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Family farm team

CHERYL TEVIS 12/06/2011 @ 10:19am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

When the Johnsons are running against the clock, the game plan for their Floyd, Iowa, farm doesn't rely on one person to call the shots.

“We work together and try to make sure that any of us can step in and take over for someone else if needed, no matter what,” Maurice says.

His wife, Pam, agrees. “We know where we have to be and what needs to be done,” she says. “We act as a team.”

Maurice and Pam formed the original team 39 years ago when they married. “We bought 10 sows from my dad and borrowed farrowing crates,” she says. Trained as a nurse, Pam worked at a hospital until their first son, Ben, was born, when she decided to stay home. Son Andy was born three years later.

Pam also assumed key roles in the operation. She prepared ground ahead of the planter, did fall tillage, and ran the grain cart. “My nursing background came in handy,” she says. “I sutured sows, and I delivered and vaccinated baby pigs.”

Their sons showed an early interest in farming. With Maurice as a 4-H club leader, the boys gained experience raising and showing hogs. Both sons later earned their American Farmer degree and enrolled at Iowa State University. “For a while, it was Maurice and me again until they graduated,” Pam says.

In the 1990s, the Johnsons branched out from farrow-to-finish into other value-added products. Prompted by Pam's involvement in county economic development, they invested in ethanol and soy biodiesel plants.

Today, there are six ethanol plants within 50 miles of their farm. “They are new markets,” she says. “They've brought back youth, added a new source of livestock feed, and generated trucking jobs.”

After 37 years of farrow-to-finish hogs, the Johnsons discontinued their operation in 2009 and rented their buildings. “We always thought it was a way to bring in our sons,” she says. “But we went through 1998, and when we looked at the global markets and the uncertainties, we didn't want to concentrate on hogs.”

Growth mode is a given

The Johnsons refocused efforts on structuring a flexible transition plan that offers opportunity for the next generation. “Although their career path always was up to them, I feel like we began laying the groundwork for them to return to farm when they were born,” Pam says.

Ben, 34, acquired Golden Harvest and Prairie Brand seed dealerships from a neighbor. He and his wife, Amy, have two sons. Andy, 31, teaches high school vo-ag, and his wife, Abbie, is a community college instructor. They farm part time.

Each son farms separate ground, sharing machinery and labor. Ben and Andy also own land jointly and feed 400 head of sheep. “Our business has made the transition from Mom and Dad and the boys to a partnership with our sons and their wives,” Pam says.

The Johnsons remain in a growth mode. “We're not coasting,” Maurice says. “We're open to new ideas. We tried strip-till, and we'll do more on certain farms. Several years ago, we made a decision to no-till soybeans to improve soil-and wind-erosion control. Yields haven't suffered. We're comfortable with no-till.”

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