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Celebrating May Beef Month

By Staff | May 8, 2009

Brent and LuAnn Johnson raise cattle on their Manson-area farm, which has been in the family more than a century.

By DARCY DOUGHERTY MAULSBY/Farm News staff writer

MANSON – For as long as anyone can remember, there have been cattle on Brent and LuAnn Johnson’s century farm in Calhoun County. The herd remains an integral part of the farm, which also includes 950 acres of corn, soybeans and hay and the Johnson’s thriving crop consulting business.

“Cattle still fit our operation and provide diversity,” said Brent Johnson, 36, a past president of the Calhoun County Farm Bureau who, along with LuAnn, received the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Young Farmer Achievement Award in 2007. The Johnsons were also awarded top honors at the 53rd annual National Outstanding Young Farmers Awards Congress held in Eugene, Ore., earlier this year.

Brent Johnson, who earned his agronomy degree from Iowa State University and started farming fulltime in 2000 after working as a co-op agronomist, runs 35 cow-calf pairs and finishes the Hereford-Angus cattle on a farm west of town. It’s the same location where his great-uncle Merlyn Groot, a long-time Farm Bureau leader, used to live.

Johnson uses a rotational grazing system with paddocks, although he is working towards dry-lotting the cattle. “We’re about halfway there,” he said. “I’m making the change to manage the cattle better and use our crop ground more efficiently.”

LuAnn Johnson handles the bookwork for the farm and the couple's other business, Labre Crop Consulting.

Conservation protects soil, water quality

Using the land more effectively also includes the conservation efforts that distinguished the Johnsons for the national award, a competition based on finalists’ progress in an agricultural career, the extent of their soil and water conservation practices and their contributions to the well-being of the community, state and nation. In recent years, the Johnsons have added wetlands and filter strips, where appropriate, on the land they farm.

They’ve also installed buffer strips along dredge ditches on the property, which is part of the Raccoon River Watershed, and switched to 100 percent strip-till system a year and a half ago. By this fall, they will be able to do variable-rate applications for phosphorus, potassium and nitrogen in one pass.

Their primary landlord, Vara Groot, has been supportive of these efforts, said Johnson, who notes that these conservation practices help control soil erosion while protecting water quality. “We are raising our children and building a business here, we can’t be sustainable for the long-term if we’re not sustainable with our farming practices in the short term,” added Johnson, a 1991 graduate of Manson Northwest Webster High School.

This philosophy is one of the many reasons why the Johnsons are an asset to Calhoun County and Iowa agriculture, said Jerry Chizek, director of Calhoun County Extension. “The Johnsons are not afraid of trying new farming practices such as strip-till and precision agriculture technologies. They understand the importance of using a variety of conservation practices on their farm, and they are an example for other young farmer couples to follow.”

The Johnsons are working towards dry-lotting their cattle to manage the herd better and use their crop ground more efficiently.

Giving back to the local community

Although their cattle, row-crop operation, consulting business and three children – Greg, 16, Matt, 13, and Kaeli, 5 – keep the Johnsons extremely busy, the couple makes time to give back to the community. Brent is a member of the Manson Northwest Webster school board and serves on Manson’s Economic Development Committee.

LuAnn, a commercial artist by training who has painted murals in downtown Manson, as well as at the local school, serves on the Manson-area Visioning Committee, which is organized in partnership with ISU Extension.

This commitment to living and working in rural Iowa is helping Johnson fulfill a lifelong dream.

“I’ve wanted to farm ever since I was a little kid,” he said. “We’re always keeping our eyes open for new opportunities in all areas of our business, such as feeding distiller’s dried grains in the cattle rations.”

The Johnsons say they’ll continue to adapt their cattle operation to remain competitive and have no plans to exit the livestock industry. “I especially enjoy the baby calves,” said LuAnn Johnson, who helps with the fieldwork and handles the farm bookkeeping. “It wouldn’t be right if the cattle weren’t here.”

Contact Darcy Dougherty Maulsby by e-mail at yettergirl@yahoo.com.

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