‘We picked ear by ear’
An old farm adage says "It's all in the barn."
This means that the crops are out of the field and the harvest is finished for another year.
Mervin Nelson, 95, of rural Blooming Prairie, just completed his 73rd harvest. The corn is in the bin and now Nelson is heading to his winter solace in Mesa, Ariz., where he will remain until next April. He turns 96 in February.
This tall, stately farmer grew up in southwest Iowa near Audubon and moved to Blooming Prairie in 1945, the year World War II ended.
Nelson, known to many as Merv, picked corn by hand and remembers vividly using horses and a wagon to bring in the fall corn crop.
Those were the days when a farmer would have a team of horses leading a one-row cultivator. "Farmers don't even cultivate now," Merv says, and it used to be that you would spread fertilizer on the whole field but it has become more selective," said his son Brian. "Manure was our fertilizer," Merv interjects.
Harvesting has now gone from horses to the GPS. "I harnessed a good number of horses when I was younger," Merv says.
With a glimmer of pride in his eyes, Merv says he helped his father pick corn by hand. "We would start the first part of October and finished just before Thanksgiving," he recalls.
During the corn harvest season, Merv picked 5,000 bushel by hand and his father did 3,000 bushel over their 120 acres of farm land.
"They did 5,000 bushels in a season and we now can pick 5,000 bushels in two hours," said Brian, who farms a large operation spanning thousands of acres near Blooming Prairie. Brian and his wife Lois live in the city of Blooming Prairie.
Asked how long he plans to continue helping with the corn harvest, Merv replies hopefully, "As long as I can."
Merv admits he is not as sharp as he once was, but one would never know that he has had two hip surgeries. He still lives on the family farm, which he came to know at age 23 when he moved with his parents to Blooming Prairie.
Merv said his parents moved to BP because they were renting farmland in Iowa and could obtain their own farm land at a more reasonable price.
The Nelsons purchased a 160-acre tract, which included the two-story house he currently inhabits. The great grandfather of Brian's wife Lois, sold the farm to Merv's grandfather, Antoine (Tony).
Brian's son Anthony likely will continue the Nelson generations of farming.
Merv and his wife Bernice who were married in 1958 had three children, Brian, Bruce and Rodney. Rodney Nelson died from injuries suffered in a motorcycle crash June 16, 2009. Merv has five grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
During this year's harvest, Merv said he never seen yields so high. He said he saw corn in the 250-bushel-to-the-acre range and beans in the 80-bushel to the acre productivity.
Much of the Nelson corn and soybean crops goes to the Lansing Elevator, to the ethanol plant in Claremont or to Sun Opta in Blooming Prairie.
"I didn't know what a fertilizer attachment was when I farmed in Iowa," Merv relates.
Merv loves the new electronically advanced farm equipment. "You can
put the combine on auto star and read the newspaper until you have to turn and go another direction," Merv acknowledges.
Satellites have made farm work easier for farmers, both Nelsons attest. "Make the turn in the field, hit resume and the corn harvest will end up perfect," Brian said.
"Here's my computer," Merv chuckles as he takes out his old rendition of a cell phone.
Merv has wintered in Arizona for nearly 40 years. He enjoys the warmer climate, drinking coffee, playing shuffleboard, playing cards and sitting in the sun. "I have some real good neighbors," Merv affirms.
He goes to his favorite restaurant, the Red Mountain Cafe, every day. Merv still drives and even rode bicycle until two years ago.
He could have been killed in a bicycle accident 10 years ago when he was broad-sided by a motorist. He spent three to four days in a hospital. "I was black and blue from head to toe," he said.
Brian said his father combined close to 800 acres of corn this fall. Brian often opens the field for his father and then lets him go at his own speed.
Rain and more rain delayed the corn harvest this year but a break in the weather allowed Merv and his son Brian and his workers the opportunity to finish the harvest prior to Thanksgiving.
Brian said "it's awesome" to farm with his father, "and, better yet, it's special when my son is out there too."
Merv said he enjoys having his grandchildren ride along in the combine. "I remember Anthony asking for a 'nicker' bar when he was younger and riding along in the tractor."
Merv said he feels fortunate to have experienced good health most of his years. "I've never really been sick but have had whooping cough, scarlet fever and the measles," he related.
Merv will return to Blooming Prairie next April and then will be only five months away from another harvest, his 74th.