Bobby Johnson, this year’s “Conservation Farmer of the Year” award winner from the Switzerland County Soil and Water Conservation District, has always been farming.
From growing up and helping on the farm to now seeing his family work on the farm, the term ‘family farm’ truly holds a special meaning for him.
“I started out, dad (Gerald Johnson) and grandpa (David Johnson) farmed all their lives, and I started out with them,” Johnson said. “They farmed all around here. Grandpa’s place was just down the road; and dad’s place is down on Markland Pike. Of course, it was dad and mom and us five boys. As they all got older, everybody kind of went their own way, but they mostly stayed around here.”
Johnson said that he tried to stay with farming, but also worked at Aurora Casket for 21 years before leaving their in 2005 and bought the Hack’s Septic Service business.
Being his own boss with the septic business allows enough flexibility so that Johnson can continue his love of farming. Currently he cares for about 100 acres of row crops.
“We used to raise tobacco up until about two years ago,” Johnson said. “With my dad and grandpa, it was mainly tobacco and cattle. They had some corn.”
Johnson said that for him the biggest change has been the tobacco program going away.
“For me, it’s been a pretty big change,” Johnson said of the restructuring of the tobacco program. “I can’t say that I miss it, but it just got to the point where the help situation got bad. You just couldn’t get any help.”
Johnson said that from seeding the plants up until harvest time, he had enough help; but when harvest came, that’s when growers really began to face difficulties.
“When it came harvest time, you had to have a crew of people,” Johnson said. “It just got to where you couldn’t get anybody, and sometimes the ones you got, I would have been better off doing it myself.”
Johnson said that he knows a lot of people who are still growing tobacco here have cut way back from what they did do; and he’s hearing that some growers who remain may be getting out all together this year.
Now, Johnson said that he mainly grows corn and beans, splitting his acreage about equally between the two; and then using rotation practices from year to year to keep the soil balanced. He also has cattle, and still finds time for his business.
Johnson said that he no-tills about everything for conservation purposes; and he tries to get a cover crop on his fields to keep the soil from eroding away.
“We’ve used several different practices that they’ve got,” Johnson said of the Soil and Water Conservation District. “One of the things that I’ve put in to help with the cattle are their heavy use pads. It makes it a whole lot easier on me and the cattle, managing the manure a little bit better and stuff, rather than just pushing it off to the side. I’m getting to where I can spread it and stuff. Before I put them in you were just wading around in mud.”
Johnson said that the heavy use pads that he has on his farm are 25×40, which is enough put a couple of bales on and keep the cows up out of the mud.
“Any wash spots, we try and take care of them so they don’t get any worse than what they are,” he continued. “Of course, with all the rain we’ve had recently, that’s been difficult; but you just try and keep working towards saving those areas.”
What are the big changes that he’s seen since growing up helping his dad and grandpa and today?
“Technology,” he says. “Leaps and bounds. When I was growing up and you had a tractor, you got out there and worked on the tractor. Now, they’ve got them where they can drive themselves. They use GPS and all that. The technology is so advanced. Even just using your phone. Anything you want to know about agriculture. If you want to know something about a weed, you just type in or take a picture, and it’s right there, from what type it is to what type of spray. Your corn planters, if you’ve got a newer one, used to be you planted across the ends, and when you came this way, if you overlapped, then you just overlapped. Now, the technology is so precise that you don’t overlap and you’re not wasting seed.”
But the most important part of the ‘family farm’ for Bobby Johnson is his family: wife Kendra and children Blake and Brooke. He still helps his mom around her place; and says that his father in law likes to come around and help – which he readily accepts.
“I couldn’t do all of this without my family,” Johnson says. “Everybody is willing to help whenever I need them. We really do live on a family farm, and we love it.”