For more than 40 years Wally Nelson has influenced agriculture in southwest Minnesota and at the University of Minnesota by guiding the Southwest Research and Outreach Center while profoundly affecting the farmers, agribusinesses and people in the community and beyond.
Wallace W. Nelson was born and raised on a farm near Walnut Grove and has lived his entire life in Minnesota, except for two years of service in the Navy during World War II. He received his bachelor’s degree in soil science in 1950 and his Ph.D. in 1956, both from the University of Minnesota. In 1953, he joined the university faculty and became assistant superintendent and agronomist at the former Northeast Experiment Station near Duluth. He played a major role in establishing the Southwest Research and Outreach Center in Lamberton and was superintendent there from its inception in 1959 until his retirement in 1993.
Through the field days and meetings he organized at the center, Nelson developed a vibrant connection with farmers and agribusiness leaders as well as university faculty and staff. His leadership led to integration among research areas in crop production. Professionals and farmers wanted to hear about cutting-edge research and to listen to Nelson’s advice regarding innovative crop production, soil management and environmental research projects.
Nelson was committed to making sure that faculty and scientists understood farmers’ real problems and that research outputs were focused on solving them. As former Regent Verne Long said, “he seemed to have the uncanny ability to anticipate serious and important challenges that appeared on the horizon about a year before those challenges became real, serious problems.”
In addition to his leadership at Lamberton, Nelson was an accomplished ambassador who actively recruited students to attend the University of Minnesota by introducing students and their parents to faculty and staff, sometimes taking them to the St. Paul campus and even hiring them for summer employment. He also was involved in many community projects.
His career honors include being named a Fellow of the American Society of Agronomy as well as professor emeritus, and distinguished alumni award from the University.