Farmer of the year cultivates future with land stewardship
Stellar environmental conservation, simple yet powerful organic production practices, and years of community leadership have earned Charlie Johnson the title of 2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year.
Johnson Farms has 2,800 owned and rented acres that Charlie manages with his brother, Allan, and cousin, Aaron. The Johnsons’ younger brother, Kevin, also helps on the farm, along with Charlie’s children, and the brothers’ wives. The brothers grew up on the farm, under the tutelage of their late father, Bernard, who taught them to respect the land through chemical-free management. Certified organic by International Certification Services (FVO/ICS) since 1982, the farm has been under organic management since the mid 1970s, long before the development of organic markets and infrastructures.
“Charlie and Johnson Farms pioneered organic practices in South Dakota and the northern Great Plains,” writes Frank James, of Dakota Rural Action. “Before any structure for organic farming education was built in South Dakota, interested producers called Charlie and got vast amounts of his time discussing organic agriculture. Charlie has been a quiet, long-term leader.”
“Johnson Farms strives to provide an adequate financial return to its family members while at the same time seeking to take proper care of the land and the life that grows upon it” states the farm’s mission statement. The farmers focus on the basics, with attention to detail and timing as high priorities.
Proper care of the land begins with a strict six-year crop rotation: two years of hay, one each of soybeans, corn, soybeans again and then a planting of oats with alfalfa. Rotations help support soil fertility and provide weed control. Weeds also are managed through timely planting and mechanical management, including early tillage to flush and destroy weeds. Cover crops, such as winter rye into soybeans, are used to increase organic matter (currently at 3.5%), improve soil tilth and also help with weed control. The Johnsons use crop tissue samples to confirm that the compost, crop rotations and green manures are providing the fertility that their crops need. The diverse crops are sold through National Farmer’s Organization (NFO) Organics, a member of the Organic Farmers’ Agency for Relationship Marketing (OFARM). Charlie appreciates the value of cooperative marketing for stable markets and services.
Two hundred head of Black Angus-Gelbvich-cross beef are maintained in the farm’s cow-calf operation. Cattle are rotationally grazed in paddocks through 10-day rotations on 400 to 500 acres of pasture.
The Johnsons excel in land stewardship and conservation practices. Numerous tree belts, sloughs, meadows and grass waterways are located throughout the farm. Crop fields are small for the area—the largest is 50 acres—meaning more field edges and ecosystem diversity.
With a commitment to community, the Johnsons are involved in many organizations and institutions. The farm has participated in numerous research studies led by South Dakota State University on cropping systems, wildlife habitat, farm economics and wetlands.
“Farming, service and land stewardship extend beyond the farm fields of Johnson Farms,” Charlie says. “As farmers and stewards of the land, the best crops we can plant are the seeds of opportunity for the next generation of farmers. Cultivating the future is the most important function of stewardship.”
News Stories about Charlie Johnson
MOSES Farmer of the Year Shares Insights on Organic Farming, Offers Advice to New Farmer
Seedstock interviewed Charlie Johnson, who just received the 2013 MOSES Organic Farmer of the Year award at the MOSES Conference.
South Dakota farmer wins Farmer of the Year award from organic group
Examiner.com reporter Bob Benenson said Charlie Johnson’s credentials for the award are “pretty much impossible to dispute,” adding that Johson credits his “dare-to-be-different” dad for converting the family’s farm in 1976 “before organic was cool.”
Johnson nominated as organic farmer of the year
The Madison Daily Leader interviewed Charlie Johnson about his award. Johnson said he was “humbled” by the honor and wanted to acknowledge everyone else who contributes to his farm’s success.