Johnson nominated as organic farmer of the year
By ELISA SAND, Staff Reporter
A Wisconsin-based group has recognized local farmer, Charlie Johnson as Organic Farmer of the Year.
Johnson Farms is co-operated by (left) Charlie Johnson, his brother Allan Johnson and cousin Aaron Johnson.
The Midwest Organic and Sustainable Education Services
(MOSES) has named an organic farmer/family of the year since 2003 and presented the award at the organization's annual organic farming conference, on Feb. 21-23 in La Crosse, Wis. "It was totally unexpected," Johnson said of the recognition.
He was first notified this past fall while he was
campaigning for District 8 Senate and notified of his
selection after the election.
"I didn't give it a lot of credence at the time," he said of his nomination. "I thought there were far better candidates to be recognized. I know some of the other winners, they're very high profile. They definitely earned their ranking in the sustainable ag sector."
Johnson said he's humbled by the honor.
Johnson is co-owner and operator of Johnson Farms, which he
operates together with his brother Allan Johnson and cousin
Aaron Johnson. Also involved part-time in the business are
his brother Kevin and son Jordan.
"This is really an acknowledgment of Johnson farms," he
said. "Directly I've been nominated as an individual. I want the attention to fall on more than just me."
Johnson gives credit for the organic practices to his
father, Bernard, who started the farm in 1976.
"Probably the real credence and acknowledgment goes to our
dad. He's been gone now for 25 years, but it was his
foresight that made this all possible. I always admired his
courage and conviction. If 100 people came to a fork in the
road with a right and left turn, he wasn't afraid to make
the left turn when everyone else turned right. The funny
part about it is, when he was able to make those unilateral
decisions, he usually was right."
Johnson farms is an organic crop and beef operation
southwest of Madison. The farm spans a total of 2,800 acres, of which approximately 1,800 acres is crop fields and another 600 acres of pasture that is used for a 200-head cow/calf operation.
"We're a fairly large operation especially in the organic
world, but in today's agriculture our 2,800 acres would be
considered small to moderate," he said.
To be considered organic, a farm must grow conventionally
raised seed that has not been genetically modified. The farm operations also do not use pesticides and herbicides to control pests and weeds.
Farmers can convert to an organic operation. Johnson said
there's typically a transition period of three growing
seasons before a farm can be considered organic.
To avoid cross pollination with neighboring corn fields that use genetically modified seed, Johnson said, his operation delays the planting of corn until after other farmers have finished.
"We start planting with oats instead of corn; so by the time they're finished (with corn) we're planting so when summer hits and corn pollinates their corn pollinates first," Johnson explained.
Johnson Farms raises not only corn, soybeans and oats, but
also alfalfa. At any given time there's 300 acres of corn,
and oats growing and 600 acres each of soybeans and alfalfa.
Each commodity is planted on a six-year rotating schedule
with two years of alfalfa, one year of soybeans followed by
winter rye, a year of corn and another year of soybeans. The sixth year oats are planted with alfalfa.
"When the oats are harvested, the alfalfa is ready to grow
in year seven," Johnson said explaining that the oats act as a cover crop to allow the alfalfa time to germinate.
Johnson said the Farmer of the Year award typically
recognizes someone who is involved in community and civic
organizations. In addition to farming, Johnson and his
family have led farming studies at South Dakota State
University. Johnson has also been a member of Dakota Rural
Action and is currently board president of the Northern
Plains Sustainable Ag Society.
Johnson said he was nominated by Frank James, staff director at Dakota Rural Action.
"One of their major efforts is with beginning farmer
programs," Johnson said, indicating that he has been an
instructor for that program for four years.
"It makes it even more special when its someone local who
thinks enough to nominate you," he said.