Farming is oftentimes a family affair.. That is no different in my family. I have been raised on a family farm all of my life, and I believe agriculture has shaped me into the man I am. That being said, I thought I would take a moment from the outside looking in, to tour the history of family farms.
Family farms have been known to be decreasing for centuries. To offset this decrease, family farms have instead become larger in size. In order for family farms to stay profitable they have had to increase in size to decrease their per acre expenses. It is rare to find family farms that house a wide variety of livestock. Instead it specializes on what it is best at and focuses on maximizing that enterprise.
4 Nelson Farms all started when my great-great grandparents bought a house with additional farm land and later on handed it down to my great grandparents when they got married. In 1955, when my grandpa got out of the Army, he went back to continue working on the farm with his father and they farmed around 400 acres at the time. On the livestock side of things, they milked eight cows, fed out a few head of cattle, raised hogs in the field, and had chickens.
From that moment, the farm moved to where it currently stands when my great grandparents sold their farm in Abingdon and bought 215 acres of land. My great grandparents along with my grandparents farmed, and with this they were able to make half of the farm payments. My grandfather’s father had passed away when he was 57. Charles, my grandpa, then got half of the farm handed down to him. When my great-grandfather passed away, my grandpa had a harvestore put up in order to store some of the corn that was being harvested. When his mother had passed away, my grandparents got the other half of the farm and bought the land where my grandfathers parents had lived. My Uncle Keith stayed and helped farm after high school graduation. My grandparents had started purchasing and farming more ground in the 1970’s and when my Uncle Ken graduated from college he joined along the family farm. Following suit, my dad then joined the farm after attending Blackhawk College and participating in a wheat harvest one summer in Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma, etc. They had a partnership and paid out the profits at the end of the year. The corporation, 4 Nelson Farms Inc., was formed in 1990 so everyone would have a piece of the farm. We continued buying land and my Uncle Ken, along with my father bought ground to continue to expand. My grandpa had added along some of the first hog confinement barns in Knox County in 1969. We also had one of the first cattle confinement buildings in the area built around 1972.
Currently, the farm continues to expand and evolve. We now farm around 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans. We have also transitioned from farrowing our own hogs to being a wean to finish production partner with the Maschhoffs. Our hog confinement barns house around 18,000 head, and we care for them until they reach market weight. Our facilities have changed a lot as well. We have added two new hog confinement barns for our partnership with the Maschhoffs, and have also added another toolshed to store equipment. Just as other changes had been made on the production side, we have also put up a grain system and more grain bins. This has become a huge convenience, as we are now able to store our harvested crops on the farm instead of having to pay for it to be stored at a local grain elevator.
A lot can change when it comes to agriculture. Farms have to continue to evolve, and adapt to new advances in technology, but one thing I know will always remain at the farm I was raised on, is the tradition. We may not be the largest farm, but we are proud of the work we do and we continue to put blood, sweat, and tears into making it the most successful farm possible. One motto my father goes by when it comes to working on the farm is, “There is nothing as useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.” We focus on doing things that will only better the farm, and always have the farms interests and success in mind. The passion that my family has for agriculture is unlike anything I have seen, and I only hope to be able to continue my families legacy and follow my father’s footsteps of being great stewards of the land, and hard working farmer’s.
Family farms are the backbones of agriculture. According to the USDA 97% of farms are family owned, and though some may be small, the people in charge have a passion for agriculture that you can’t find anywhere else. They will put their lives on hold in order to tend to their land and livestock. A career in agriculture may not be the most high paying or glamorous job, but I believe it is the most rewarding. I hope to be able to carry on the tradition that has been created by my family, and would love nothing more than to be the next generation to carry the torch of the farms legacy along with my cousins. My grandpa unfortunately passed away a few years back, but my grandma believes that he would want his kids and grandkids to continue the farm’s legacy. “I’m sure his wish for the farm now would be for his sons to be able to have a place for their sons to farm if they wanted to. My dream is for 4 Nelson Farms to continue into the next generation, and generations to come.”
My name is Brent Nelson and I am from Altona, Illinois. I am a senior Agriculture Education major at Western Illinois University. I grew up on a hog confinement and row crop family farm. This is where my passion for agriculture has come from. I transferred to Western Illinois University from Black Hawk College East a year ago. I plan on student teaching next Spring semester, and can’t wait to start my career as a high school agriculture teacher and FFA advisor.