Peter Berthelsen grew up in southern Minnesota where his extended family worked the land with dairy cattle farms and corn/bean rotation farming. Pete and his wife Laura now live in the loess hills of central Nebraska and operate a combination of rangeland and dry land crop ground. Pete and Laura are the winners of the 2011 NAPPC Farmer Rancher Pollinator Conservation Award.
The Berthelsens wanted to promote both quality wildlife habitat and good agricultural practices, all while producing a sustainable income off of their land. In 2006, they retired much of their dryland crop ground into the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) and now strive to maintain a diverse central Nebraska prairie.
The Berthelsen’s rangeland, consisting of native grassland, is interspersed among their CRP land. Most of the rangeland is highly erodible and marginally productive. The land is being managed to control invasive cool-season grasses (smooth brome and Kentucky bluegrass) through the use of prescribed fire and high intensity, short duration grazing. The results of this type of management have produced a more native plant community that provides enhanced forage production and increased grazing capacity.
The pollinator habitat that the Berthelsens encourage on their land has yielded numerous benefits. The loess hills region of Nebraska consists of highly erosive wind-blown glacial deposit soils. Planting habitat that promotes pollinators has helped to heal areas where substantial soil loss has occurred during past erosion events. In addition, with more than 130 native wildflower and forb species that Pete has documented, the Berthelsen’s have enjoyed the recreational opportunities associated with the high quality wildlife habitat on their property. Area beekeepers also have benefited from the Berthelsen’s pollinator-friendly approach. A wide variety of native pollinators and the honeybees pollinate the wildflowers, a small fruit orchard, and the family garden.
The Berthelsens not only promote pollinator habitat on their land, they also encourage area landowners to integrate similar practices into their operations. Pete conducts two tours on his property each year to exhibit the practices and benefits of pollinator conservation. In 2011, he hosted a pollinator habitat tour during National Pollinator Week. Pete is passionate about what he is doing and derives satisfaction from sharing his experiences with pollinator habitat conservation. He enjoys using his property as an outdoor laboratory where area producers can witness the results of the different conservation practices and the economic benefits associated with conservation programs.