Stories in Washington

Andrew Nelson: Futurist Farmer Bridging Technology and Agriculture

By Anya Blaney

Andrew Nelson walks through a field of golden wheat.
Andrew Nelson Andrew is a fifth-generation wheat farmer and first-generation software engineer who is equally at home riding a tractor to sow his fields and writing code for tech giants. © Andrew Nelson

Andrew Nelson is a fifth-generation wheat farmer and first-generation software engineer who is equally at home riding a tractor to sow his fields and writing code for tech giants like Microsoft—or doing both in one day. Born and raised on his parent's farm, Andrew's deep appreciation for the land and desire to leave a better world for future generations have inspired him to marry high-tech with homesteading.

“Growing up on the farm, my dad and grandpa taught me that you should try to make your farmland better for the future,” Andrew said while on his tractor, speaking over a Starlink Internet connection. “My parents first had a homestead in Iowa and moved it to Washington to produce more food as the world expanded. As a farmer, I want to find ways to make the earth better than I came to it, and the software part of me wants to make continual improvements.”

Andrew Nelson walks through a field of golden wheat.
Andrew Nelson TNC trustee Andrew Nelson walks through a field of wheat on his farm. © Andrew Nelson

As an agriculture professional with boots on the soil, Andrew believes that farmers should not just produce food, but should have a seat at the table wherever sustainability decision-making is happening. He brings that perspective to the board of The Nature Conservancy (TNC) in Washington.

“First and foremost, farmers can help with environmental conservation by maintaining healthy soil to increase yields, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach,” Andrew said. “We have different climates in the U.S., and I want to make sure that voices in rural areas are heard on the TNC board.”

Andrew’s scientific approach developed at a young age, when he began tinkering with technology at his family homestead. For example, when he was in middle school, he built a working television in his room by reusing a broken TV set sitting in the farm shop and stringing it to an antenna through his bedroom wall. To this day, his colleagues describe Andrew as “curious” with a streak for ingenuity.

Andrew currently presides over Nelson Farms and Silver Creek Farms, an expansive enterprise spanning more than 7,500 acres and a diverse array of crops, including wheat, lentils, peas, garbanzo beans, canola, barley and nursery stock trees. To efficiently run the farm and to “balance financial and ecological sustainability,” he has been gradually ramping up technological experiments. He marries cutting-edge technology with timeless wisdom about the land inherited through generations. Andrew has run dozens of experiments with drones, satellite mapping for field seeding and fertilizing, weather sensors and artificial intelligence to feed Washington State and keep his farm resilient to climate change. Technology is a necessity on growing farms; while Andrew’s grandfather could manage his 320-acre plot manually, technology allows the family’s farm to scale and remain productive.

“I’ve loved computers ever since I was a little kid rewiring my parents’ TV,” Andrew said. “I had a vision that I could use more computers on the farm. I got into software engineering because I like to develop quickly and do rapid prototypes. In farming, you think in years, not months, while in software you think in months or less. I needed both mindsets to make a big impact on the farm.”

Beyond his agricultural success, Andrew has carved a niche in software engineering. Through his enterprise, Nelson Professional Consulting, he assists businesses and startups in navigating their technology needs. Notably, his innovative use of technology on his farm has earned him recognition in GeekWire, Emerging Tech Brew, Microsoft News and other platforms. He also works with colleges and universities, including Washington State University, University of Washington, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Cornell.

Andrew Nelson stands next to a black pickup truck parked next to a wheat field and flies a drone over the bed of the truck.
Cutting Edge Andrew brings his farming and his passion for technology together using drones to monitor progress across the landscape. © Andrew Nelson

The scope of Andrew Nelson's accomplishments transcends to the forward-thinking startup space. As an advisor to Innov8 Ag, a company specializing in solutions for permanent crops, and Flox, a wildlife management enterprise hailing from Sweden, he collaborates with fellow farmers and visionary leaders, collectively working toward shaping a brighter future. Acknowledging the power of collective progress, Nelson understands that the cumulative impact of incremental improvements among farmers can effect monumental change.

Andrew keeps a weekly photo journal to track the large-scale effects of his progress. Using a cell phone, DSLR camera or drone, he takes photos of his fields and operations to encourage him to keep going when times are tough. “Sometimes I feel like I’m wasting time until I look at pictures from the last two years, and having documentation on how things are changing is so helpful to me—it shows that as long as you keep striving for something better, you will get better over the years, even if it doesn’t feel like much at the time.”

An innate curiosity to hear multiple viewpoints to gather data is key to Andrew’s work as a TNC trustee. “I love to learn,” he said. “That’s why I love working with TNC, because I get to learn about so many different people with varying viewpoints.”

Andrew and The Nature Conservancy joined forces for the Climate Smart Partnership Initiative, which catalyzes investment in food producers and testing new ideas to benefit farms and ranches. Going forward, he hopes to raise the voices of diverse farmers and help lobby for change.

As an advocate for sustainable farming, Andrew firmly believes that employing technology to maximize productivity on every acre and optimize the growth of each plant holds the key to success. By leveraging tech innovations to monitor his fields meticulously, Andrew ensures that crop protection and seed application remain optimal. Pioneering experimentation with advanced sensors capable of detecting airborne fungal spores further exemplifies his dedication to achieving the highest possible yields.

“I want to make sure that every acre and every plant is as productive as possible,” Andrew said. “The fewer acres that are needed to grow food, the more can be saved for conservation. Technology helps me make sure that everything I do on my farm works toward that goal.”

At his core, Andrew is a family man with a love for his close-knit community. His innovative business practices foster meaningful connections between farmers, startups and enterprises. Ever the pragmatist, he understands that in the fight against climate change, and in the face of the unpredictable and powerful forces of nature, you need to “have your village help you.”