At last check, the Nielsen family was growing crops, raising hogs, showing pigs, hauling manure, spraying crops, selling seed, and renting out picnic tables. A few years ago, you would have found them selling pork chops, too, but they sold that business to free up some time for show pig travel.
“We get a lot of help from family and a lot of good people,” says John Nielsen, whose grandpa put everything in motion a long time ago with 80 acres and some pigs. Earlier this year, John and his son Luke sat down to share some stories and talk seed ahead of picking up their Yieldmaster contest hardware.
John, Luke, John’s other son, Matt, and their wives and kids and in-laws manage about 5,000 acres of crops, including complete custom work, and finish 42,000 pigs annually out of Albert Lea, Minn.
Luke’s son, Alex, is 17 years old and helps on the farm. Same for his daughter, Lindsay, who’s 14. “They help with pretty much everything,” Luke says. Luke’s other daughter, nine-year-old Sadie, aka Little Pig or LP for short, along with Matt’s six-year-old daughter, Skylar, both already enjoy showing pigs along with the crew.
“I have eight grandkids,” Johns says, “and they all like being around the livestock for the most part. It’s almost a sure bet some will follow in our footsteps.”
That’s not bad for a farmer whose wife didn’t want to marry a farmer. Sue Nielsen once told John she would never marry a farmer. She grew up on a dairy farm but did not like farming. John is quick to point out with a smile that when they got married, he wasn’t a farmer.
Sue had a big role in getting the farm up and running. She also worked 40 years at Hormel Foods and the University of Minnesota. Luke’s wife, Katie, works for the school district as a school social worker and helps with any aspect of the farm, and Matt’s wife, Jess, works for a local vet clinic and enjoys horses.
Seed sales at Nielsen began in the early ‘80s with Jacques Seed Corn Company. “That was quite a story,” John laughs. “I won a planter full of Jacques at a farm fest. I only had 80 acres of land, and that much seed would have planted all my corn acres, plus I didn’t know diddly about Jacques, so I was pretty leery about planting it.”
As they say, the rest is history, just like Jacques. Seed company names have changed, but the Nielsen’s way of doing business is the same. “Treat people nice,” says Luke. “You know, it’s really, it’s all about relationships.”
Give them good seed too. Last season, DS-4510Q™ brand corn was very good. So was HiDF-3855™ brand, “which is why we’re accepting a yield award for it at Key Producer Summit,” Luke says. DSR-1290E™ brand beans performed well. “We won a yield contest with them too.”
It’s show pig time!
Not only do the Nielsens enjoy selling seed and working fields, but they also raise hogs and love to show pigs. All summer long, they hit the state and county fairs and different jackpot shows.
“Probably the highlight of our showing career so far was in 2021,” says Luke, “when we watched Alex win reserve overall barrow at the Minnesota State Fair. After he won, we ran to the coliseum and watched my daughter walk in with her heifer and win champion overall Supreme Heifer at Minnesota State Fair. It was kind of a surreal.”
The family used to operate a pork chop stand for about 12 years at their local county fair. “Hog John’s, we called it. We sold pork chops just because we were always at the fair and we enjoyed it, right by the beer garden, so you couldn’t beat it,” Luke says. “It was fun but tiring. We sold the business because the kids started showing a lot.”
By the way, if you’re having a party and need picnic tables, call Luke. They have a rental business and would be happy to help you out.
On the hog production side of things, a typical morning starts at about 3:30, with loading hogs onto a truck to be at the packer by 6 a.m. The Nielsens are also in the process of building a sow unit with eight other families.
Alex helps with loading, and he walks some of their hog barns each morning before school to check on the animals. He’s looking for coughing pigs, checking temperature controls, and making sure all feed lines and waters are working.
Recalling how old Luke was when he started working in the barns, John motions with his hand to about thigh height.
“Our whole family works together,” John says. “My wife, my kids, their wives, and their kids. Some people only get together on Thanksgiving and Christmas. We’re together seven days a week and live 10 to 15 miles apart.”
John says that in their free time, he and Sue like to go up north to the cabin they bought a few years back and enjoy taking the grandkids fishing or tubing on their quiet and peaceful lake. But in the winter, you will find them heading in the other direction. Arizona or bust, Sue says. She enjoys the sun and pool on cold Minnesota days. “Make the best of what you do and enjoy it, that’s what we live for,” John says.
Regardless, whether near or far, the Nielsens stick together. They truly are one big happy family.