Cody Nelson’s dream of farming and ranching is being paved by his passion for helping others.
That journey began when he was growing up on a small cow/calf operation in Central Minnesota, “We were not exactly in cow country when I was growing up surrounded by corn, soybeans and sugar beets. My dad had quit farming in the 1980s, but we kept a registered Shorthorn operation going and my mom and dad worked off the farm. I spent my years working for neighboring farmers and spent a lot of time on different operations – from row crops to dairies.”
After high school, Nelson attended Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa where he earned a degree in Beef Production. He eventually started his own cow/calf operation in Renville, Minn. with two other partners, “We farmed about 800 acres and had around 300 cows. I had a partner focused on high-yields and I was focused more on profits. There would be arguments over issues like whether we should till the cornstalks or not. I was always looking at it that we were wasting feed if we tilled them. They were looking at it as they had always done it that way. That was before I understood the value of soil health.”
In 2008, Nelson said they tried cover crops. The partnership would always grow oats and chop them for silage, “This made exceptional feed for growing cattle and the bulls performed very well on the oat silage. The first year we did cover crops was in early August. I was out with the drill and three neighbors stopped me and said, ‘You cannot plant anything in August. It won’t grow.’ A part of me agreed with them, but I proved them wrong and myself when the oats and wheat got waist high. Then we brought a bunch of cows home and it rained about a week and they laid everything down flat. That was what would at first seem like my first big ‘failure’ in cover crops, but it was more a grazing management issue than a cover crop issue. That next year we experienced some of the greatest yields in our soybeans that we have ever seen.”
“My neighbor, Grant Breitkreutz, introduced me to high-stock-density-grazing during this time. We added peas and turnips the second year. On the cover crop alone, we netted over $300 in comparison to feeding cows in a dry lot,” he said. “It’s about net profit-per-acre, not just high yields.”
During this time, Nelson also met his wife Melanie (Mel) who was from Nebraska and the couple married in 2010, “As the partnership grew, we also had a seed business, sold some chemicals, fertilizer, feed, bulls and other seed stock and had the cow/calf operation. The soil health was one of the key drivers for me. I wanted to answer the questions – ‘Why are the cows getting better with cover crops? Why are we getting bigger yields after cover crops?’ We were always told to allow the land to rest. But I have learned that is not true. We need to heal it by growing plants on it as much as we can.”
As Nelson continued to become increasingly passionate about net-profits and building soils, the partnership ended up splitting up and he continued with his cow/calf operation and served as a manager for both a national and local seed company. These positions only expanded his view of agriculture and soil health even more, “My soil health knowledge really picked up by working with, and learning from, farmers all over the country. I was able to visit areas like Pennsylvania that were years ahead of us and spent some time through the Mid-South helping some producers get things rolling and all the way through the entire Midwest.”
All of that learning and connecting with other farmers and ranchers, led to Nelson putting the knowledge he had gained into a cover crop calculator, “I began using the cover crop calculator to work with farmers, identify resource concerns and to help set their operations up for success and prevent failures. I used the tool to save producers a lot of money as well. Then a farmer in Minnesota told me, ‘I think you have a business here helping people be more profitable.’”
“During this time, I was out for supper with Mel one night and we were talking about the potential of a business name and she said, ‘How about SoilRX? You could be the soil doctor.’ I thought that sounded pretty cool and we went with it,” Nelson said.
On January 1, 2019 Nelson began his venture full time, “I really want to help others. We are all going to be in a better situation if everyone adapts to these soil health principles. It affects everyone. We need to improve water quality and the nutrient density of our food and through these practices we are going to see that happen.”
Kudos to entrepreneurs like these for transforming their dreams into a viable business that helps others. So many opportunities in agriculture! Transforming the soil really does transform life.