America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers

Growing Efficiency

Dan Miller
By  Dan Miller , Progressive Farmer Senior Editor
Taylor Nelson evaluates and incorporates cutting-edge technologies on Nelson Farms, which is 9,000 acres, with a large, modern grain-handling facility. (Joel Reichenberger)

DTN/Progressive Farmer's America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers program profiles Taylor Nelson, Nelson Farms, South Sioux City, Nebraska.

A windshield survey of August corn from Nebraska state Highway 20 between South Sioux City and Jackson was dispiriting for Taylor Nelson. Corn visible from the two-lane road didn't look all that bad -- not great, not a calamity.

Deeper into the field, however, Nelson envisioned trouble. In those sections not irrigated, water beyond the reach of the root zone, the corn baked by a high sun and a scarcity of rain. "The corn is firing from the bottom and spends most afternoons with leaves rolled up tight and gray in color," he explains. "The areas with weaker soils are already showing signs of death, and those areas keep growing each day."

Last time he checked, April 1 to July 31, was the driest period the farm has ever seen. It didn't get better. Nelson made a call from the cab of his combine in early October. "Yields are off considerably, not as bad as we thought but into insurance territory."

About 40% of Nelson Farms 9,000 acres is irrigated, center pivots pulling from wells able to pump 800 to 2,000 gallons per minute. "We're able to take advantage of this resource and grow consistent crops," he says. With irrigation, the farm regularly sets yield goals for 250-bushel corn and 75-bushel soybeans.

Nelson farms with his father, Doug, and is the fifth-generation Nelson working the soils of Dixon, Dakota and Thurston counties. Portions of the farm's northern edges border one of the few remaining free-flowing segments of the Missouri River and, beyond that, South Dakota. The grain operation has ample storage and modern maintenance facilities that house top-line Deere tractors, combines and sprayers.


The Nelsons are fond of finding new efficiencies, and they found some in a self-built chemical load-out facility. It loads 4,800-gallon semitankers with field-ready spray batches in 15 minutes. They also are finding ways to match the logistics of grain-handling to harvest progress, using dumping facilities that allow a smaller truck fleet to keep up with large combines.

Taylor is married to Emily, who runs Orderly Elegance, a professional organizing business with a half-dozen employees serving clients in Nebraska, Iowa and South Dakota. Their two young children are Brock, 5, and Teagan, 3.

Emily's work ethic is second to none, Nelson says. But, family and friends are not lost in all the work. "Sometimes, it's easy to get tied up in constant business relationships and numbers, and she's always that person that remembers to send the card or the bouquet of flowers."


The Nelsons make family life a priority. "We have to be very deliberate about making time for family, because we're constantly engaged in phone calls and text messages, emails, whatever it is," Nelson says.

Emily and Taylor make time for one another, taking short vacations, even close to home. They schedule a weekly movie night -- popcorn, an animated movie. Just Taylor, Emily, Brock and Teagan. Phones and laptops are put away for the night. "That's kind of the point of movie night -- we're just going to sit and watch a simple movie, and life's going to be no more complicated than what candy or snack you want."

Nelson's farming story is one of a gradual move into the family business -- from graduating from the University of Nebraska to a multiyear run with Jackson Express, a fuel outlet in Jackson. Taylor and Emily built the business and operated it for eight years.

"Coming out of college in 2012, the land market felt pretty impenetrable," Nelson says. "I wanted a place to be able to apply my time and resources. We were able to really build a great business in our town."

The retail experience benefited the farm. "It taught us the valuable skill of managing through people instead of around people" and creating repeatable results.

"My goal has been to find a way [where] I could add value to the operation, not just from a labor standpoint but by finding strengths, figuring out how to create consistent, high-quality, repeatable results."

Nelson finds it in technology. If you ask him for his title, he will say chief technology officer. He'll say it with a smile, perhaps. But, it's a role that's important to the farm.

"We consider ourselves to be innovators and early adopters," he says. That includes folding many of Deere's newest technologies into management and operational functions -- field-data sharing, ExactEmerge, AutoPath, Combine Advisor, engaging Deere's Operations Center. The farm is working with Deere and its Blue River Technology arm on autonomy. "I'm very excited about the future potential it has to offer," he says.


Nelson believes technology brings opportunities for new efficiencies by automating mundane or simple tasks to smooth logistics and create consistent and high-quality outcomes while giving he and his father space to tackle new management priorities.

He points to autonomous grain carts as a technology he would bring to the farm. "Because of the high seasonal demand at harvest time, an autonomous grain cart solution would do us the greatest good," Nelson says. "Mainly that [because] we're looking at such a high demand for extra labor during that time period, and [an automated cart] helping alleviate the challenge in that space would be a huge benefit."

Nelson's utmost technological challenge is understanding not only what technology will do but also understanding its limitations. "We're just bombarded with different opportunities and technology, and you have to decide what fits," Nelson says. "We can make this thing so complex that every turn of the corner is more work, more complication, more granularity. In our operation, efficiency is top of mind."


-- Watch the video about Taylor Nelson at…

-- See all the 2023 America's Best Young Farmers and Ranchers Winners at…

-- Follow Dan Miller on Twitter @DMillerPF

-- Follow Joel Reichenberger on Twitter @JReichPF


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