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Finding happiness in agriculture

By Staff | Mar 11, 2011
Cassie Johnson, of rural Cushing, looks over her red and black Angus seed stock, a business she started while in FFA 10 years ago.
“(Farming) is a small world. The connections never leave you.” —Cassie Johnson Solution Genetics owner
Cassie Johnson prepares one of her red Angus breeding animals for shipment.
Calves from a herd sire named Rock Star.

By LARRY KERSHNER Farm News news editor CUSHING — She didn’t find “it” in sports during her high school years. She didn’t find “it” during a six-month stint as a grain merchandiser in Minneapolis, either. But Cassie Johnson, of rural Cushing, said she found happiness and contentment in returning to the family farm in Cushing Township in Northwest Ida County. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” she said. “I don’t care if I’m poor. I’m happy.” After graduating with an ag business degree from Iowa State University in 2007, Johnson has two ag businesses that she operates. The primary revenue stream is from Solution Genetics, breeding Red Angus cattle as seed stock; and Hired Hand Media, an outside enterprise that produces high-quality, slick-paper catalogues for cattle shows. “I didn’t realize it when growing up (on the farm),” Johnson said, “but when I saw city kids (at college and in Minneapolis), “I realized that farm life taught me lifelong lessons of work ethic and respecting elders and peers.” Johnson is the sixth generation of the Johnson clan to be earning a living from agriculture on the family farm site. She is the only child of Dan and Cheryl Johnson and said she is driven to succeed in cattle breeding. Her experiences of showing cattle in junior programs and FFA have given her a connection with other young farming professionals who are now assuming operation of their own family farms. “It’s a fraternity,” she said. “(Farming) is a small world. The connections never leave you. “There’s a comradery in the ag industry as a whole.” She said she is also appreciative to her parents and grandparents who have supportive of her goals and gave her the opportunity to return to the farm. “It makes me feel pretty fortunate,” Johnson said.

Red Angus is her start The Johnson family has long been in the beef animal business, with many of the years raising Limousine cattle. Growing up, however, Johnson said she was in numerous cattle shows and has shown the family breed, but also short horns, Maine-Anjou, black Angus rattling off a list too fast to record. “She showed everything,” said Cheryl Johnson. But in 2001, as a high school sophomore, Cassie Johnson was introduced to a red Angus heifer, named Bailey, from a seed stock producer in Wisconsin. She bought half interest in Bailey and found that working with this breed was ideal for her. “I was hooked,” Johnson said. The gentle disposition of the cattle and seeing “they were easy keepers and good, sound cattle” meant she was going to shift her allegiance to Bailey’s breed. Then Bailey, along with Johnson’s second red Angus heifer, both produced national champion females. And when a bull calf out of Bailey sold for $10,000 at auction, this was confirmation to Johnson that her red Angus decision was the right one.

Branding the biz From 2004 through 2008, Solution Genetics secured five straight national female champions, which has given them a high profile in the industry. As a result, said Cheryl johnson, Solution genetics “just kind of took off.” A student at River Valley High School in Correctionville, which had no ag curriculum, Cassie Johnson traveled 40 minutes daily to be part of the FFA program at Kingsley-Pierson school district. She formulated Solution Genetics as her required supervised agriculture experience project. The name reflects her mission, Johnson said, “of providing good, flexible seed stock for clients” and “to be the solution for their genetic problems.” In 10 years, Solution Genetics has grown from the first two heifers to a herd of 185 red Angus cow-calf herd and has expanded to 125 head of black Angus animals that were purchased from a Pennsylvannia grower. The herd’s genetics grow rapidly through embryo transfers — flushing and fertilizing eggs from donor cows and placing them in recip animals. Cassie Johnson said she wants to incorporate black Angus genetics into her red Angus cows, in order to expand the Angus gene pool in her red animals; a process that will be fulfilled in about three generations, she said. As the herd grew, Solution Genetics became a family enterprise, especially during Cassie’s ISU years, where she was often busy on the college’s livestock judging team. Her parents are entirely involved with the enterprise and they work on a 50-50 basis, Cassie Johnson said. In late-September, the Johnsons in Marietta, Okla. for the fifth annual heifer sale called Red Legends and Black Diamonds. They also preparing for their fourth annual bull sale on March 14. “And those cattle go everywhere,” Johnson said. “The bulls have gone into 20 states.” A key to customer service is that the Johnsons personally deliver each breeding animal they sell, wherever they go in North America. “It takes a month to deliver them all,” Johnson said. But each trip is also a chance to watch for potential herd sires that might help improve the herd. “We are always trying to determine what clients are going to want two years from now,” Johnson said.

FFA: Key to success Johnson points to the mentoring of FFA advisor Keith Byers. The FFA, she said, helped prepare her for her ag businesses.“FFA taught me the potential for self-improvement,” Johnson said. “It bolstered my self-confidence and taught me how to be more professional and business-ready. “FFA just makes you a sharper person.” To give back a portion of what she has received from numerous mentors over the years, Cassie conducts an annual calf camp for youth who have purchased her heifers. It’s a three-day, two-night summer camp designed to help, what she calls juniors, to prepare calves for working in the show ring, how to clip them for the show and develop their showmanship skills. While looking over her cow-calf herd near her home, Johnson pulls her phone from a pocket. “I just got a text that one of our juniors won in Oklahoma.” Cassie Johnson had just come full circle.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, ext. 453 or at kersh@farm-news.com.

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