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Haskell Ag Lab has legacy of service

Down the Road: HAL, east of Concord, Neb., has been providing research for northeast Nebraska farmers and families since 1957.

Curt Arens, Editor, Nebraska Farmer

December 2, 2020

6 Slides

Haskell Agricultural Laboratory, down the road one and a half miles east of Concord, Neb., in Dixon County, was established in 1957. Three years earlier, local residents formed the Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association to “promote, encourage and procure the establishment and operation of an experiment farm in northeast Nebraska.”

The first major financial contribution toward this effort came when the Experimental Farm Association took a donation of 320 acres from the C.D. Haskell family and turned it over to the University of Nebraska. Money was raised for a headquarters building on the farm site, and these funds were matched by C.D. Haskell.

Local farmers have always played a crucial role in the operation of HAL. In 1967, the association worked with local pork producers to raise $22,000 for a swine research facility. Over the years, HAL has served northeast Nebraska producers and farmers across the state as a key Nebraska Extension research site.

Beef feedlot nutrition, swine production, and finishing and swine housing were just a few notable research programs. HAL’s first swine specialist, Bob Fritschen, helped establish the Nebraska Pork Producers Association and was instrumental in the design of the popular Nebraska Modified Open Front confinement swine housing building.

In more recent times, HAL served as a certified organic production research site and was the home of an innovative weed flaming project that inspired the development of new crop row flaming equipment. Center-pivot irrigation studies, as well as soybean aphid and other crop pest and disease studies, have been conducted at HAL. Located on the farm site, Northeast Arboretum includes a living snow fence that is designed to test different species of trees and shrubs for collecting snow.

50th anniversary

On Aug. 14, 2007, HAL hosted a large crowd for its 50th anniversary celebration and public field day. The annual VIP tours at HAL were widely attended, with special groups — area bankers, 4-H members and natural resources district board members, for instance — honored each year to travel through the fields and learn more about specific research projects being conducted at the farm.

One long-term nitrogen, tillage and crop rotation study, conducted by soil scientist Charles Shapiro and his team, was always a highlight of VIP tours. This study, which began in 1986, looked at five different nitrogen treatments within numerous different tillage and rotation blocks, with long-range implications for farmers.

In 2018, HAL changed up this format, hosting the first Family Field Day focused on climate and crops. Attended by more than 400 northeast Nebraska producers and families, the field day included multiple vendors and agencies with interactive displays, demonstrations and tours. The successful event was followed by a second Family Field Day event in 2019.

In 2020, the event went virtual, due to COVID-19 restrictions, but the staff and administration at HAL have always exhibited an ability to adapt to the changing needs of northeast Nebraska producers and residents, providing the research and engagement necessary to improve agriculture and the quality of life for area residents.

HAL continues to offer educational opportunities and research-based information and programs on agriculture and natural resources, consumer and family economics, community and economic development, and 4-H and youth development. Learn more online at UNL Extension.

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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