Being ahead of the curve has aided Brent Johnson in growing his farm and in launching a successful crop consulting business. Now the 44-year-old Calhoun County Farm Bureau member hopes to bring his fact-based and forward-thinking approach to his new position on the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation (IFBF) board of directors.
"In my opinion, Farm Bureau is the premier organization to help farmers. My goal is to make sure the vision and direction of the organization remains relevant for the foreseeable future," he says.
Johnson was elected as the District 4 IFBF board representative in December to replace Doug Gronau, who did not seek re-election.
Brent and his wife, LuAnn, started Labre Crop Consulting in 2005 as a way to diversify their farming operation near Manson. He put his agronomy degree from Iowa State University to work by taking soil samples for a few neighbors, and the business took off.
"My goal was to pay for the computer and software," he recalls. "It started with a neighbor, then another neighbor. Things lined up and it was on its way."
Precision ag expert
Johnson quickly became recognized as an expert in precision ag technology as an early adopter of innovations like GPS-guided farm equipment.
"We were ready to accept that technology leap," says Johnson, who serves on the American Farm Bureau technology issue advisory committee. "That opportunity launched us in a visible manner."
The business grew rapidly, expanding its customer base across Iowa and into some surrounding states. Labre Crop Consulting now has five full-time employees and six seasonal employees, and Johnson remains on the leading edge of the latest farming technologies like unmanned aerial systems (UAS) for crop scouting.
But while new technologies grab the spotlight at farm shows, Johnson said soil sampling remains at the core of Labre Crop Consulting’s services.
It’s much the same for Farm Bureau, which is at the forefront of today’s ag issues while remaining true to its grassroots mission, Johnson says.
His involvement in Farm Bureau began after a county Farm Bureau board member invited him to a local meeting. He became active in the organization’s young farmer programs, participating in the Ag Leaders Institute and serving as chairman of the Young Farmer Advisory Committee.
Johnson has also served as Calhoun County Farm Bureau president and won the IFBF Young Farmer Achievement Award in 2007.
Ready to lead
All along the way, his interactions with the organization’s farmer-leaders planted the idea of someday running for the board of directors. With his business and farm well established, he felt the time was right when the District 4 seat came open last year.
"I knew I wanted to do it when I was still actively farming, when I still had dirt under my fingernails," says Johnson, who raises corn and soybeans. He and LuAnn have two children, Kaeli, age 13, and Matt, 21, who is serving in the Army and is currently stationed in Germany.
"I feel I can contribute in a way that Ag Leaders and all those other programs prepared me to do. I give a lot of credit to those programs. I’m not sure I would have had the wherewithal to do this on my own."
As farmers and Farm Bureau work to overcome the challenges facing them today, Johnson says it’s important to draw on lessons from the past.
"I’m still trying to figure out if where we’re at today is different than when my dad started farming," he says. "It does feel like agriculture has a different battlefront today than it did in the past."
One of those challenges is the growing rural-urban divide in Iowa and across the United States. Johnson’s home county is one of three counties targeted in the Des Moines Water Works lawsuit that blames farmers for causing high nitrate levels in the city’s water supply.
While the Iowa Supreme Court recently ruled the counties can’t be held liable for damages, portions of the lawsuit continue to pose a threat to farmers.
"There are other ag issues that are just as important," Johnson adds. "Making sure our story is in front of the public is more important than ever."