Gary Lesoing: NCR-SARE Hero

Gary Lesoing's journey into agriculture began on a multi-generation farm in Hickman, Nebraska, where his family cultivated crops, raised livestock, and milked cows. Their dedication to farming earned them the prestigious Aksarben Pioneer Farm Family Award in 1990, highlighting their longstanding commitment to agriculture.

Educationally, Lesoing pursued his passion by earning a bachelor’s degree in biology from Peru State College in Nebraska, a master’s degree in animal science, and a doctorate in agronomy from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Lesoing’s professional career has been marked by a steadfast dedication to promoting sustainable agricultural practices and supporting farmers in Nebraska. For over 18 years, he served as an Extension Educator in Nemaha County, focusing on crop production, sustainable agriculture, and training beginning farmers. His tenure in this role, spanning nearly two decades, ended with his retirement in 2023.

One of Lesoing's significant contributions to the agricultural community was as the SARE state coordinator in Nebraska from 2008 to 2022. By actively participating in meetings, organizing SARE booths, and supporting sustainable agriculture events and grantees across the state, he facilitated the exchange of knowledge and resources vital for advancing sustainable farming. Additionally, by coordinating and hosting a SARE Fellows tour in Nebraska in 2015 and SARE staff site visits in 2012 and 2019, he showcased Nebraska's innovations in sustainable agriculture, fostering collaboration and inspiring further advancements in local food systems and soil health.

Throughout his career, Lesoing was deeply involved in research and extension activities focused on sustainable agriculture. He researched organic and diversified cropping systems at the Eastern Nebraska Research and Extension Center (ENREC), formerly the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Agriculture Research and Development Center. His most recent work focused on implementing cover crops in integrated crop/livestock systems and enhancing soil health. Across his career, Lesoing successfully secured nearly a million dollars in grant funds to support educational programs in sustainable agriculture for Nebraskans. These funds were instrumental in helping local food programs, organizing conferences and field day events, and partnering with producers to conduct on-farm research.

Lesoing has been involved in various organizations and initiatives throughout his career. He served on the board of directors for the Midwest Cover Crops Council. He also contributed his expertise to organizations like the National Association of County Agriculture Agents, Nebraska Grazing Lands Coalition, North Central Region Water Network, and the Soil Health Nexus, further solidifying his impact and influence in sustainable agriculture.

Leaders in sustainable agriculture offered tributes as Lesoing was nominated and selected to receive this recognition, including:

  • Gary Lesoing has been a champion of sustainable ag in Nebraska for several decades.  I first met Gary when he conducted organic research in the 1980’s.  After our farm became certified organic in 1993 I continued to follow Gary and took part in many of the sustainable/organic tours he led throughout the state.  Some of them were 2 or 3 days.  Deb and I considered these tours our “vacation,” as we met many great people and toured interesting farms, ranches, and processing facilities.  Gary also led the Beginning Farmer course and asked Deb and me to present each year at one of the class meetings.  I could go on, but Gary is certainly a hero of sustainable agriculture! - Dave Welsch, farmer, West Blue Farm
  • Gary is the embodiment of agricultural educator excellence. As a long-time colleague through SARE and the Midwest Cover Council, his contributions are well recognized and appreciated. Gary is inclusive in his programs involving farmers, Extension educators, researchers, agency personnel, industry representatives and more. He has a breadth of contacts across stakeholder groups, valuing and including input from all to the betterment of sustainable agriculture throughout Nebraska and the North Central Region. In particular, cover crop research, education, and adoption would not be where it is today without Gary’s support, efforts, and influence. On a personal note, as a trusted colleague, I valued his support of my work and his willingness to provide information and contacts to further a shared vision across the Region. Gary deserves recognition and is truly a SARE hero. - Dean Baas, past SARE State Coordinator and Emeritus Extension Educator at Michigan State University Extension
  • Gary Lesoing is an Emeritus Nebraska Extension Educator and past SARE Coordinator for Nebraska Extension.  In working two jobs, so to speak, Gary excelled in both.  Gary was on a committee with the Midwest Cover Crop Council that built the Decision Tool for Row Crops, which helped to expand cover crop use for enhanced soil health in the Midwest.  In Nebraska Gary partnered with others utilizing SARE mini-grants to promote regenerative agriculture and advance soil health practices.  He was the spearhead that sponsored SE Nebraska Soil Health Conferences each year and conferences that promoted grazing cover crops. Gary promoted, sponsored, and attended National No-Tillage Conferences and No-till on the Plains Conferences.  By sponsoring multi-passenger vans, it gave producers an incentive to travel and consider new soil health ideas together. Gary fostered new professional relationships to further sustainable agriculture through leading a Nebraska SARE Advisory Committee. Gary inspired many producers to apply for SARE Farmer and Rancher Grants.  He was excellent in his job at collaborating with NRCS and Nebraska Extension educators, plus attending and participating in field tours and demonstrations.  Gary excelled in collecting new on-farm research data with cover crop biomass and sharing this data with farmer and agri-professional audiences.  I am very thankful to have been able to work with Gary Lesoing during my career.  - Randy Pryor, Emeritus Extension Educator Saline County Nebraska