Since 1953, homeowners have turned to “Backyard Farmer” for science-based answers to their toughest gardening questions. Expert panelists from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are preparing to answer new viewer questions when the 65th season of the show premieres at 7 p.m. April 6 on NET1.
“Backyard Farmer” was created by George Round, director of University Relations, and Jack McBride, founder of the University of Nebraska Television Department and later general manager of Nebraska Educational Television. The show first aired on what is now KOLN/KGIN-TV in June 1953, just one month after Lincoln got its first television transmitter. When NET formed in 1955, “Backyard Farmer” made the transition to channel 12 and it has remained there ever since.
The idea for the show was simple: Take phone calls from viewers with gardening questions and have a panel of experts from Nebraska Extension provide answers. With so many homeowners building victory gardens during and after World War II, there was a need for non-biased gardening information.
“The foundation of the show has always been question and answers,” said Brad Mills, the show’s producer. “Building a relationship with viewers has been the focus for 65 seasons, and that’s still true today.”
Viewers submit questions on topics such as fruits and vegetables; insects; turf; annuals and perennials; weeds; trees and shrubs; and wildlife. The panel of experts enjoys interacting with viewers of all skill levels and assisting them with any garden or landscape need.
“We cover a wide range of topics for both beginning gardeners and those who are more experienced,” said host Kim Todd. “It’s science information made simple.”
Science is critical to the show’s success, said Roch Gaussoin (pronounced ROCK ga-SWA), who has been a “Backyard Farmer” panelist for 26 years. He said he has seen gardening trends come and go, but the science remains.
“It’s amazing to me that a program could sustain itself for 65 seasons,” he said. “I think we were able to do it by remaining relevant and offering science-based solutions. We don’t make a recommendation on the show if we don’t have substantiation that science says this is the way we should do it.”
One thing that has changed is the type of answers that viewers can expect. While for years a natural first answer to most questions was to spray a chemical on the source, today that will rarely be the case. The panel will try to offer a number of approaches at the system level before resorting to a chemical-based solution.
Technology has allowed the information shared on “Backyard Farmer” to reach new audiences. With the internet, social media and live-streaming, the show’s viewers are no longer just from Nebraska. Each week, questions are submitted from all over the United States and the globe. “Backyard Farmer’s” YouTube channel has over 4.5 million views. A few of the most popular how-to videos are on pruning, container gardening and tomatoes.
“It is really exciting to see where our questions come from each week,” said panelist Loren Geisler. “The internet has expanded our viewership and allowed us to interact with a different audience.”
Keeping the show informative, yet entertaining for the audience is a primary goal. Whether it’s rating a fellow panelist’s answer off the air or staying calm when snakes are on set, each week is an adventure. Panelists on the show are not afraid to share their advice, even if it’s different from that of their colleagues.
“We like to have fun on ‘Backyard Farmer,’” said panelist Sarah Browning. “I really enjoy getting those in-depth questions and debating the best approach with a fellow panelist.”
As for what’s in store for this season, viewers can expect to hear a lot about food. With gardening trends focusing on edible landscapes and growing food in urban spaces, “Backyard Farmer” will help its audience understand where their food comes from.
The panel will also look back on some of their most memorable moments from the show and ask viewers to share their favorite memories.
“Viewers are such an important part of the show, so we want to hear from those who have been watching from the very beginning,” Todd said.
With the theme for the season being “Celebrate Nebraska-Style,” “Backyard Farmer” will also join in on the year-long celebration of Nebraska’s sesquicentennial. Special shows will be filmed at Pioneer Village in Minden on May 4, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln on June 22 and the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island on Aug. 31.
In addition, Mike Boehm, vice chancellor of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, will sit on the “Backyard Farmer” panel on April 27. A plant pathologist by training, Boehm was professor of plant pathology and vice provost for academic and strategic planning at Ohio State University prior to coming to Nebraska earlier this year. His research focuses on the integrated management of turfgrass diseases and the Fusarium head blight of wheat.
“Backyard Farmer” airs live each Thursday on NET1 at 7 p.m. from April through September. The show is also streamed live here.
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