For two decades, John Thomas has helped conduct agricultural research in the Panhandle for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Last month, Thomas put that experience to work directly with agricultural producers and agribusinesses.
He took on a new assignment as UNL extension educator for cropping systems, based in the Box Butte County office at Alliance. Thomas replaces Bill Booker, who retired in 2011.
Located in Box Butte County, Thomas will focus his efforts in that region and cooperatively with other cropping system educators throughout the Panhandle District, including Jim Schild at Scottsbluff and Karen DeBoer at Sidney.
As a research coordinator and technician at the UNL Panhandle Research and Extension Center, Thomas has spent the past five years working in dry bean breeding, both in greenhouses and field research. Prior to that, he spent 15 years in entomology as it applies to production agriculture. In that time Thomas got to know a number of Box Butte County ag producers, especially wheat, sunflowers and dry beans. He has planted dry bean plots on several different farms; helped with bean field days there; and worked in cooperation with Stateline Bean on some big studies in Box Butte County.
Thomas said he plans to get better acquainted with the county, work through his connections to assess the local needs, and develop programs to address the pertinent needs.
One issue that is always at the forefront, Thomas said, is water, especially irrigation efficiency and crop production. Groundwater levels have been declining in Box Butte County for years, and drought amplifies the importance of the issue.
"We'll work in cooperation to meet local and regional needs," he says. "And I'll be developing some specific programs as I evaluate the needs assessment."
Thomas has a master's degree in entomology from UNL, and a bachelor of science degree in forestry and range management from Colorado State University. In his research experience, he was worked with a variety of crops and systems.
"I've worked with all the crops in the Panhandle, with entomology issues in particular, but I've also been around all the cropping systems," he said.
Thomas has lived in the area for 21 years, but his family roots go deeper. His great-grandfather, Valentine Thomas, homesteaded north of Morrill. The sod house at North Platte Valley Museum in Gering originally sat on Valentine Thomas' homestead, according to John Thomas.