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Precision partnership

Brent Johnson is a farmer at
heart. While earning a degree in agronomy at Iowa State University, he
daydreamed about planting corn. Later, working at an ag co-op, he imagined a
future raising cattle and harvesting crops.

At the time, it seemed as
though his life was in a holding pattern. Looking back today, he realizes that
his decade off the farm was a perfect portal for precisely what he’s doing
today.

His big break came in 2000
when his great-uncle retired from farming. Today Brent farms with his wife,
LuAnn, and he is the fourth generation in his family to farm near Manson, Iowa.

During the first two years,
Brent traded labor for the use of his great-uncle’s equipment. He also worked
part time at an agronomy business in Manson.

“After two years, we
purchased my great-uncle’s equipment. And two years later we bought his cattle
herd,” Brent says. “We were lucky to move into management quickly.”

Brent began soil-sampling
for his dad and uncle. “Then I was doing it for a few neighbors,” he says. “By
spring of 2005, I couldn’t afford to continue it unless we took the step of
making it a business.”

Brent and LuAnn began work
in a 10×13-foot room in their home with one employee. Today the business, Labre
Crop Consulting, offers a full line of precision ag equipment and provides
variable-rate fertilizer and chemical prescriptions, spatial data management,
and a variety of placement maps.

Brent developed his own
sampling system. “It clicks with people,” he says. “They’re comfortable because
I’m not affiliated with any company, and I don’t sell fertilizer or chemicals.”

Brent says his decade off
the farm was well spent. “I got to know a lot of people in agriculture – in all
segments,” he says. “When we decided to start the business, a couple of them
helped us get a foot in the door. It had a lot to do with good relationships,
timing, and a little luck.”

LuAnn works in the office,
entering data, handling payroll and accounts receivable, and compiling a
results booklet for customers. A city girl until their marriage, she now helps
with harvest, tillage, and baling hay. They have a daughter, Kaeli, 7, and a
son, Matthew, 15.

A Decade of Decisions

LuAnn and Brent discuss all
decisions, and they’ve had plenty on their plate. In 2006, they built a
separate office building; in 2010, they added a shop to work on others’
equipment and their own.

“One year I told him, ‘no
more new ideas,’ ” LuAnn says. Brent adds, “But that year is up.”

Precision ag is increasingly
complex. “There are many product lines, and farmers have many different
pieces,” he says. “The challenge is understanding intimately how each one
works. We step into an operation and juggle electronic pieces. It’s a constant
education.”

Two years ago, they hired
two employees to expand their western Iowa base.

Three years ago they
converted their farm to strip-till. “Our equipment was old and tired,” Brent
says. “We were applying most of our fertilizer. With only one field tractor,
we’ve cut tractor hours. We did our homework and based our decision on time,
economics, and the environment.”

LuAnn says, “The first year
of strip-till was a rough transition. But now our soil stays put in the
spring.” Brent adds, “I knew we could make it work.”  

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