Father and son farmer partners Gary and Dave Nelson manage the Iowa Learning Farms demonstration site at the Ann Smeltzer Charitable Trust Farm, near Otho.
The Smeltzer Farm, located southeast of Fort Dodge, is a multi-faceted farm containing almost every conservation structure and practice. From streambank stabilization to terraces, grassed waterways, a bioreactor, and farming practice demonstrations including no-till, strip-till and cover crops, the Smeltzer farm serves as a learning tool for farmers. Visitors can come out to see how things are implemented, how the crops are growing and can get pointers from the Nelsons and the members of the Smeltzer advisory board. The county naturalist, NRCS conservationist and ISU Extension specialists all work together with the Nelsons to make this farm successful.
Gary farmed for Mrs. Smeltzer for 15 years prior to her death. He says that he “got her feel for conservation. She was a leader for her time, and the board that oversees the farm has great insight.” Gary is also a real estate appraiser and sees the value of good topsoil as he travels the state. “I’ve seen farms with really rich black soil and I’ve appraised farms where there is no top soil and not tillable. It makes me realize how lucky we are with our rich, black soils and we need to keep them there.”
Son Dave also farms at Smeltzer and sees the benefits of conservation-minded farming, “You’re not driving tractors and blowing the black smoke and pulling big implements. You are not doing that big horsepower operation. It’s an easy step once we evaluated what we were doing with the soil (using full tillage).”
The Nelsons are participating in the ILF/PFI cover crop project at the Smeltzer farm. They plant winter rye on the Smeltzer plots and aerially-seeded winter rye on their family farm prior to harvest.
Dave and his wife Fonda, and Gary along with his wife, Karma, farm their family century farm, established in 1889. Dave also owns Brokaw Supply Co. in Fort Dodge, a fertilizer equipment dealership.
Dave Nelson (center facing camera) talks with field day attendees about strip-tillage at an ILF field day held at the Smeltzer Farm in July 2011.
In 2012, the Nelson Family Farms were one of the families to receive the first annual Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award, given by Gov. Branstad at the Iowa State Fair. The Nelsons use several conservation practices on their family farm as well as the Smeltzer farm.