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June 01, 2011
Wally Nelson received Eldon Siehl prize
HULL, Iowa (STPNS) -- Wallace (Wally) Nelson, longtime superintendent of the Southwest Research and Outreach Center; Paul DeBriyn, president and chief executive officer of AgStar Financial Ser-vices; and James A. (Tony) Thompson, a Windom-area farmer who manages nearly 5,000 acres, were honored as Siehl Prize recipients on May 26.
Eldon Siehl, a New Ulm area livestock breeder and businessman, wanted the prize to honor achievements in agriculture. Each year, recipients are chosen for three categories: knowledge, production agriculture and agribusiness. Recipients receive a $50,000 award as well as a sculpture and lapel pin designed by Minnesota artist Thomas Rose.
Nelson moved with his wife, Arlene, and their two children into the farmhouse on what was to become the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in October 1959.
The farmer who had sold the land for the research station was still harvesting his crops, Nelson recalled recently. The farmer had moved out of the house, but had left his chickens and cattle.
"We moved in the house, my office until the next summer was one room in the basement, the only room that was cemented," Nelson said.
Arlene helped with some of the secretarial duties and even after the office was built, the phone for the station rang in their kitchen and bedroom when the office was closed.
They lived on the station for 29 years, raising their children there, until rules and regulations changed and they moved to town. It used to be that the superintendent had to live on the station, he said.
It was a good, positive thing to be so intimately involved with the station, Nelson said.
He came to Lamberton from the experiment station in Duluth, where he was an agronomist and assistant superintendent. He was there from 1953 until moving south.
His job was to build the station at Lamberton. He hired all the staff. He hired and trained technicians. He was the only academic on site for 10 or 12 years, but there were up to 55 project leaders from the St. Paul campus who put projects in at the station, Nelson said. The on-site technicians and graduate students who came out with the project leaders got the work done.
In the first years, they started research projects that continue to this day. They started some compaction work and urea research plots. As far as he knows, they are still in use, making them the oldest urea plots in the world. The plots have been in corn since 1956, at least, Nelson said. Also during those first years, they established an agricultural weather station. They measured soil temperatures, evaporation, frost depths and soil moisture in growing corn fields.
Nelson, a Walnut Grove native, was the face of the station, giving 30 to 40 talks a year to farm groups and with county agents. They held field days at the station to show what they were working on.
When he started in Lamberton, corn yields were 50 bushels per acre.
“So there's been some progress,” he said.
Integration was one of his key achievements, Nelson said.
His nominator agreed: “He not only took an active role in many research projects, but his greatest contribution was his ability to combine a clear understanding of the problem, a vision for the future and a motivating ‘can-do’ attitude into providing exceptional agricultural research leadership. He possessed a desire and an innate skill to bring scientists together to address research issues and facilitate research projects ina cooperative, integrative and multidisciplinary fashion.”
It was Nelson who made arrangements to rent 160 acres of land that had been operated in an organic fashion when the owner died in 1988. At the time, it was the purest organic farm in the nation operated by a research station, he said. It never had any fertilizer applied and herbicide applied twice on soybeans and spot sprayed on corn.
The station grew from 240 acres when he arrived in 1959 to 820 acres when he retired in 1993.
Arlene was an integral part of the whole operation, Nelson said. One of the profs called her Mrs. Lamberton. If dignitaries were out for the day, she’d have lunch in the house. They entertained everybody from the head of the Federal Reserve in Minne-apolis to Norman Borlaug and Eldon Siehl.
Siehl would come for lunch at noon, Nelson said. He was a cattle jockey at New Ulm and then he moved to the St. Cloud area and bought a contact lens factory. Then he bought a hobby farm down by Heron Lake.
Siehl died in the mid-1980s and Nelson managed his land holdings until the early 1990s. The proceeds from the sale of the land went to set up the Siehl Prize.
Siehl wasn’t a stuffy old philanthropist who sat and counted his nickels, Nelson said. He lived life to the fullest.
For Nelson, 83, that personal connection to Siehl makes the prize even more meaningful.
“It’s absolutely amazing (that he’s getting the prize),” Nelson said. “I never thought that could happen.”
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