Frankfort farm honored with conservation award

Shannon Marvel

Johnson Farms of Frankfort has been awarded a 2019 South Dakota Leopold Conservation Award — an honor that has been years in the making.

The award is given in honor of renowned conservationist Aldo Leopold, and recognizes private landowners who inspire others with their dedication to the land, water and wildlife resources in their care.

Alan and Mickie Johnson, with their son Brian and his wife, Jamie, farm 1,800 acres of cropland and 500 acres of grassland in Spink County. The family also runs a 100-head cow-calf operation.

“It’s nice to be recognized, and it’s not something we pursued,” said Brian Johnson. “We’re just trying to do the right thing.”

The Johnsons practice no-till farming techniques and use cover crops to improve the soil health of their land.

“We’ve seen other farmers in the area adopt a lot of those practices in our part of the world,” Johnson said. “People are seeing it works and people talk. Your neighbors are seeing what you’re doing and see it being successful, so they start doing it as well.”

The Johnsons have been no-till farming since 1986, he said.

They also use the cover crop residue to feed their cows, Johnson said.

“We’ve got some different paddocks in our pasture, but we’re not moving them daily like other operations might because Timber Creek runs right through our property — so it really limits your fencing. What we’re working on right now is fixing our fencing from the flooding in the spring,” Johnson said.

“We’ve been moving them onto some crop ground with cover crops later in the season. That’s worked really well later in the season. It helps really improve your soil health and helps with the water infiltration and helps with the biology in soil,” he said. “Obviously, every year is different because Mother Nature throws different things at you. Rainfall is always a big variable every year. We learn something new every year, tweak your mix every year. The last four or five years, we probably figured out what really works for us.”

Jamie Johnson said the grazing techniques they’ve been using has allowed them to increase their herd size.

She said it’s also helped them to save about $10,000 in feed costs.

“Then there’s other value it’s hard to put a dollar amount on,” Jamie said. “They’re adding value back to the land with their hoof action and up-cycling all those nutrients and depositing that back on the soil. So you’re adding that by reducing your fertilizer cost.”

Jamie is also a member of the Spink County Conservation District, so this award is quite the honor for her, she said.

Brian added that their conservation practices have helped the wildlife in the area as well.

“We have half a dozen tracts of CRP that were less productive crop grounds, so there’s been quite an abundance of deer and pheasants that have made that their home,” he said. “Of course they flourish and feed off the cover crops in the field. We’ve got some friends that come and hunt and really enjoy it because they know they’re going to have a good time.”

Johnson Farms will be presented with the $10,000 award and a crystal depicting Aldo Leopold at the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association convention in December.