LINCOLN — For the first time since the 1960s, the University of Nebraska Board of Regents will include two active farmers, both of whom say they are eager to share their agricultural perspective as food, fuel and water move to the forefront of NU research.
Representatives of Nebraska's ag sector say they're thrilled to see two farmers — Jim Pillen of Columbus, president of Pillen Family Farms, and Lavon Heidemann of Elk Creek, a family farmer who spent the past eight years in the Legislature.
“I think that's a strong message and a strong outlook for agricultural research and education activities here at the university,” said Brad Lubben, an agricultural economist and public policy specialist for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln extension.
The last time two tractor-riding, animal-feeding farm operators served simultaneously appears to be 1965 to '70, when Minden-area farmer Robert Raun served with Richard Adkins, a livestock feeder and banker from Osmond, Neb.
“To have that kind of on-the-ground, kick-the-dirt experience is a good thing,” said Jay Rempe, government liaison for the Nebraska Farm Bureau Federation.
Pillen and Heidemann are quick to cite their farm roots and interest in agribusiness and rural issues. They said they are eager to join forces with Ronnie Green, vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, on ag-related topics.
“We share a lot of the same interests,” Heidemann said of Pillen. “There's no doubt about it.”
They join the board at a time when agricultural research is enjoying a resurgence at NU.
Major recent initiatives include the Daugherty Water for Food Institute, an international policy and research center for managing water for farming; the Innovation Campus, a developing public-private research park focused on food, fuel and water; and the Rural Futures Initiative, to help rural communities succeed as agriculture evolves.
“It's pretty exciting to have two agriculturalists on there — and it's good timing, because there's so many neat things happening right now,” said Alan Moeller, assistant vice chancellor for the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Contact the writer: 402-473-9581, firstname.lastname@example.org
NU BOARD OF REGENTS
The three new members joining the NU Board of Regents:
HAL DAUB JR.
Profession: lawyer, former Omaha mayor (1996-2001), former member U.S. House of Representatives (1981-89)
Replaces: Randy Ferlic
Notable: Reputation for tenacity and strong political connections from City Hall to Washington, D.C. Gave up Nebraska Right to Life endorsement because he would let stand current policy allowing embryonic stem cell research.
Profession: farmer near Elk Creek, Neb., state senator (2004 until January)
Replaces: Jim McClurg
Notable: Detailed knowledge of NU budget from service as chairman of the Legislature's Appropriations Committee. Helped craft funding packages for a comprehensive cancer research center in Omaha and a new veterinary diagnostic laboratory in Lincoln. Lacks a college degree.
Profession: president, Columbus-based Pillen Family Farms
Replaces: Chuck Hassebrook
Notable: Pillen's company is one of the largest hog confinement operations in the nation. Grew up five miles from Hassebrook and attended the same high school. Played defensive back for the Huskers in the 1970s.