When Taylor Nelson of Jackson, Nebraska, graduated from UNL in 2012, the farm economy was on fire. Rents and land values were increasing at an unprecedented rate and farmers were snapping up every opportunity they could. The stakes were high and the market seemed impenetrable for a young man to return to the family farm full-time. So, the Nelson family got together and came up with a unique way to bring Taylor back to Jackson.
Nelson and his father share a passion for the ethanol industry and the many benefits that stem from it. While many of those benefits affect farming directly, they saw a different opportunity in Jackson.
“I needed a way to apply my time and management skills in a way that would lead to my ticket to being able to farm,” he said. “We saw a strong need for a convenience store in the community—and the ability to leverage our commitment to ethanol by offering higher ethanol blends to customers made a lot of sense.”
The family established Jackson Express, a C-store Nelson managed until the time was right to start farming full-time. “Jackson Express was a strategic move to help me start a business, build equity and be in a better position to enter the farming operation when the ag economy allowed,” he said. As he has transitioned into the farming operation, Nelson’s wife Emily has assumed management responsibilities at Jackson Express.
The Nelson farm is structured as three separate sole proprietorships, though they realize the importance of planning for the transition of farm ownership as two of the three prepare for retirement. Jackson Express is set up as a separate legal entity.
Managing a multi-generational farm has its advantages and challenges. “We really have to work together to communicate when it comes to making decisions because we all have different perspectives,” he said. “I’m making decisions today with a 40-year vision, where my dad and uncle have a shorter horizon and might be content with doing things the way they are.”
That long-term outlook includes an unwavering commitment to constant improvement and a dedication to stewardship. “Nitrogen use efficiency and water usage are areas in which we’re continually looking to improve,” Nelson said. “Our nitrogen use rates per bushel of corn we
produce are the lowest they’ve ever been, which is a benefit in terms of both economics and sustainability. If you’re not in the top third in efficiency and productivity, you struggle to compete in today’s environment.”
“We’re also paying a lot more attention to the health of our soils,” he added. “We’re not just looking at the chemistry of soils, but also biological factors such as organic matter, microbial populations, naturally occurring fungi, mineralization and the interaction between air and soil by managing compaction.”
Nelson wants consumers to understand that farmers are passionate about what they do and are dedicated to being responsible producers. “Farming is not just an economic opportunity. It’s not just a job or a way to make money. Farming is who we are and a way of life,” he said.