Budget woes in recent years have led some farm states to shortchange their 4-H programs, says Ronnie Green, vice chancellor for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
Fortunately, that hasn’t been the case in Nebraska, he says. On the contrary, Green asserts that Nebraska has “the strongest 4-H in the United States.”
Green, the top administrator directly overseeing UNL’s wide-ranging ag studies programs, has a particular interest in the well-being of 4-H, since the youth program is under the umbrella of UNL’s Ag Extension. So 4-H is part of the University of Nebraska’s land-grant mission to the citizens of the state.
The numbers for Nebraska’s 4-H are encouraging. Each of Nebraska’s 93 counties has at least one 4-H club. One of every three age-eligible Nebraska boys and girls participates in 4-H — that’s more than 140,000 young people.
And from Kimball to South Sioux City, Harrison to Falls City, more than 11,000 Nebraska adults generously give of their time and devotion to help 4-H.
The wide array of 4-H exhibits and contests at the Nebraska State Fair (running through Monday in Grand Island) provides encouraging evidence of the upcoming generation’s talents and devotion when it comes to ag production and ag science.
Kathleen Lodl, associate dean for UNL Extension, notes that 4-H uses a range of activities to help boys and girls learn not only about ag production but also about science literacy, career development and healthy living.
That’s a smart, forward-looking strategy in several ways. It helps the state’s young people develop their talents and interests. It promotes the upcoming generation’s understanding of environmental science and ecological balance.
It also helps Nebraska cultivate the next generation of farmers and ranchers — as well as ag-science professionals, whether it’s the future scientist in an Omaha food testing laboratory, the plant geneticist in Lincoln or the hydrologist walking along a central Nebraska watershed.
Certainly, 4-H takes science seriously. A key example is the extensive participation of 4-H members in Nebraska robotics programs. In fact, the robotics curriculum used by 4-H members around the country was developed in Nebraska.
At the high school level, 4-H encourages an understanding of science and technology through the or- ganization’s Big Red Summer Academic Camps, which also help teenagers learn about career possibilities. Nebraska 4-H has created several computer apps and routinely uses one called Career Explorer 4-H, notes Tracy Pracheil, who helps with marketing for the 4-H program statewide.
Another encouraging aspect of Nebraska 4-H is the demonstration of community spirit. Each year, 25 4-H clubs across the state are saluted with the Governor’s Agricultural Excellence Awards.
This year the club winners included Cedar County Junior Leaders (who are organizing a CPR and first-aid certification class); Central Banner County 4-H Club (installing new or refurbished amenities at the county fairgrounds); Sandhills Saddles and Spurs in Grant County (having a horseman with the American Quarter-Horse Association provide a clinic); and the Wildcats from Stanton County (downtown beautification).
The young participants in Nebraska’s 4-H programs deserve a cheer, as do the many adults supporting the organization. They are building better communities right now, and they’re set to build a stronger future for the state in the years ahead.