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Precision partnership

CHERYL TEVIS 02/14/2011 @ 10:56am Cheryl has been an editor at Successful Farming since 1979.

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.

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Soil Health at Farm Science Review