into the future? Are one of these models something your community should consider?

The following are typical types of cooperatives:

  1. Retail Cooperatives. Retail cooperatives are a type of consumer cooperative which help create retail stores to benefit the consumers–making the retail our store. They allow consumers the opportunity to supply their own needs, gain bargaining power, and share earnings. NCDC recently worked in a number of communities to establish grocery cooperatives. One example, the Elwood Hometown Cooperative Market opened in 2013 after the local grocery store closed in 2012. Working together, the community invested $307,000 which included buying and remodeling the building, purchasing equipment and stocking the store with inventory.
  2. Worker Cooperatives. Members of worker cooperatives are both employees of the business as well as owners of the cooperative. Worker cooperatives have been growing across the United States. SBA is now offering money to help employee-owned business with the passage of Main Street Employee Ownership Act of 2018. The legislation which improves access to capital and technical assistance for employee-owned businesses will greatly help worker co-ops. For more information, visit a small business development center.
  3. Producer Cooperatives. Producer cooperatives are created by producers and owned and operated by producers. Examples of a producer cooperative created in Nebraska is Heartland Nuts ‘N More. This cooperative successfully opened in 2003. The main office is located in Valparaiso, Nebraska and brings together black walnut growers from Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa and Missouri.
  4. Service Cooperatives. Service cooperatives are a type of consumer cooperativewhich help fill a need in the community. This can be child care, health care, etc. This is another growing cooperative in the United States. Nebraska has examples of multi-owner daycares.
  5. Housing Cooperatives – Housing cooperatives are a type of service cooperative that is growing rapidly as well. Especially in your expensive urban areas as well as in some rural areas. For example, Montana has been successful in implementing this type of model. NCDC is learning more about the process to see if it may be feasible in Nebraska. For more information on the benefits and structures of housing, cooperatives check out this Housing Cooperatives PDF by the University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives.

Visit the NCDC site for more information on the types of cooperatives.

In review, the cooperative model is about members solving their own problems. It is –

  • Collective ownership – not self-interest
  • Collective control
  • Members contribute financially
  • Democratic governance
  • Member Participation — cooperatives are used by members, owned by members.

To better understand the NCDC impacts, a longitudinal survey will be conducted in May 2019. In addition to impacts, we want to follow-up with past participants to understand successes, potential opportunities and how we can better serve.

Over the last twenty years, NCDC has worked with well over 100 businesses. During 2018 Jim Crandall retired and early 2019 Elaine Cranford left to focus on family and business. Jim has been with NCDC since its inception and Elaine for the majority of the time. NCDC will miss their combined expertise and vision for Cooperative Development in Nebraska. Thank you to Jim and Elaine.

As we look to the next 20 years, NCDC will continue to focus on assisting rural communities with developing cooperatively owned businesses. Cindy Houlden, Skylar Falter and Charlotte Narjes will be working together to build upon past successes. Skylar will be working with us soon on helping those working in the area of local foods to explore multi-ownership opportunities.

For the past three years, researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and University of Wisconsin-Madison collected survey data from producer soybean fields planted in four growing seasons (2014-2017) in Nebraska and nine other states in the North Central region (WI, MI, IN, IL, IA, ND, OH, KS, and MN). The work was led by Associate Professor of Agronomy and Cropping System Specialist Patricio Grassini (UNL) and Professor of Agronomy and State Soybean and Small Grain Specialist Shawn Conley (UW) and supported by the North-Central Soybean Research Program (NCSRP), the Nebraska Soybean Board, and the Wisconsin Soybean Marketing Board.

The goal of the project was to identify key management practices explaining the gap between current yield and yield potential as determined by climate, soil, and genetics. This information can help producers understand what factors are preventing them from fully realizing the potential of their soybean fields and fine-tune their current management to increase yield and profit.

The UNL-WU team collected data on soybean yield and management practices from 9,133 fields across the north-central US (Figure 1), including 2,447 Nebraska fields (irrigated and dryland). UNL researchers partnered with Nebraska Extension and the Nebraska Natural Resources Districts (NRDs) to reach out to producers to take the surveys. We especially want to thank the many Nebraska farmers for the time they devoted to taking our surveys.

 

Chart showing soybean yield resposne to planting date in dryland and irrigated fields in Nebraska.
Figure 2. Soybean yield response to planting date in dryland and irrigated fields in Nebraska. The line represents the yield potential along the range of planting dates.

 

Major Findings

First, we found that the average yield gap (the difference between potential and current yield) in Nebraska ranged from 11% in irrigated fields in south-central Nebraska to 21% in dryland fields in eastern Nebraska.

 

Second, we found that planting date is the most consistent management factor explaining the current yield gap. Delay in planting date after late April leads to a yield penalty of about 1/4 bushel per acre per day in both dryland and irrigated fields (Figure 2). Foliar fungicide application and tillage were other practices explaining the yield gap.

Planting season is here and many fields are very wet. As producers watch the calendar, they’ll be headed to fields that may be less than ideal for planting. Wet soils are easily compacted and sidewall compaction during planting can be a problem, especially if the crop is “mudded in” and a dry spell occurs after planting. Patience is required for waiting for the soil to dry, but if the next rain is coming or the yield penalty for late planting is growing, it’s hard to wait.

Contributing Factors

Shallow Planting

Shallow planting can cause roots to horizontally
Figure 1. These roots had difficulty penetrating the soil as the seeds were planted too shallow, only about 1 inch deep. The angled press wheels, designed for 2- to 3-inch planting depths, packed below the shallow planted seed, forcing the roots to grow laterally down the seed-vee. (Photos by Paul Jasa)

Many factors contribute to sidewall compaction. While opening a seed-vee in wet soil is often given as the main reason, planting too shallow is the primary problem. In most conditions, corn seed should be planted 2 to 3 inches deep for proper root development. Most corn planters were designed for this planting depth, especially those with angled closing wheels. When the seed-vee is properly closed, the sidewalls of the furrow will be fractured as the soil closes around the seed, eliminating the sidewall compaction and providing seed-to-soil contact.

Most sidewall compaction problems occur when the press wheels are set with too much downpressure, overpacking the seeds into the wet soil. When planting shallow, this press wheel compaction is below the seeding depth, making it difficult for the seedling roots to penetrate the soil (Figure 1). If you look at the angled press wheels from the rear, they intersect at an imaginary point about 2 inches below the soil surface. This provides seed-to-soil contact at seeding depth while closing the seed-vee. As such, downpressure on the press wheels should be checked at seeding depth, not at the top of the seed-vee. If the seed-to-soil contact is adequate, don’t tighten the downpressure springs trying to close the top of the seed-vee. Make sure that the planter is properly leveled, or even slightly tail down, for the angled closing wheels to have a pinching action to close the seed-vee.

Seed-vee Closing Wheels

A planter setting with spiked and solid closing wheels
Figure 2. By replacing one solid closing wheel with a spiked one, closing the seed-vee becomes easier in a variety of conditions. The spiked wheel fractures the sidewall and provides some loose soil while the solid one provides some seed firming and depth control. (If the closing wheels can be staggered, mount the spiked one in front.)

A variety of attachments are available to help close the seed-vee if the standard closing wheels cannot. Some producers use coulters or intermeshing row cleaners to till the soil in front of the planting unit to provide loose soil for closing the seed-vee. However, this loosened soil often sticks to the depth gauge wheels in wet conditions or the tillage dries out the seed zone in dry weather. A better way to provide loose soil for closing the seed-vee is to do it after the seed has been placed in the furrow. There are several brands of spiked closing wheels available to replace the standard press wheels with ones that till in the sidewall around the seed.

The less aggressive spoked wheels provide some seed-to-soil contact while closing the seed-vee and reducing air pockets around the seed. The more aggressive spoked wheels tend to dry the soil more and typically require a seed firmer to provide seed-to-soil contact and a drag chain behind them to level the soil. As the soils become drier and more seed-to-soil contact is needed, some producers remove the spiked wheels and put the standard closing wheels back on to reduce overdrying the seed zone. If the downpressure is set too high on some of these spiked wheels, they may “till” the seed out of the seed-vee, especially when planting on curves or contours. To reduce the aggressiveness of the tillage and to provide some soil firming and depth control, some producers run one spoked closing wheel and one standard wheel (Figure 2). This combination works well in a wide variety of conditions.

Too Much Downpressure

Smeared sidewall to planting seed-vee
Figure 3. The seed furrow opener may smear the soil in wet planting conditions, but the closing devices should fracture the sidewall when closing the seed-vee. If not, the smeared soil may harden when it drys, making root penetration difficult.

While the seed furrow closing devices are important, too much downpressure on the depth gauge wheels will also create sidewall compaction as the disk openers form the seed furrow. The disk openers may create some sidewall smearing while pushing the soil outward to form the seed-vee. If there is too much downpressure on the depth gauge wheels, they will pack the soil downward at the same time, causing compaction that may be too dense for the closing devices to fracture (Figure 3). When this occurs, producers typically put more pressure on the press wheels trying to close the seed-vee, making the compaction around the seed worse yet. Downpressure on both the row unit (depth gauge wheels) and the press wheels should be reduced in wet soil conditions.

Soil Structure

Seed-vees in heavy clay soils can dry out, creating an open trench
Figure 4. While the seedvee was closed at planting time when the soil was wet, it dried out where there was no residue to conserve moisture. As it dried, the heavy clay soil shrunk and the seedvee opened back up. Staggering the closing wheels, one in front of the other if possible, will help reduce the seedvee from opening back up.

Another contributor to sidewall compaction is the lack of soil structure in many tilled fields. Producers may put extra pressure on the closing devices to close the seed-vee when in wet conditions. Without soil structure, the standard closing wheels “pinch” the sidewalls closed over the seed, particularly in heavier soils. However, as the soil dries, it shrinks and the seed-vee may open back up, exposing the seeds. This often occurs when there is a hot, windy period after planting, drying out the seed zone and reducing the stand (Figure 4). This is less of a problem in higher organic matter soils and in continuous no-till soils with improved soil structure.

If the angled closing wheels can be remounted, one in front of the other, this will reduce the pinching effect and compaction over the seed. If there is a dry layer on top of the soil at planting time and good soil moisture at planting depth, don’t use residue movers to remove the dry soil because it has already shrunk. Also, when possible, leave residue over the row to reduce drying of the soil and to protect the seed zone from raindrop impact.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln is part of a new Lincoln-based ecosystem selected to join a global movement devoted to dramatically improving how students learn.

 The Lincoln STEM Ecosystem was announced April 3 as one of the latest to join the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice.

 STEM Learning Ecosystems build meaningful regional connections among educators, business and industry partners, and after-school and summer programs to prepare students for the opportunities and challenges of the future. Each ecosystem connects to counterparts from across the country and world, enabling the exchange of best practices, information and resource-sharing.

 Admittance into the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice is highly competitive, with just 85 total ecosystems across the globe. The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and College of Engineering are both represented within the Lincoln STEM Ecosystem.

 “Addressing the complex challenges society will face in the future will require the combined efforts of great minds from different backgrounds,” said Tiffany Heng-Moss, a founding member for the ecosystem. “Through partnerships with those within the Lincoln STEM Ecosystem, we can identify ways that we, as a community, can foster positive STEM interactions for youth in Lincoln and beyond.”

 Sally Wei, education and outreach coordinator in the College of Engineering, is also a founding member.

 Forming STEM ecosystems was listed as the No. 1 priority for STEM education in a December 2018 report by the Federal Office of Science and Technology Policy.

 “The ecosystems that we selected now have pulled together diverse partners who no longer accept the status quo in education; they want to see all students access high-quality STEM education that will prepare them for life and work in the next century,” said Jan Morrison, president and founding partner of TIES, the organization that operates the STEM Learning Ecosystems Community of Practice.

 James Blake, a K-12 science curriculum specialist for Lincoln Public Schools and co-director of the Lincoln STEM Ecosystem, said Lincoln is making great strides to offer recommended rich, meaningful STEM education and experiences to youth in the community.

 “As a recognized STEM Learning Ecosystem, we can tailor quality STEM learning opportunities to our specific needs in Lincoln while leveraging the experiences of similar alliances across the world,” Blake said.

 Joining Blake in directing and shaping the ecosystem is Bryan Seck, director of workforce development for the Lincoln Partnership for Economic Development.

 Early plans for Lincoln are to host a formal kickoff, a “STEMixer.” This annual event will add partners and keep those interested in supporting and building a STEM ecosystem at the table. The group aims to make Lincoln a leader in STEM workforce competitiveness in Nebraska and the United States.

 In addition to Heng-Moss and Wei, founding members of the new Lincoln STEM Ecosystem include: Dan Hohensee, director, The Career Academy; Tiffany Mousel, community outreach specialist, Lincoln Electric System; Patricia Wonch Hill, interim director, methodology and evaluation research core facility, University of Nebraska; Anna Wishart, senator, Nebraska Legislature; Nola Derby-Bennett, Community Learning Centers director, Lincoln Public Schools; Jeff Cole, network lead, Beyond School Bells; Tracy Bohaboj, team leader, engineering, Duncan Aviation; Jessilyn Vraspir, continuous improvement, Lincoln Public Schools; and Reeves Cleve, principal architect, BVH Architecture.

 To learn more about the Lincoln STEM Ecosystem, visit http://lnkse.org or follow the group on Twitter at @lnkse.

 As part of ongoing efforts to support those affected by recent flooding, Nebraska Extension county offices across the state have moisture meters available for homeowners to borrow to monitor the moisture content of flooded materials.

 

It can take weeks or months to dry a house to the point where repairs can be made. It’s common for homeowners to discover large amounts of mold in walls months after a flood because they didn’t wait for the structure to dry before making repairs. The moisture level of structures cannot be determined by appearance or time spent drying, so a calibrated meter is recommended to measure moisture levels before rebuilding.

 

“It’s important to wait until wood and other materials dry out before attempting to repair a flood-damaged home,” said Dave Varner, associate dean with Nebraska Extension. “Renovating too soon could trap moisture, leading to rotting and promoting the growth of mold.”

 

One-hundred-fifty moisture meters have been distributed to extension offices throughout Nebraska and more are on the way. Homeowners wanting to borrow a meter are encouraged to contact their county office. Instructions for using the meter will be provided upon checkout.

 

Access to moisture meters is just one of the many ways that Nebraska Extension is helping Nebraskans recover from the flood. For more information and flood-related resources for individuals and families, homeowners, businesses, and farmers and ranchers, visit https://flood.unl.edu.

Livestock producers face a recurring challenge: watching animal behavior for signs of illness or injury.

 

An interdisciplinary team from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has developed precision technology to help producers continuously monitor animals and use the resulting data to improve animal well-being.

 

The team includes Nebraska electrical and computer engineers Lance C. Pérez, Eric Psota and Mateusz Mittek, and animal scientists Ty Schmidt and Benny Mote, who developed the technology system using video footage of pigs.

 

The system processes video footage from livestock facilities — day and night — and applies machine learning, which uses statistical algorithms to help computer systems improve without being explicitly programmed. It identifies individual pigs and provides data about their daily activities, such as eating, drinking and movement.

 

Based on this data, the system can also estimate how much each pig weighs and how fast it is growing.

 

“Our system provides a pattern of typical behavior,” said Psota, research assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. “When an animal deviates from that pattern, then it may be an indicator that something’s wrong. It makes it easier to spot problems before they get too big to fix.”

 

The team created their system using deep learning networks, a form of machine learning with millions of coefficients and parameters. To identify pigs from all angles, the networks processed images large and small, rotated, skewed and otherwise transformed. The team uses ear tags to help with identification but aims to rely on unique physical characteristics such as ear shape, saving producers the added work of tagging.

 

Although the system has been developed to identify pigs, its algorithms can be used for other livestock, such as cattle, horses, goats and sheep.

 

“We want to make a tool that is available to the livestock producers,” said Schmidt, associate professor of animal science. “In a competitive agricultural market with rising costs, producers are looking for solutions that streamline operations while enhancing the health and well-being of their animals.”

 

The team is pursuing further development with the help of NUtech Ventures, the university’s technology commercialization affiliate. NUtech has patented the technology and is exploring industry investment.

 

“NUtech provides a valuable service and opens us up to conversations with people outside the university,” Schmidt said. “We’re now looking for industry collaboration to help us advance this system.”

 

DETECTING ILLNESS, DECIPHERING TRAITS

 

The team recently received $675,000 from the National Association of Pork Producers to fund two studies. In collaboration with Kansas State University, the first study will explore the technology’s ability to predict illness. The team plans to collect data from both healthy and immune-compromised pigs, training the system to distinguish early symptoms.

 

The second study will explore the lifespan of sows — female pigs of reproductive age — and traits that may be associated with longevity. The Nebraska team’s technology will track sows over time and identify changes in movement, gait patterns and physical activity — data that may yield links between genetic background and longevity. It’s a connection that hasn’t been measured because there hasn’t previously been technology to do it, Schmidt said.

 

“Could we make more informed management decisions — identifying optimal genetic lines that are healthier, more efficient or less aggressive?” Schmidt said. “Can we identify a sick pig, days ahead of when symptoms are visible to the producer? In both of these studies, we’re looking to push the boundaries of what we’ve already created.”