Q&A with Nebraska CARET delegate Amber Burge

by Natalie Jones | IANR News

Amber Burge
Amber Burge is a marketing officer at Flatwater Bank in rural Nebraska, and delegate as part of the national Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching (CARET) program.
March 22, 2022

Lincoln, Neb. —Each year, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources appoints delegates to meet with elected officials and other decision makers and share stories of the impacts that UNL’s commitment to agriculture and natural resources has made in their own lives. These delegates are part of the national Council for Agricultural Research, Extension, and Teaching (CARET) program.  

The work of Nebraska CARET delegates is centered around four priorities: solutions to prepare and protect our nation, training and treatment for global health security, transformational agriculture for a food and water secure world and federals programs for Nebraska’s research capacity and workforce.  

Today we’re sitting down with Amber Burge, marketing officer at Flatwater Bank, to discuss CARET and the important role the delegates play in advocating for agriculture and other issues important to Nebraska. 

This question-and-answer series introducing Nebraska’s advocates for accessible, affordable higher education is part of the 40-year celebration of CARET this March. CARET delegates at the University of Nebraska help create once-in-a-lifetime opportunities for agriculture. The University of Nebraska works each day across all 93 counties within the state to help it grow stronger for the future. 

Tell us a bit about yourself and your tie to IANR and Nebraska’s agriculture industry. 

I am a graduate of IANR with a degree in Agribusiness. I received my MBA from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. My husband Randy and I have lived in Gothenburg for the past 22 years. We have two children; Jake is a junior in high school and Taylor is a freshman. I work at Flatwater Bank in Gothenburg. I am proud that our bank was founded to support farmers and today we continue to work with ag communities, businesses, and producers. Our family also has a cow-calf operation, and my husband is a veterinarian/owner at Eastside Animal Center in Gothenburg. To sum it up, our family’s livelihood is very dependent on Nebraska agriculture and I’m proud of that. I grew up involved in 4-H and FFA and I am happy that both of my children participated in 4-H and now they are both actively involved in FFA. I am a LEAD 37 graduate and was invited to become a CARET delegate as part of my LEAD experience. 

What does it mean to you to be one of Nebraska’s CARET delegates? 

It’s an honor. I’m proud to be a graduate of the university and help advocate for it and other land- grant institutions. For me personally, being a CARET delegate means I have a responsibility to know and understand the programs within the IANR and the University and understand how we can continue to move agriculture, ag research, and leadership forward in our state. Each year, as part of the National CARET meeting, we travel to Washington D.C. (it’s been virtual the past two years) and meet with our elected officials and share support for the land-grant system of universities. Federal funding for agricultural research, education, leadership, and infrastructure has a significant impact on programs at our University. Our role is to help the Congressional members and their staff understand the value and impact of this funding during the appropriations process. I recently read that federal support for agricultural research means a 50 % annual rate of return for society. The land grant system helped make the United States a leader in agriculture and we need to continue to invest in it. 

How has agricultural research, education and/or extension helped your community or industry? 

It’s a big deal and sometimes as end-users, we might not be familiar with putting the pieces together and knowing or understanding how research or extension impacts “me”. As ag producers, we are being asked to do more with less. There is cutting-edge research at IANR, as well as at other land grant institutions, to improve genetics, feed efficiency, and reduce our environmental footprint, etc. This research will be what helps move the cattle and ag industry forward.  

In our own operation, we have used cost-of-production research to better understand our costs and make changes in our operation. We have made changes to our replacement heifer program in recent years, because of research from the University. These decisions are easier to make when you have solid research backing up the decision. These are just a few examples.  

In my husband’s vet practice, education is a huge deal. We have a shortage of food animal veterinarians in rural Nebraska. We have to work to build a pipeline of students studying veterinary medicine and animal nutrition who want to come back and practice in a rural setting. This will not happen if we don’t have leading programs here in Nebraska.  

What programs have you used your role as a CARET delegate to advocate for?  

  • 4H 
  • Extension 
  • West Central Research and Extension Center in North Platte 
  • Farm/Ranch of the Future 
  • USDA Research Facility at Innovation Campus 
  • Continued Early Childhood and Mental Health Resources in Rural Communities 
  • Education 
Why are these programs important to you and to Nebraska? I spoke about extension already and the impact it has had. 4-H is something I participated in and my children did as well, but I think it’s even more important to see the impact that 4-H has on youth in non-rural areas. In agriculture, we need to do a better job of sharing our stories and helping people understand what we do and how we do it. 4-H is a great tool to get kids exposed to agriculture and a good way for us to share our story and develop future leaders. Another project that I’m a big supporter of is the USDA Ag Research Facility at Innovation Campus. If we are going to move U.S. agriculture forward it’s going to take the collaboration of universities, government entities like the USDA, and private companies to engage together and get it done. There is no better place for that than here at Innovation Campus in Lincoln. We have proven our success at collaborative projects like this; such as with the U.S. Drought Mitigation Center and U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Clay Center. What have you learned from serving as a CARET delegate?  The past three years, while serving as a CARET delegate I’ve certainly reconnected with IANR and have a better understanding of some of the research and programs occurring here. As part of our LEAD experience, we met with our elected officials and this certainly helped me understand more about the legislative process, but being a CARET representative has taken that to a whole new level. I have a better understanding of how land grant colleges are funded and why this funding is so important. I also have a much better understanding of the federal appropriations process. Finally, I’ve also developed a better appreciation for each of our elected representatives. They have great staff who are committed to staying informed on so many issues, it’s mind-boggling. They genuinely care about our state and agriculture, and I know they appreciate hearing first-hand from each of us.