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Benson farm reaches 138 years of family ownership in Rock County

Siblings Bert and Ethel known for treats of 7-Up and butterscotch candies.

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Eric and his dad, Tim, Benson stand in front of the large house on the Benson farm, built around 1900. The farm was settled by Nels Benson 138 years ago. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)
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GARRETSON, S.D. — Located on the far western edge of Rock County — so far, in fact, that their mailing address is Garretson, South Dakota — the descendants of Nels Benson continue to farm a quarter section of land that has been in their family for 138 years.

Nels Benson emigrated from Telemark, Norway when he was 27 years old after his family endured years of the European potato failure. He made the trek alone, and settled in the southwest quarter of Springwater Township Section 30, Rock County, after acquiring his land from the United States.

“He took out a mortgage on the land with Ormsby Brothers,” said Eric Benson, the great-great grandson of Nels and owner of the Benson farm since last year.

After arriving in America, Nels met and married Esthru (Astrid), another Norwegian immigrant, and they made their home in rural Rock County, raising eight children.

One of the family’s prized documents is a letter written by Esthru’s pastor in Norwegian, saying her family were good people and to be trusted. With the letter is a family tree of the John Johnson family, of which she was a daughter.

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Nels and Esthru constructed the home that still stands today on the Benson farm and is home to Eric Benson and his family. It’s believed the house was built around 1900, though it isn’t known what was used for living quarters prior to that.

After Esthru died in 1926, Nels continued to farm the land until his death in 1934. Their son, Bert, took ownership of the land at that point. It’s believed he purchased it from his siblings.

Thirty-four years after Bert gained ownership of the land and spent those years farming, his sister, Ethel, became its owner when he died in 1970. The two had lived together on the farm all those years, doing a major renovation and addition to the house in the 1950s.

“They were more like grandparents to me,” shared Tim Benson, Eric’s dad. “My grandfather I never knew, and my grandmother lived in Sioux Falls. We used to come to Bert and Ethel’s for 7-Up and butterscotch candies.”

Tim’s parents were Arthur “Nels” and Gladys Benson, and it was Gladys who became the farm’s fourth owner in 1974. Gladys, however, didn’t live on the acreage, selling it to son Tim and his new bride, JoEllen, after they were married in 1976. While Tim farmed the land, he had a contract for deed arrangement with his mom. Gladys died in 2009, and it wasn’t until 2020 that Tim and Eric each purchased half of the farm to keep it in the family.

Tim and JoEllen raised three children on the Benson farm in Springwater Township, in addition to feeding cattle, raising stock cows and finishing hogs. They quit raising hogs in about 1994, and the last of the cattle left the farm a decade ago, about the same time they built a new machine shed/shop on the farm.

Today, the Bensons grow corn, soybeans and alfalfa. They use variable rate fertilizer, variable rate planting, yield mapping and section control on their sprayer.

“We practice minimum tillage on the farm,” Tim shared, adding that they have incorporated some terraces and contours into the land. “This year we actually no-tilled some because it was so dry.”

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They market their grain to CHS in Jasper, New Vision Co-op in Hills and Beaver Creek, and the ethanol plant in Luverne. They are invested in Minnesota Soybean Processors in Brewster, but because of the distance they don’t typically market their beans there.

For Eric, who grew up on the newly designated century farm, seeing it recognized for its history was important.

“I just want the people before me to be recognized,” he said, adding that the farmland is the most productive of the land they farm.

Eric and his wife, Adria, live on the homestead where they are raising the sixth generation of Bensons to call the land home. They have a son, Gus, who will be two in July, and are expecting twins within the month.

Some day, they will be exploring the farm just as Eric did as a child. He was the youngest of three kids with two older sisters.

“I had a treehouse in the grove,” Eric said. “It was fun to learn to drive tractors and all of that.

“The JD2940 was the first thing I really learned how to drive,” he added. “I suppose I’ve been on 100 tractors over time, but that’s the one I’ll remember.”

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Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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