Nebraska Extension Goes Global

Science Literacy at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln: the right focus at the right time

Nebraska Extension Goes Global

China partnership focusing on sustainable, productive farming

Interview with Charles Hibberd Katherine Mundorf

Nebraska Extension has a goal of making agricultural practices more efficient in countries around the world so even more safe food is available for a growing population. 

The Nebraska (Yangling) Sci-Tech Park is a demonstration farm in China in a partnership to improve agricultural practices. The farm is 164 acres and is located west of Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, which is Nebraska’s sister province. 

According to Dean and Director of Nebraska Extension Charles Hibberd, the University of Nebraska–Lincoln and Nebraska Extension have the responsibility to “discover the ways of producing food that are economically sustainable, environmentally sensitive and that help agricultural families be successful in achieving their goals and dreams.”


In 2016, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed an agreement in Yangling, China with the local government to start the demonstration farm, then broke ground on the farm. The partnership includes Chinese farmers and officials; Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University; Yangling Demonstration Zone; Datang Seed Company; Nebraska Extension; Nebraska Department of Economic Development; and Nebraska equipment manufacturers.

“The purpose was really to create an opportunity to market Nebraska agricultural equipment,” like center pivots and grain bins, Hibberd explained. The park officially opened at the Yangling High Tech Agricultural Fair, a yearly exhibition of agricultural practices in the Agricultural Hi-tech Industries Demonstration Zone (AHIDZ) in Shaanxi, in November 2017. AHIDZ has provided most of the funding for the project to bring the new technology into the country, which is the purpose of this demonstration zone in this high agricultural area. 

“They have been successful over the years bringing in a dairy, bringing in a tulip farm, just different agricultural operations that create opportunities for local farmers,” Hibberd said.


This is a five-year project, Hibberd said; it started in 2017 and will continue until 2022. The first three years build the project and the last two years add technology and learning.

“We intend to bring a no-till farming approach to this demonstration farm, which we believe is important in this environment. There are other technologies we want to promote and encourage over time,” Hibberd said. The farm is to grow corn and wheat, with additional crops in the future, he said, such as potatoes, squash and other horticultural crops. When the crops are harvested, the Chinese partners will find markets for them. 

The Chinese partners bring not only funding to the project, but also vision and identification of outcomes for the project, Hibberd said. Nebraska Extension funds costs of Extension professionals travel to China; it also brings expertise and connections to agricultural equipment manufacturers. Extension specialists measure success on the farm through the training Chinese farmers are provided on Nebraska-produced irrigation systems and grain bins. There also is training on no-till farming, preparation of seed beds, scouting for and treating pests and efficient harvesting. 

Seventy percent of the Chinese population is involved in agriculture, Hibberd said, and the skills that are taught on the demonstration farm will help all of the country’s farms become more efficient as the global population increases and requires more high-quality food. 

Nebraska Extension at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln has a planning team of 20 professionals led by Assistant Extension Educator Brian Krienke, a soil fertility Extension educator. The team meets regularly to assess satellite information, videos recorded at the farm and sensor-relayed data from the demonstration farm and discuss recommendations they will send to the Chinese farmers to achieve higher yields for their crops. As of the summer of 2018, the first wheat crop was harvested on the demonstration farm.


The demonstration farm allows Nebraska-based companies to provide their expertise about agricultural practices and equipment and to learn how agricultural practices in China differ from practices in Nebraska. All equipment that has been provided to the Chinese farmers has been on a loan basis. Extension educators travel to China to help train and educate the farmers during critical crop production times, Hibberd said. 

The Nebraska Department of Economic Development also provided support in the launch of the demonstration farm, Hibberd said, by working with Extension and with Nebraska’s manufacturing partners. In addition, DED jointly funded an agronomy intern to work on the farm during the summer of 2018, strengthening the capacity for technology adoption. This will be a huge assist for the effort and a great experience in Chinese culture and farming practice for the intern, Hibberd said.

The farm also allows local schools, including Northwest Agriculture and Forestry University in Yangling, to use the equipment as a teaching opportunity for their faculty and undergraduate and graduate students.


By Charles Hibberd, Dean and Director, Nebraska Extension

When I think about global, I really think about all of the opportunities that we have to work with other countries that are trying to feed their people in an environmental and sustainable way and use technologies that are both effective and economically feasible. And when you think about global that way, from an ag perspective, the world is really wide open. I spent 13 years in Scottsbluff at the University of Nebraska Panhandle Research and Extension Center, and one of the projects we were involved in there was a partnership with Bamyan University in Bamyan Province, Afghanistan. And, we sent our folks there; they sent their university professors to Scottsbluff. That was shortly after 9/11, and so it was a really important time for us to be involved with a partner, with a country that was trying to dig itself out of a really bad situation and knew that food and food production was a really important part of the solution to the situation they found themselves in. So the experiences that I’ve had working in global settings have really helped me understand the need and the opportunity that we have to be a part of the solution relative to that need.


I think our first responsibility as a university and frankly, as Extension, is to come up with, to discover, the ways of producing food that are economically sustainable, environmentally sensitive and ways that help agricultural families be successful in achieving their goals and their dreams. We do this in the context of Nebraska, this amazing agricultural state that provides so many natural resources for us, like the Ogallala aquifer. We work hard to make irrigation sustainable in this state. We are pretty close to doing that right now in a state that is dependent on irrigation for much of our farm production. We work hard to keep the Nebraska Sandhills intact – that amazing grasslands ecosystem that we have that we want to protect and take care of and not return to a sand dune that it was originally. 

We think about that first and foremost in the context of Nebraska, but we also know – this is for me one of the really compelling reasons to be involved in global work – is that the Arab Spring that occurred in the Mediterranean several years ago was certainly fueled by political unrest but it was also fueled by a lack of food. Inadequate food. And when people are hungry, they make decisions they would not make if they were well-fed and well taken care of and they know their children have access to nutritious, wholesome food. 

If we want a global society that is less engaged in terrorism, that is less engaged in war, is less engaged in dealing with famine and people dying of starvation and things like that, food is one of the main ingredients to that solution. And we can contribute to that. I think the University of Nebraska and certainly, Nebraska Extension, has an obligation to be part of that solution for our planet. We have the technical know-how. For us to not share that and to not help people become more effective food producers, I think, is frankly unconscionable.