If anyone walks more cornfields than Bob Nielsen, they must spend lots of money on shoe leather. Nielsen spends countless hours walking fields, setting up trials and checking crop conditions. The Purdue University Extension corn specialist was recently recognized with the Hovde Award, presented at the Indiana Farm Bureau convention.
The award, named after the late Purdue University President Frederick L. Hovde, is presented annually to someone who provides "excellence in service to the people of rural Indiana." Bob Nielsen certainly fits that description. The native Nebraskan became a Hoosier in 1982. He’s now in his 35th year serving Indiana farmers as an Extension corn specialist.
Nielsen is credited with helping start the nationally recognized Crop Diagnostic Training and Research Center at Purdue. In the mid-’90s he started two websites, King Corn and the Chat ‘n Chew Café, which he maintains with up-to-date production information about corn.
Working with Jim Camberato, another Purdue University Extension agronomist, Nielsen has collected information about nitrogen rates through new research and on-farm trials over the past decade. The pair updated nitrogen recommendations for Indiana’s nine crop-reporting districts.
I can personally attest to Nielsen’s dedication to corn farmers. Here are three examples of Nielsen in action.
• Walking 4-H members' fields. It was the late 1980s. Leadership at Purdue thought specialists should stay on campus. Nielsen had other ideas.
One misty Friday morning, I met Nielsen and Don Kelso, a county Extension educator. We spent the day walking cornfields — not with farmers, but with 4-H members. Kelso was convinced these 4-H’ers were the future of farming, and deserved getting advice about their projects from Nielsen.
We visited several fields and met numerous 4-H members. Nielsen treated each one with respect. I don’t know how much they learned, but I learned far more that day than I ever could have learned in Nielsen’s office on campus.
• Photographing the Purdue spray buggy! More recently, Nielsen and Camberato began trying to figure out how to use sensors to determine nitrogen needs before sidedressing. They worked with a farmer, John Kretzmeier, Fowler, attaching sensors to his state-of-the art rig. I visited and rode along.
The real fun started the next year when Nielsen persuaded Purdue mechanics to turn an old Hahn Hi-Boy sprayer into a rig he could drive across the field with sensors attached on the front. He wanted to test whether sensors could accurately predict how much more nitrogen should be applied.
The jury is still out on the sensors. But watching Nielsen drive the top-heavy machine, decked out in Purdue colors, up and down hills at the Southeast Purdue Agricultural Center near Butlerville was memorable. I swear I saw him smiling now and then as he bounced along on the old buggy.
• Enjoying modern technology. Just last summer Nielsen invited me along when he and Camberato visited Ken Simpson’s farm near Morristown to apply nitrogen with high-clearance rigs on large field-scale trials. They’ve worked with Simpson before. He applied N with his rig equipped with a toolbar with coulters out front, and the Shelby County Co-op brought a rig equipped with Y-Drops. I hitched rides on both rigs. When I rode with Simpson, he was beaming. He couldn’t get over how much technology was in his field, trying to answer questions about elusive best nitrogen management practices.
Nielsen has taught lots of kids, educators and farmers, plus an old, gray-haired journalist, a lot about corn, and a few things about working with people, too.