Mike, Amanda and Owen, 5, Nelson stand on their farm north-west of Paxton. Fifth-generation farmer Mike heard a Farm Credit Illinois award for his dedication to building the future of farming; and he hopes his son will be the sixth generation Nelson farming the land.

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A Paxton area farmer has been recognized for his dedication to the future of farming. Mike Nelson has earned recognition from Farm Credit Illinois by being named a FreshRoots Directors Cup honoree — one of six. The Directors Cup presented by the cooperative Board of Directors celebrates young and beginning farmers committed to continuous learning and intentional living for a brighter future for their farm family business and community, according to the news release. Honorees receive $5,000 and a commemorative keepsake. Co-operative members were selected by a panel of seven industry representatives– including one FCI Board member – based on a combination of each applicant’s unique farm beginnings, personal and business aspirations, and passion for building a brighter future for their farm business and community. The Directors Cup award is part of the FreshRoots young and beginning farmers program, which provides lending assistance and learning incentives to farmers up to age 40 or in their first 10 years of farming. Nelson said, “Farm Credit Illinois started the ‘Fresh- Roots’ program a couple years ago. It is designed to help young and beginning farmers get started by providing increased lending assistance, educational opportunities, and helps to encourage a healthy relationship between a farmer and their lender. The ‘Directors Cup’ award, is a way to recognize individuals from within this group that stand out for their growth, commitment to continuous learning, and efforts to build a brighter future for their farm family business and community.”

Fifth generation farmer, Nelson, 34, farms 2,500 acres northwest of Paxton. He works along side his father, Rick Nelson, along with seasonal help.

“My great-great grandfather, John Nelson, came over from Sweden and began farming here in 1910. Since that time, farming has always been in the

family. There has been a Nelson living and farming here starting with John, then passing to my great-grandfather Ellven (hallelujah), then my grandfather Stan, and currently my father Rick.

“My wife and I intend to continue this tradition and move onto the home farm at some point in the future. Like many other farm kids, you could say I was involved since the time I could walk, working as an employee on the farm for many years, but I actually began farming myself in 2013. My wife and I have one son, Owen (5 years old). While it’s too early to tell for sure, he already shows interest in the farm. If able, I would be extremely proud to continue this tradition and hand it off to the next generation at some point.”

And thus his interest in the sustainability of farming. His focus is on corn and soybeans, as that’s what’s grown on his farm.

“We’re constantly evaluating farming practices and how they work for us locally. Specifically, we have been studying nitrogen application requirements for a corn crop. Nitrogen is a key nutrient required for growing corn, but it is also very mobile in the soil, and has been under pressure for its potential to adversely affect the environment when found in excess concentrations. It’s easy to point the finger at farmers over environmental concerns. However, a farmer’s livelihood revolves around the ground he farms and therefor, I would argue that farmers, as a whole, are some of the most environmentally conscious individuals you will meet. What we have been finding through our nitrogen studies is that we have been able to grow the same crop while applying less nitrogen than what was previously thought to be required. Efforts and studies such as this are prime examples of how farmers are trying to be proactive in caring for the environment while still remaining economically viable.

Regarding the financial outlook for agriculture “In the current environment, honing skills like grain marketing can be crucial to success,” said Nelson. “I’ve invested a large amount of time studying the markets and this has transformed me into a more capable and knowledgeable grain marketer and boosted our bottom line.”

When asked what the future of farming looks like, Nelson commented, “If you look around the world we live in today, you will see that data is being collected on anything and everything. Farming is no different. Most tractors running through the fields now are equipped with technology and field computers that are constantly recording more data than you would want to imagine. While this isn’t exactly new, the push now is how to take all of that data and process it into something that makes a difference for your bottom line. Farmers everywhere will tell you that not all farms produce equally, and the same is true site specifically within a field. Soils considered to be the same soil type can vary a lot, and broad recommendations don’t always work the same on your specific fields. The concept of “site specific” farming is nothing new either, but the level of data that has been and is continuing to be collected, in conjunction with the technology and processing power available today will be driving this to new levels in the future. This technology, working hand in hand with research, such as our nitrogen studies, will allow a machine to run through the field automatically applying only what is needed, where it is needed, and ideally exactly at the right time it is needed.”