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Smart Farming in Kearney Powers Economy

The Kearney agriculture community taps into technology as it evolves to meet new challenges.

By Joe Morris on December 28, 2022

Wheat harvest photo for feature about farming in Kearney, NE.
J. Patrick Phelan

The Kearney agriculture community is a true feeder industry. The region’s crops and cattle wind up on America’s dinner tables, and the farms, along with the businesses that support them, are a huge part of the area’s overall economic landscape.

Sustainability has become a huge part of livestock operations and farming in Kearney. “Going green” has a lot of different looks, and when done right, these measures can produce real benefits, says Deb Gangwish, whose family’s holdings – PG Farms and the Diamond G – encompass two farms, a trucking company, a custom harvest operation and a cattle operation, all of which employ 21 people full time, with another dozen or so seasonal part-timers.

“We are firm believers in doing what we can,” Gangwish says. “One big thing we did was convert all our irrigation pivots to electricity. It utilizes water at a maximum, and since you can fertilize through the pivot it eliminates tractor passes and so cuts down on greenhouse gases. You only put out the water a crop needs, and I can control all the pivots from my phone if we need to troubleshoot.”

Gangwish says the farms have put efficiencies in place so that they don’t waste seed, and the savings have been phenomenal.

Nicholas Ward, right, president of Ward Laboratories in Kearney, Nebraska
Kearney Area Chamber of Commerce

Soil Testing and Other Resources

PG Farms, and other growers such as noted potato producer CCS Farms, get support from a variety of local companies, such as Ward Laboratories, which has been providing soil testing and more from its state-of-the-art facility since 1983.

“The ‘bread and butter’ of what we do is soil testing for crop nutrient recommendations,” says Nicholas Ward, president. “Our main focus is on our geographic region, mainly South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado, Kansas and Wyoming. We also have some test kits and other materials that we sell online, and we send those to about every state in the union now, which is pretty exciting.”

Kearney has been a good base of operations for many reasons, including the ability to tap other businesses for specific resources. “And with the (University of Nebraska at Kearney) in town, it means that we’ve always had a pipeline that’s training our next wave of employees,” Ward says. “Having them close by is a huge benefit to us.”

“I think there is nothing more beautiful or rewarding for restaurateurs than having local ingredients that we can use in our dishes to support our community.”

Liam Mendoza, director of operations at Joy’s Table Pasta & Steak

Farm to Table

Not all of Kearney’s bountiful harvests get sent away, however. The hugely popular farm to table trend, where food is grown as close to consumers as possible, is the driving force at Joy’s Table Pasta & Steak, which uses products from hobby gardeners who specialize in specific herbs to more large-scale producers including Nebraska Star Beef, Andrew’s Garden, Little Town Gardens, the Mais Family and Jenniges Farm.

“I think there is nothing more beautiful or rewarding for restaurateurs than having local ingredients that we can use in our dishes to support our community,” says Liam Mendoza, director of operations. “We also decided this year to grow our own tomatoes for our restaurants and to make our house marinara sauce, which has for sure elevated the experience.”

Having that local connection helps continue the sense of community that is integral to life in Kearney, Mendoza adds.

“It brings us back to how things were done when you had to use what you had on hand,” Mendoza says. “Our owners, Shawna and Dale Klute, could not be prouder to own restaurants in Kearney, where we feel loved by the community, and we try our best to show back that love with our food.”

PG Farms’ Gangwish calls Kearney a vibrant, dynamic and growing community, and one that keeps its rural heritage alive while also offering plenty of cultural and other quality of life amenities.

“It’s a gem,” she says. “I have a booming community next to me; I don’t have to drive three hours to access goods and services. I like to think we have a pocket-sized version of what you’d find in Lincoln or Omaha. People here understand customer service, the value of relationships and loyalty. It’s just a wonderful place to live.”

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