This is the third in a series of stories about this year’s Master Farm Family award winners.
James and Miriam Nelson — or “Jim” and “Mim” as they are known to their friends — each have four generations of farming experience in their families and they believe in conservation, mentoring, early adoption of technology and sharing what they learn.
Between what they learned from their families and the wisdom gained through some tough years in farming, they have quite a lot to share.
“I grew up on a Grade A dairy farm that my father sold the spring after my high school graduation in 1964,” Jim says. “My parents drove a school bus in addition to farming row crops and running the dairy. It wasn’t until years later when I sold my hogs and farrowing and nursery equipment that I truly understood the relief they must have felt at that time.”
His dad had in mind a new adventure for Jim and his cousin. He loaded their Super 92 Massey combine and the cousin’s combine on the trucks and sent the boys to Brewster, Kan., and Haxton, Colo., to experience custom-cutting wheat.
After wheat harvest, Jim’s grandfather leased him 200 acres to farm to help him pay for college. His dad provided machinery and Jim paid the expenses. The following year, they rented a combine and the family followed the wheat harvest from Oklahoma to Nebraska.
“I exited the custom-cutting business after that, but Dad and a neighbor continued a few more years because things were pretty tough in farming in the late 1960s and early 1970s,” he says.
Jim continued his education, earning an associate’s degree from Hutchinson Community College in 1966, and a bachelor’s degree in ag economics from Kansas State University in 1969. His first job out of college was in banking. He worked two years as an ag loan officer for 1st National Bank in Manhattan, then two years at Farmers National Bank in Agra as vice president.
He also joined the Kansas Air National Guard from 1969 to1973 and served in the Kansas Army National Guard from 1973 to 1975.
“In both of the banking jobs I came to know many good farmers and their production methods. With that experience and good commodity prices in 1974, I asked my father if I could join him on the farm,” Jim says. “When I came back, we immediately started a cow-calf operation, then moved into backgrounding feeder calves. In 1978 we added a farrow-to-finish hog operation with 80 sows that farrowed six times a year. We sold the farrowing portion in 1996 and the finishing operation in 1999.”
Sharing farm wisdom
Jim kept a small cow-calf herd into the late 1990s but elected to return exclusively to crops when he started no-till in 2000. They now grow wheat, corn, soybeans and milo on a total of 2,700 owned and rented acres.
“We’ve actively shared our knowledge through hosting a stop on the first Kansas Farm Bureau no-till tour, as well as several county-level tours in McPherson and Rice counties,” Jim says. They also had seed test plots, which gives them and their neighbors a chance to see performance of new varieties.
More recently, they have been using newer seed technology with trait packages that help reduce the use of environmentally harmful pesticides. No-till has also led the Nelsons to adopt cover crops, which has increased moisture-holding capacity of the soils and led to higher yields. In 2015, they won the state wheat yield contest with 108.48 bushels to the acre.
Mim graduated from K-State with a bachelors in home economics education in 1971 and began a career as an Extension home economist in Phillips County from 1971 to 1974, when she and Jim returned to the family farming operation.
Both Jim and Mim say their long family history in farming — his family moved in 1884 to the farm where their daughter, Lori, and her family now live, and Mim’s great grandparents got their start near Leonaradville around the same time — has been one key to their success.
Because of family support and role models, both grew up with an understanding of the importance of family time, education, a church community and a willingness to try new things — along with a sense of persistence and urgency, both of which are important for successful farming.
They each came from a family of four children with parents who emphasized the importance of education. All of Mim’s siblings have college degrees and all of Jim’s have at least some college experience. They credit the skills they learned in college and in working off-farm jobs with positioning them for leadership in their community and in farm organizations.
Because of their own background, they emphasized the importance of education to their children.
Lori graduated from K-State in 1997 with a degree in modern languages and from Wichita State University with a master’s degree in communications. She spent a year as an exchange student in Giessen, Germany, which has led her to visit more than 30 countries. She worked as a 4-H extension agent in Butler County from 1997 to 1999.
Currently, she owns BowerComm Marketing Communications in Hutchinson. She serves as marketing consultant for the Kansas State Fair, Kansas Association of Corn Growers, Hutchinson Community Foundation and Western Kansas Community Foundation.
She is married to Derek Bower and they have two children, Mia, 7 and Ian, 3. Derek, a mechanical engineer by training, was raised in the suburbs of Chicago, graduated from the university of Illinois and left the corporate world to join the family farming operation in 2017.
GOING FOR A RIDE: What’s better than a little cousin time? Piled into the four-wheeler are Kara Nelson (left) Elise Nelson, Mia Bower and Dean Nelson, with Darren Nelson behind the wheel. The little tyke playing under the tree in the upper right of the photo is Mia’s little brother, Ian.
The Nolls' son, Darren, graduated from Kansas State with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2001. He earned an additional Professional Engineer credential in 2007. He and his wife, Michelle, have three children: Kara, 9, Dean, 7 and Elise, 6.
Darren worked at John Deere in Waterloo, Iowa after college and at Garmin in Kansas City while Michelle finished her nurse anesthetist degree. They returned to Hutchinson in 2008 and Darren joined the farm operation while also contract-engineering for Agco.
For the past three years, Darren has been on the engineering team at Tribine Harvester in addition to being a full partner on the farm. He worked to help develop the Tribine’s power train system and was a demonstrator at the Farm Progress Show and Husker Harvest Days in 2016 with Tribine.
Jim is currently transitioning farm management to Darren and Derek. Each have skills that suit them to certain roles in farm operation.
Darren is in charge of production, seed, chemical, fertilizer and purchases. He is responsible for spraying and overseeing planting and harvesting.
Derek is responsible for accounting and tracking chemicals, billing landowners and machinery repairs.
Jim is responsible for mentoring Derek, who is new to farming, as well as maintaining weed-free ditches and waterways.