Eight Steps to Growing a Corn Tortilla

Whether it’s Taco Tuesday or Fajita Friday, have you ever considered where the corn for your tortilla was grown? It may have come from my back yard.Diane Karr

I joke that I live in the middle of a cornfield half of the time. Half of the field that surrounds our farmstead is planted to corn and the rest is soybeans. Some of the corn we raise is food grade white corn. A local hog farmer also likes to buy it from us as feed. The rest of the corn we grow is yellow corn which is primarily used in livestock feed, ethanol, and food products.

Throughout the year, we are working with our corn crop in various stages of production – it’s not just planting and harvesting. Whether we’re raising white corn or yellow corn, the methods are basically the same, but we have some additional considerations with white corn to make sure it is not mixed with yellow corn when it’s marketed.

Here’s a year in the life of a corn farmer in eight steps:

  1. Soil Preparation and Fertilizing.  We usually practice crop rotation, meaning that corn is planted on the prior years’ soybean field. Since no-till farming is a great preserver of soil health in our dry and windy climate, we don’t plow, chisel, disk, or otherwise disturb the ground prior to planting. The prior year’s soybean crop residue stays on the ground as mulch to minimize wind erosion, conserve moisture, and improve organic matter in the soil as it decomposes. Soybeans are legumes, fixing nitrogen to nodules on their roots. Between the nitrogen-laden roots and the decomposing residue, this system adds nitrogen to the soil and decreases our fertilizer requirement.karr 4With our precision farming plan, soil samples are taken in grid format throughout the field to determine fertilizer needs. This helps us be as environmentally and economically efficient as possible with fertilizer application.
  2. Weed ManagementIn March, prior to planting, we spray the field to kill weeds in the seed bed. Weeds reduce crop yields by stealing nutrients, sunlight, and water. When the crop is established after planting, we spray a second time to combat the next round of weeds. After this, the corn plants will create a canopy in the field with their leaves, which will inhibit the majority of new weed growth.
  3. karr 5Planting. Seed selection, timing, and properly working equipment is critical to having a good harvest in the fall. After the seed is in the ground, we then monitor germination and plant health until the growing season is complete. Most of our corn planting takes place from mid-April through early May.
  4. Irrigation and Soil Moisture Management.  Soil moisture levels are checked frequently from May through August, and irrigation supplies water through a pivot when timely rains don’t arrive. Irrigation season sees constant maintenance of center pivots, irrigation engines, and well equipment. karr 2Some of these system components can be monitored via Internet, but they still need to be checked once or twice a day. We appreciate having irrigation capability, and strive to conserve this precious resource and pump only when watering is necessary. The Nebraska Natural Resource Districts help us collectively manage the quality and quantity of water in the aquifer so it can be a viable resource for future generations. While we constantly watch the forecast for rain, we also check our crops after storms for wind or hail, which can make a plant more susceptible to damage from insects and disease, along with reduction to yields.
  5. Disease Management.  Keeping the corn plants healthy by preventing fungus is another issue we sometimes encounter. Right after pollination in July, we check for fungus, and if needed, we will have fungicide applied aerially. While many think that spray planes are applying insecticides, today’s GMO corn hybrids are resistant to the most common type of insect pressure we encounter, which means that farmers rarely ever need to spray insecticides. These days, summer spray planes seen in July and August are likely applying a product to fight fungus.
  6. Monitoring Maturity. Towards the end of August through mid-September, we check the corn kernels for signs of maturity. At this point, irrigation season ends, as the moisture will not benefit the corn kernels in any way. However, if the stalks are still green, sometimes we will provide enough moisture to help the stalk maintain strength, so the plant doesn’t fall down and become difficult to harvest.
  7. Harvest. karr When the corn has dried down to around 15% moisture, harvest can begin. After we harvest the corn with a combine, it’s hauled to the truck with a tractor and grain cart. The truck hauls it to the grain bin, or sometimes straight to a grain elevator. Corn harvest in our area often starts in late September and runs through November. Excessive rainfall or snow this time of year has occasionally pushed harvest past Thanksgiving, but we are typically done by the first week of November.
  8.  Storage, Trucking, and Planning. From this point, we have to watch carefully that the corn is stored at a proper moisture level in order to maintain optimum quality. Grain bins and the accompanying drying equipment are checked once a week. We work with the manager of a grain elevator to schedule when loads will be delivered so the corn can be milled. We’ll often start trucking in December and may still be hauling out loads in March or April. The winter season is also full of meetings to discuss seed selection for next year, review equipment needs, manage marketing strategies, map the productivity of each field, and plan fertilizer, herbicide, and other input needs for the upcoming growing season.karr 3

Ultimately, white corn is made into many foods, including tortillas. The tortillas are then delivered to a distributor who makes connections with your favorite restaurant or grocery store.

From our farm to your fajita, from our tractor to your taco, we not only want your tortilla to taste good, we want you to know how much time and care went into growing the best white corn for you to enjoy on Taco Tuesday.   Or any day of the week, for that matter!

Steak Fajitas

Blog submitted by Bethany Swendender2015-07-13 13.42.36

Greetings from the Sandhills!

Summer is now in full swing.  Thanks to the abundant rains the hills are green, and the grass is growing.  The wildflowers are blooming and sharing their beauty with us.

IMG_20150613_143045For most, summer means it is time to fire up the grill.  For us it means making sure the cows always have grass to eat, fresh water to drink, and hopefully hay to put up for winter feed.

We do take the time to grill a delicious meal whenever we get the chance.  One of our favorite meals to make on the grill is steak fajitas.  This recipe can be adjusted to your taste, but this is how we like them.  I find recipes are more of just a guideline, not written in stone.155

For this recipe we will be using sirloin steaks.  We raise our own beef.  We always have a few Longhorn cross steers that we keep back for butchering.  Generally these are Longhorn-Angus cross or Longhorn- Hereford cross.  The Longhorn breed produces very lean meat.  So the end product is very lean and tender meat.  The steers graze native grasses in our pastures until about 100 days before we butcher them.  Then we put them on a ration of feed, including corn.  This helps to finish them, and give us the kind of meat we prefer.

20150617_192808 (2)We start with about 1.5 pounds of sirloin steak.  You will also need a large onion and one or two bell peppers.

I season the steaks with just a little salt and pepper.  We like out steaks medium rare, so we grill them for about 7 minutes a side.  If you prefer yours less rare, cook them a few minutes longer.  Keep in mind you will need to cook them a little less than you normally would, because we will mix the meat with the veggies at the end.

20150617_194426 (2) After you turn the steaks, you will want to put your veggies and tortillas on the grill.  I toss the veggies in some oil before putting them in the grill pan.  If you don’t have a grill pan, you can just put them in a tin foil pan, or foil packet.  I wrap the tortillas in a wet paper towel, and then wrap that with aluminum foil.  This helps to keep them from drying out.  You don’t want to put the veggies and tortillas over direct heat.

When your steaks are cooked to the desired doneness, remove them from the grill and let them rest.  You want to let them rest for at least 5 minutes, so they don’t lose their juices.  And they will be easier to handle.  Once they have rested, slice them in pretty thin slices.  Put them in the pan, or packet with the veggies, and sprinkle fajita seasoning on them.  I make my own seasoning, and use 2-3 teaspoons.  Toss to coat, and then let it cook for a few minutes to let the flavors meld together.20150617_195653 (2)

I started making my own fajita seasoning several years ago, but feel free to use a store bought packet.  There are all sorts of variations that you can find online, but this is the one I use.

Fajita Seasoning:

  • 1 Tbs Chili Powder
  • 1 Tsp Garlic Powder
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder
  • 1 Tsp Dried Oregano
  • 1.5 Tsp Ground Cumin
  • 1 Tsp Salt
  • 1 Tsp Pepper

Mix this all together and store in an airtight container.  Season to taste.

20150617_200105 (3)Once everything has cooked together for several minutes, and the veggies and meat are cooked how you prefer it is time to eat!  I was so excited to eat that I didn’t get a very good picture of the finished product.  I like to put a little avocado and sour cream on my fajitas.  My husband usually just adds shredded cheese.  Once again, it really is personal preference, so feel free to adorn them as you wish.

There you have it, one of our favorite summer grilling recipes.  Wishing you all a very safe and happy summer!  Don’t forget to enjoy some beef on your grill.

Sold! Front Seat to a Bull Sale

Our neighbors hosted their annual bull Diane Karrsale in March. Selecting the right bull for the herd lays the groundwork for raising good cattle. Good genetics in the bull translate into good traits in the next generation of calves.

Before we get started, here’s a little refresher on cattle terminology:

  • Bull – “The Big Daddy” for the cow herd.
  • Cow – A Mama who raises a baby calf.
  • Heifer – A female who has not yet had a calf. Either kept in the herd to become a cow or fed to finishing weight.
  • Steer – A castrated male to be fed to finishing weight.
  • Calf – The baby. Heifers and steers up to one year old.

imgp9491One bull can be expected to breed about 25 to 35 cows. On our farm, we turn the bulls out with the cows in mid-May so calves will begin arriving in February. Gestation time for cattle is 283 days, or about 9½ months.

imgp9537Our neighbors focus on raising registered purebred herd bulls and heifers for other purebred breeders and also commercial herds like ours. Prior to their bull sale this year, they sent out catalogs and uploaded video footage of their bulls on their website. Mr. Corn Farmer (aka Mr. Cornstalk Cowboy) spent hours poring over videos of bulls walking around in pens, and examining the family tree of each bull.


Cattle folks have a good eye for judging muscle and bone structure. Sometimes they just have an intuition about a bull. They also consider the temperament; they’re definitely looking for a calm, gentle animal. Measured physical characteristics and EPD (Expected Progeny Difference) ratings that give us some insight into what we can expect out of next year’s set of calves. Birth weight and calving ease scores help indicate less stress when the calf is born. Growth rate and frame scores help select for cattle that grow to the proper size in a reasonable amount of time.  Milk production scores help us raise heifers that will make good herd cows in the future. Carcass traits like rib-eye area point towards cattle that will deliver the highest quality meat at the dinner table.

imgp9545Our neighbors had a great sale day. However, they’re more than just good at raising purebred Angus cattle, they’ve set a great example for their daughters who love being involved in their family’s business. They possess a strong work ethic and sense of community. They’re the type of people who come across the road and help us out when we need an extra hand.

When people consider how farming and ranching has changed over the years, I have to consider communities like mine where families and neighbors have been helping each other for over 100 years. Then I look at the kids who are building the same bonds as young as grade school, who want to grow up to do the same.

Traditions are strong and the future is bright. And that’s no bull.

imgp9475Want to learn more? Visit 4M Angus. Burken Cattle also featured bulls on this sale day.




Where’s the beef? {Recipe for Beef Month}

Joan new shot 1Some of you might remember the slogan Wendy’s used in 1984 with Clara Peller exclaiming “Where’s the beef?”   As a woman that loves to eat beef I am asking that question in regards to the new recommendations to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines .  The new recommendations are not recognizing that beef can play an important role in a healthy diet.

I have to admit I have not always appreciated the nutrient dense food that beef is.  When I was taking aerobic dance classes in the early 1980’s I was eating salads and avoided eating meat.  I had the misperception that meat made people fat.   I struggled to be satisfied with the foods I was eating which meant I usually reached for sugar loaded snacks to get me by thus sabotaging any attempt at weight loss.  I gradually came to appreciate the nutrients in calories and how important that is when maintaining or trying to lose weight.BeefsBig10

Ironically, no pun intended, beef is quite loaded with nutrients important to good health.   If you are concerned about building muscles, maintaining brain function, having a strong immune system, utilizing oxygen more effectively, increasing your energy, protecting cells, supporting your nervous system, maintain strong bones and teeth and help in converting food to energy than you would benefit from keeping beef in your diet.beef vitamin poster comparison

If you compare beef to other foods you will see how much you would have to eat to get the same amount of just one nutrient versus the big ten in beef.  A 3-4 ounce serving of beef is about the size of your iPhone and that will give you those top ten nutrients including HALF your daily recommended amount of protein needed.  A four ounce burger at around 170 calories paired with tomatoes, lettuce and cheese is a great alternative to a sugar cookie that has the same amount of calories and very little nutritional value.

As a mom on a farm that raises cattle I was fortunate that our children were able to enjoy beef as part of their diet.  Our children were active, healthy and have become successful in a variety of career paths.  I am also active in the care of our cattle on our farm and have come to appreciate the role beef plays in agriculture.   
Where’s the beef?  It’s here and I hope it’s on your plate tonight! And here is a great recipe to make it easy to love beef….BBQ style. As May is Beef Month, we have a lot to celebrate with beef production being so important to Nebraska, and it being healthy for your family and you!

beefsandwich{BBQ Beef Sandwiches}


  • 3-5 lb beef eye of round roast
  • Mike’s Own Seasoning (made in West Point, Nebraska but found at numerous locations)
  • — Or combine Lowry’s seasoning salt, Accent seasoning, Lowry’s garlic salt with parsley
  • BBQ Sauce
  • Buns


  1. Generously rub the seasoning onto the beef eye of round.
  2. Preheat your grill around 300 degrees. Do not put the beef on direct heat (read how to indirect grill here).
  3. Keep on the grill until the internal temperature is just to 140 degrees. This usually takes around 2-3 hours.
  4. Check often and turn the round if needed. Make sure beef is not overcooked. (Works great on a Traeger or wood pellet grill – but works on a gas/coal grill as well).
  5. Take off the grill as soon as it reaches 140 degrees. Let sit five minutes before slicing.
  6. Slice and serve immediately with your favorite BBQ sauce and on a bun or without.

Happy Beef Month!

How Farmers Buy Seed

Diane KarrOne of the first signs of spring is the arrival of a garden catalog in the mailbox. Fantasizing about picking crisp green cucumbers on a warm summer evening is the perfect antidote to a cold, windy day.

Mr. Corn Farmer often reminds me that he’s a bigger and better gardener than I am. It’s true, but selecting seed for our farm is no fantasy. It’s serious stuff.IMGP9718

Before the combine is put away in the shed in November after harvest, we start meeting with seed representatives and researching our seed selections for the next growing season.

Many different hybrids of corn and varieties of soybeans from different companies are planted on our farm each year. From a large number of options, we can select seed that’s tailored to the soil profile and expected moisture availability. Some fields are rather sandy; some have more clay in the soil profile. Some are irrigated; some are dry land. Some are irrigated with ample water; some with limited water. Crop rotation plans can vary from one field to the next.

We spend a great deal of time analyzing seed genetics. In order to
be more productive while taking good care of soil and water resources, these are some of the traits we carefully study:

  • Days to maturity
  • Drought tolerance
  • Standability so the crop can be easily harvested
  • Resistance to fungal and bacterial diseases
  • Bt technology which resists corn borer and rootworm in corn
  • Resistance to certain weed killers. (We can apply a product that kills the weeds but not the crop. This allows us to no-till farm,which helps us improve and conserve the land and water.)

IMGP9732Some of these traits are developed and improved through traditional plant breeding. Others are accomplished with technology that inserts naturally occurring proteins into the plant’s DNA to create a GMO, or Genetically Modified Organism. Click here for more GMO information.

Ultimately, the goal is to grow more grain more efficiently while protecting the environment where we work and raise a family. That we’re free to pick the seed we need with the traits we want is a benefit to both farmers and consumers.

This spring, when I sort through seed packets for my garden, I’ll also be watching for semi loads of corn and soybean seed to be delivered to our farm. As you select your favorite garden seeds and plants this spring, I encourage you to remember that farmers are doing the same thing. We’re all picking our favorites from a wide array of choices.

My Q & A with David Loberg from the movie Farmland

Loberg-Farm-2-1024x683RD Amber from Stirlist, a registered dietitian passionate about food, health and nutrition, recently visited the farm David Loberg, a 5th generation farmer from Carroll, Nebraska that is featured in the movie Farmland.  Amber blogged about a few things she learned about David’s farm as well as his perspective on Farmland the movie.  Enjoy!

Loberg-Farm-4-881x587I’ve spent the majority of my life in the state of Nebraska. I’ve spent hours on the road passing miles and miles of farmland, but that doesn’t make me an expert on farming or agriculture. If I’ve learned anything over the past few years visiting with different farmers, it’s that each farmer is unique and has a different story to tell.

This is why I am such a fan of the movie Farmland. The film focuses on the stories of six young farmers from different areas of the US, including Nebraska. Even though all the farmers were focusing on different types of agriculture, the running theme throughout the film is that they all care and are passionate about the land they farm.

Last week I traveled to Carroll, NE to visit with David Loberg. David is a 5th generation corn and soybean farmer and is one of the farmers featured in the movie Farmland. In addition to growing corn and soy, he also custom feeds Holstein cows. If that wasn’t enough, he’s also a volunteer for the local fire department.

David was first approached about doing the film in the fall of 2012. He said his sister, Megan, had submitted the family name for a contest not related to the film, but the film producers from Allentown production came across his information and asked if he would be interested in doing the film. A few months later, the crew showed up on Easter Sunday. The film crew spend the next 8 days filming David’s family and capturing life on the farm.

The house below belongs to David’s great grandpa, Frank who built the farmstead. Now David lives about 1-2 miles away with his wife and son, but his mother still lives in the original farmhouse.


David was gracious enough to provide a tour of his farm and spend several minutes answering my questions. Here are a few highlights from our discussion…

What makes you similar to the other farmers in the film?

“Most of us have young families and are married. We all love what we do. We all value our family. We all have the desire to stay involved in our communities.”

Do you stay in touch with the other farmers in the film?

“Yeah, we’re all friends on Facebook and we keep tabs on each other through Facebook and texting. That was the best part of the project was to get to meet the other farmers. I felt like we were friends the second we met.”

What surprised you about the film when you saw it for the first time?

“I didn’t even know what the movie was until we actually saw the documentary. I didn’t realize that we (the farmers) were the story they wanted to focus on.”

What do you think about trolls or people who attack farmers online? 

“It’s counterproductive to get to wrapped up in. You’re not going to change what the loudest voices are shouting loudly. I tried debating someone on Facebook one time and I spent 30 minutes of research to provide a nice response and then a minute later, they responded by calling me names. That’s not a productive environment. You’re not going to call somebody an idiot to their face, but people feel like they can say things like that online because it’s not face to face.”

Have you received criticism because of the film? How do you respond to that? 

“Yes, but only through social media. I actually did write an email to one of the reviewers on RogerEbert.com because he just blasted the film. My response was to invite him out to the farm, but he never replied back. Most of the criticism comes from people online that aren’t tied to farming.”


Do you think people will identify with your story?

“Everybody has lost a loved one. I’m not the only one to lose a dad to cancer way too early. It’s hard losing a family member, but when you lose somebody that is the other half of your business, it will definitely impact everything. It’s not just about losing your loved one. You’re losing half your farm.”


“I was happy to see that corn on the bookshelf make it into the movie. I didn’t realize the film crew had filmed that. I’m glad they captured it. It felt like we were honoring Dad because Dad never would have told that story for himself.”

Do you think your dad would be proud of you?

“Dad always did his best to not be in the spotlight, but that was just him. But yeah, I think so. ”

What are the differences between the older generation and your generation of farmers?

“Technology for sure. It’s hard because mom and dad went through the 80’s and the recession. And we’re bracing now for an Ag recession. The older generation has been through those tough times and they get it. Without having that experience, it’s hard to keep in mind the bigger picture.”


What are you hoping that people take away from seeing the film?

“I don’t think that’s for me to decide. Everybody who watches it walks away with a different viewpoint. This is something we want the public to decide what they see and what they interpret. If we make it all about GMOs, you lose context of everything that is going on in the film. The movie wasn’t about picking sides. It opens the discussion. If you want to know about a farm, we’re there to talk.”

What do you think about being the poster child of Nebraska farming?

(Laughs) “I didn’t realize I was.”

What kind of foods do you eat? What are your favorite foods?

“I love a good pot roast with vegetables. I also love lasagna and steak.”

What would you do if you weren’t farming? 

“Probably irrigation, but maybe something industrial. If I couldn’t farm, I would be working for a farmer. If I had to choose something outside of Ag, it would probably be welding. I couldn’t sit in a cubicle.”


Why should I tell my friends and family to come see the movie?

“It used to be that everybody knew a farmer. Now most people don’t have any connection to a farmer.  Some people might think they know what we do, but most likely probably not. I hope it will give people a different perspective.”


Special thanks to CommonGround Nebraska and David Loberg for his time.

For those of you who live in Lincoln, I hope to see you at the screening on March 16th at the Grand Theatre at 6:30 pm. Attendance is free, but donations to the Food Bank of Lincoln are appreciated.




Read more from RD Amber on her Stirlist blog.


Heart-healthy beef recipe for Valentine’s Day

Sometimes it’s hard to think about what to make for a nice Valentine’s Day dinner. If you’re a lucky gal and your guy has made you reservations to a great restaurant, then make this recipe some other time.  :)

ranch bullsBut for most of us, we’d rather not spend the money/not fight the crowds/celebrate at home/be with your kids/insert your reason {here} for staying home for Valentine’s Day dinner.

You can still enjoy a great meal though…and for my rancher, that means Chicken Fried Steak! Yes, it’s not the most romantic or decadent piece of beef you can make, but if I make it right, that makes the way to my rancher’s heart.

Speaking of heart, you want to know one of the best reasons for eating beef?! It’s heart-healthy!

Don’t care? Every year, about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack, and about 600,000 people die from heart disease — that’s one out of every four deaths. That makes heart disease the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control. We probably should all pay a little more attention to heart-healthy foods like beef.

The American Heart Association (AHA) has certified six fresh beef cuts to its list of approved food items. The AHA stamp of approval is one of the most trusted nutrition icons on food packaging today, with many consumers checking to make sure that the AHA checkmark is on their food products before purchasing.

The six cuts that now meet AHA criteria for heart-healthy include:

  1. Sirloin tip steak (USDA Select)
  2. Bottom round steak (USDA Select
  3. Top sirloin stir-fry (USDA Select)
  4. Boneless top sirloin petite roast (USDA Select)
  5. Top sirloin filet (USDA Select)
  6. Top sirloin kabob (USDA Select)

My rancher’s favorite chicken fried steak fits right in as it’s made from a round steak. And the favorite way for me to make it for him is The Pioneer Woman’s recipe. So ladies, make your man happy this Valentine’s Day with a heart-healthy cut of beef – while also making his heart happy and healthy!

{Chicken Fried Steak}chickfriedsteak


3 lbs cube steak (tenderized Round Steak)
1-1/2 cup whole milk, plus up to 2 cups for gravy
2 whole large eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour
Seasoned Salt
¼ teaspoon Cayenne
Salt and lots of Black Pepper
Canola oil, for frying


Begin with an assembly line of dishes for the meat: milk mixed with egg in one; flour mixed with spices in one; meat in one; then have one clean plate at the end to receive the breaded meat.

Work one piece of meat at a time. Season both sides with salt and pepper, then dip in the milk/egg mixture. Next, place the meat on the plate of seasoned flour. Turn to coat thoroughly. Place the meat back into the milk/egg mixture, turning to coat. Place back in the flour and turn to coat. (So: wet mixture/dry mixture /wet mixture/dry mixture)

Place breaded meat on the clean plate, then repeat with remaining meat.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop in a few sprinkles of flour to make sure it’s sufficiently hot. Cook meat, three pieces at a time, until edges start to look golden brown; around 2 to 2 ½ minutes each side.

Remove to a paper towel-lined plate and keep warm. Repeat until all meat is cooked.


After all the meat is fried, pour off the grease into a heatproof bowl. Without cleaning the pan, return it to the stove over medium-low heat. Add ¼ cup grease back into the pan. Allow grease to heat up.

Sprinkle 1/3 cup flour evenly over the grease. Using a whisk, mix flour with grease, creating a golden-brown paste. Keep cooking until it reaches a deep golden brown color. If paste seems more oily than pasty, sprinkle in another tablespoon of flour and whisk.

Whisking constantly, pour in milk. Cook to thicken the gravy. Be prepared to add more milk if it becomes overly thick. Add salt and pepper and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, until gravy is smooth and thick. Be sure to taste to make sure gravy is seasoned well.

Serve meat next to a big side of mashed potatoes. Pour gravy over the whole shebang!

Family recipes and family farms – Cinnamon Twists recipe

I found my husband’s grandmother’s cookbook recently that her church put together in 1982 and there look to be some great recipes.CinnTwists (1)

I love looking through older recipes – many the same you find in more modern cookbooks or online today – and many with ingredients that are hard to find in today’s stores. Can we say oleo?
CinnTwists (2)
I find it really fun to think about how old some of these recipes might be, passed down from generation to generation in their families. It’s not much different than farmers. Today’s farmers, while some bigger than others, are still family farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports the vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated – in fact, 93 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned.

Data from the last census show the number of non-family corporate farms and their percentage of total sales have remained unchanged for two decades. What’s more, after decades of decline, USDA figures show the number of family farms has actually grown by about 4 percent.

I adapted this recipe with a few “twists”. From my family to yours!

{Cinnamon Twists}
CinnTwists (3)
1 cup sour cream
3 Tbsp shortening
3 Tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 large egg, unbeaten
1 pkg dry yeast
3 cups flour

2 Tbsp butter
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

In a large sauce pan, bring sour cream to a boil.
CinnTwists (4)

Remove from heat. Stir in shortening, sugar, baking soda and salt until well blended. Cool until lukewarm.

Add egg and yeast; stir until yeast is dissolved. Mix in flour.
CinnTwists (5)
Let double in bulk in warm place.
CinnTwists (8)
Roll out dough into a large rectangle.
CinnTwists (9)
Melt butter and spread evenly onto dough. Sprinkle brown sugar and cinnamon evenly onto dough surface. Lightly press in the sugar and cinnamon into dough.
CinnTwists (10)
Cut into 1 ½ inch strips. Twist in opposite directions to form a spiral stick. Press both ends of twist firmly to a greased cookie sheet.
CinnTwists (11)
Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes until golden brown.
CinnTwists (12)

Frost with powdered sugar frosting.

CinnTwists (13)

Are GMOs A-OK?

There’s a little acronym floating around: G-M-O.

Many people have heard of it and many people are strongly skeptical of it; however, many people don’t know what it (a GMO) really is.

This reality is blatantly illustrated in the clip below from the popular late night show, Jimmy Kimmel Live. As Kimmel’s crew makes their way around a local farmers market, they ask numerous people why they avoid GMOS and, more specifically, what the letters G-M-O stand for. As you will see, those with the strongest opinions about GMO’s aren’t even sure what they are, let alone what the acronym stands for.

GMOs are a major topic of discussion today. Across our society, media and the internet, a growing number of people have shared a wide range of questions and emotions on the topic – ranging from excitement and optimism to skepticism and even fear.  But as you saw above, many people do not truly understand what GMOs are and the benefits they bring to the table.

So now you might be wondering, what is a GMO and what does it stand for?  Are GMOs safe for me and my family? Below are the answers to these and many other questions you may have about GMOs.

What is a G-M-O?

GMO stands for Genetically Modified Organism and is a very common practice in crop production around the world. When creating a GMO, researchers copy specific genetic information from one plant or organism and introduce it into another to improve or enhance a specific characteristic or trait, such as resistance to insects. Developing special traits in plants allows for more food to be grown in more places using fewer chemicals and fewer natural resources

What’s the difference between GMOs and biotechnology?

While the two terms are frequently used interchangeably, biotechnology more closely refers to the process or technology used to create GMOs. You may also see the term “GM”, which of course means “genetically modified.” When you hear farmers talk about “biotech” hybrids or varieties, they are talking about the GM seeds they plant.

Is genetic modification a new thing?

Manipulating genes in plants is an approach that has been used for centuries to make bread, cheese, wine and beer. Today, nearly every food on grocery store shelves has been modified by human hands at the genetic level. The foods we eat are modified using various breeding methods. Breeding alters a plant’s genes so that it expresses new traits. That’s how we get those desirable family favorites such as, seedless watermelons and grapes, red grapefruit, peanuts, honey crisp apples and other foods. GMOs and biotechnology simply accelerate this process. “Everything about science is learning new ways to speed up evolution so that we can come up with crops faster than Mother Nature ordinarily would,” said Dr. Sally Mackenzie, Ralph and Alice Raikes Professor of Plant Science at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. “Genetically modified is a part of our future. If we want to eat with climate change, we will need technologies or we simply won’t survive, and that’s just a reality.”

Are GMOs safe for humans?

To date, more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies have confirmed that GMOs are safe for human consumption. While there have been a handful of studies that state otherwise, these studies have been roundly debunked by scientists around the world. With over 25 years of independent research, there is no documented evidence of harm to human health or deaths from consumption of GM foods. (National Research Council, European Commission)

Is it safe to eat meat and milk from animals that were fed GMO crops?

Absolutely. A 2012 review of 24 long-term or multigenerational studies found that genetically modified corn, soy, potato, and rice had no ill effects on the rats, cows, mice, quails, chickens, pigs and sheep that ate them. Growth, development, blood, tissue structure, urine chemistry and organ and body weights were normal.

How does genetic modification affect nutrition?

There is no difference. Exhaustive testing and FDA review has confirmed that GMOs are nutritionally the same as their non-GM counterparts. They have the same levels of key nutrients such as amino acids, proteins, fiber, minerals and vitamins.

Additionally, here are the facts about why GMOs are among the safest products on the market today:

  1. Every plant improved through genetic modification is examined by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency for potential health risks.
  2. Tests are done on plants before entering the food and animal-feed supply.
  3. Fruits, vegetables and grains from genetically modified crops are indistinguishable from foods developed with other breeding methods.
  4. The FDA has found that GMO foods have the same nutritional value as non-GMO foods.
  5. Out of the trillions of meals consumed that have contained GMO ingredients, not one single substantiated case of harm to human health has been caused by GMOs.
  6. The World Health Organization, American Medical Association, National Research Council, FDA, European Commission and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation all agree that GMOs are safe.

Although frustrating, the clip from Jimmy Kimmel does shed light on the harsh reality that we as farmers face in today’s world: consumers are misinformed about GMOs. As a farmer that raises GMO crops, I am proud of the safe and nutritious food I raise. We farmers feed our families food made with the crops raised on our farms and we can assure you that these foods are extremely safe for you and your family as well.

Water – Making Every Drop Count

Can you remember back to when you were a kid on those long, sultry summer days where all you wanted was to cool off? Now think back to the pure joy you experienced when your parents turned on the sprinkler for you to run through.

Now imagine that your neighbors are doing the same thing, but with less water, and their neighbors with even less, until people at the end of the block had virtually no water. Well, that’s actually the rainfall pattern in Nebraska.

From the lush, fertile crop Photo of raining over crops imagesXLB9W9ERground in the east to the desert-like Sandhills in the west, it’s clear that Nebraska has a very diverse climate. It’s been estimated as you travel across the state from east to west, you will lose an inch of rainfall annually every 50 miles. Since rainfall varies so much across the state, many farmers depend on irrigation during the summer months to help supplement moisture deficiencies.

Water for Food

Water is critically important to the farmers and ranchers in our state to raise our food. Too much rain and fields will be washed out and unable to produce a crop; not enough and plants struggle to even produce an ear or a pod.

Nebraska farmers irrigate http://www.dreamstime.com/-image359587nearly 8.5 million acres, more than any other state in the country. Farmers depend on water from a variety of sources in order to raise a crop each year.

As you drive along the interstate, it may seem like farmers constantly run their pivots, but that’s actually not the case. Besides the high diesel or electrical cost to irrigate, over-watering can actually be detrimental to the plant’s growth.

Smart Water

The purpose of irrigation is to supplement rainfall as needed. Many farmers are now adopting technologies that allow them to use less water. By pulling local weather data and installing water sensors in their fields, farmers can know not only when it’s time to irrigate, but exactly how much water should be applied. Sustainable technologies like these are helping farmers produce more grain while using fewer resources and helping to keep the water supply clean and plentiful for you and your family.

So the next time you find yourself sweltering in the summer heat, remember that farmers and ranchers are doing their part to make sure every drop counts.

Water QualityPhoto of a glass of water

Water quality is an issue that’s very near and dear to farmers’ hearts. Maintaining a pure, plentiful supply of drinking water is a top concern for farmers.

In recent years, farmers and ranchers have shouldered a disproportionate amount of blame for water quality issues in places like the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, and other locations. While runoff from farms and ranches does play a part in this problem, the issue is much larger than food production.

Nonpoint source pollution is the biggest threat to water quality, and it occurs when snowmelt, rainfall, or irrigation waters run over the land and pick up pollutants, carrying them to nearby waterways. This includes nutrients and sediment from Nebraska’s farms.

Nutrients (specifically nitrogen and phosphorus) come from fertilizers, manure and human sewage. Excessive nutrients cause algae blooms in lakes (making them smelly and making boating difficult), contribute to fish kills, and can cause water to require additional and costly treatment before drinking.

Sediment, or soil, is considered a pollutant when it ends up in Nebraska’s waterways. Weather events and erosion cause sediment from farm fields, construction sites, and stream banks to flow downstream. Sediment fills in lakes, streams and ponds and destroys fish habitats.

What are Farmers Doing to Solve the Problem?

Since most of Nebraska’s land area is devoted to food production, every decision regarding water quality matters. Decisions to improve practices have a cumulative effect to enhance the safety of our water supply.

The three largest areas of focus to help enhance water quality relate to tillage, cover crops, and technology, but there are other conservation measures being used, too.

Conservation Tillage:

Tilling (or plowing) is often necessary to get the land ready for planting. And traditionally in Nebraska, farmers till their ground after harvest in the fall, so that they can plant as soon as possible in the spring. This means that their fields are bare all winter long, with topsoil exposed to the elements, creating perfect conditions for erosion when snow melts or spring storms come.

However, many farmers are now embracing a practice known as “conservation tillage” including no-till and strip-till methods.

No-till is just what it sounds like. The ground is not tilled at all. After the crop is harvested, the stubble is left in the field and protects it from erosion over the winter. The stubble also acts as a water filter, keeping excess nutrients from entering waterways. No-till only works with certain crops and certain soil types, so it is not something that can be used on every acre in Nebraska.

Strip-till is another conservation tillage method where GPS technology guides a tiller through the field and small strips are tilled, which is where the seeds will be planted in the spring.  This leaves MOST of the land covered with crop stubble over the winter, but works for a different variety of crops.

Cover Crops:

Cover crops are another way farmers are keeping the soil in place and filtering nutrients. A cover crop is a second crop, planted after the first is harvested or soon before, solely for the purpose of benefitting the soil. These crops grow quickly in the fall and use up excess nutrients, keep the soil from compacting, reduce erosion, and suppress weeds. Many companies in the public and private sectors are dedicating time and money to finding innovative ways to utilize cover crops, including letting cattle graze on them, making this method beneficial on multiple levels.


Farmers are now embracing technology, such as GPS and variable rate applications, in an effort to improve water quality. GPS and variable rate applications give farmers the ability to become more efficient when planting or applying water or nutrients. The use of technology in farming is in its infancy, and while new applications have helped farmers make huge strides in protecting the water quality, we have only scratched the surface of the benefits of precision agriculture.

The Future of Water Quality

Farmers clearly have a vested interest in conservation practices and water quality. The land and water are their livelihood, meaning they will make the best decisions for their operations with the information at hand. Farmers are dedicated to improving and ensuring that future generations have the same, if not better, opportunities.

While farming and ranching does play a large role in water quality, the right solution to this issue will come from all responsible parties acknowledging their part and working together to find the best solution.

We're a group of Nebraska farm women on a mission to help you learn more about your food and where it comes from.