Johnson: Farm Bureau is Iowa's pinnacle ag advocacy group
Brent Johnson of Calhoun County was recently elected president of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) at the organization’s 2021 annual meeting.
Last week, the Spokesman visited with Johnson about his operation, his vision for Farm Bureau, the biggest issues facing Iowa agriculture and his focus on precision agriculture, conservation and water quality.
Here are excerpts of that conversation:
Q: Brent, to start off, can you tell us about yourself and your farming operation?
A: I’m a fifth generation farmer just west of Manson in Calhoun County. We mostly grow corn and soybeans. I farm with my son, Matthew, and my wife, LuAnn. Our daughter, Kaeli, is a freshman in college.
Q: What does it mean to you to be the 14th president of Iowa Farm Bureau?
A: I’ve been impressed by Farm Bureau ever since I was a young farmer and just getting involved in the organization, and with all the areas that I’ve participated in since then. It’s a huge honor, and quite humbling, to be chosen by our members to lead such an important organization for farmers and Iowa.
Q: There are a lot of farm groups, why have you chosen to concentrate on leadership roles in FB?
A: To me Farm Bureau is the pinnacle organization when it comes to grassroots-driven agriculture advocacy in Iowa. Farm Bureau has a presence in every county and across every commodity. Farm Bureau is known to operate with integrity, is strategic and innovative yet measured in its approach. Members can count on our organization to provide information and solutions that are fully vetted. That is more important today than ever. Consequently, Farm Bureau has the right formula to make a positive impact for farmers and rural communities across Iowa. So, when it came to an organization that I wanted to be associated with, Farm Bureau was the one.
I believe the main purpose of a farm organization is to create a collective voice and to increase our influence on state, national and international issues. Farm Bureau is the best organization at doing just that.
Q: Can you tell us about your vision for Iowa Farm Bureau?
A: Farm Bureau has so many strengths; I want to build on our strengths and continue to push the boundaries. A strong and vibrant agriculture economy in Iowa means our rural communities and families thrive. Ag is at the center of importance for so many things – food, fuel, fiber. We rely on ag every day and need to do everything we can to ensure it thrives for generations.
Organizationally speaking, I think we have an opportunity to enhance the Ag in the Classroom program.
I’d like to see more young people in Iowa get involved in 4-H and FFA, so they can build an appreciation for agriculture as they go to college and start their careers.
I’m also interested in seeing how I can integrate my data experience to help farmers be successful with precision ag, especially with input costs so high right now.
Q: What do you see as some of the biggest challenges facing Farm Bureau members and all of agriculture today?
A: Currently, we see a lot of those challenges coming at us from Washington D.C., especially in taxation and regulation. A good example of that is the WOTUS (Waters of the United States) rule. We now have a good structure in place with the Navigable Waters Protection Rule (NWPR) that’s clear, workable and easy for our members to understand. It’s unfortunate that the EPA (Environment Protection Agency) has announced plans to develop a new rule which likely will bring back some of the uncertainties and problem for farmers.
Our members, and all farmers, are dedicated to protecting water quality. But a lack of clarity and transparency in the EPA’s proposed water rules, which could affect something like 97% of the land in Iowa, would make it impossible to understand what farmers can and cannot do on their land.
Q: You’ve been a pioneer in precision agriculture and have worked with farmers from all over Iowa to help them utilize cutting edge technology to advance profitability, soil health and data management. Why are these precision technologies so important for Iowa farmers?
A: Farmers are doing more using fewer resources and these technologies help create critical efficiencies. To me, that provides opportunities for profitability for the farmer while also preserving our resources – a win-win. A clear example of that is nitrogen management, especially at a time when nitrogen is so expensive, more than double the price of a year ago. If you can use precision agriculture and data management to manage an expensive input like nitrogen and reduce expenses, produce higher yields, and create a more sustainable environment, that’s good for farm families and Iowa.
Q: Speaking about farmers leading in environmental protection, can you tell us about the conservation practices you use on your farm?
A: We do quite a few different things on our farm and it changes every year depending on the challenges we face. We have implemented a no-till and strip till to reduce soil erosion and improve soil health. We plant cover crops, grassed waterways and buffer strips to improve water quality. We’ve also implemented a variable rate fertilizer program to match the nutrients we apply directly to the needs of the crop. We also make sure to record our conservation practices, every step along the way, so we can measure their effectiveness.
We certainly are not alone. I’m talking to farmers all over the state who implementing a lot of conservation technology, like cover crops, strip tillage and buffer strips. The adoption of these conservation practices around the state has really been remarkable and encouraging.
Q: What does agricultural sustainability mean to you?
A: Sustainability to me, as far as my farm goes, means the progression of improvements on generational family farms. I’ve seen the steady progress of conservation practices on our own farm. Now my son has started farming, and, hopefully he and his kids will have the opportunity to incorporate even more conservation practices.
Sustainability also means maintaining viable options for Iowa farmers, while we work to improve water quality and reduce soil loss. There’s no question about it, because at the end of the day, it’s about return on investment. You have to be in position to earn a profit so we have the ability to care for our number one natural resource - our soil and our water.
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