Gary Baker at right presents Dennis (Butch) Johnson, the 2021 Cooperator of the Year award. Standing left are members of the Johnson family: Grandson, Dylan Morris, father, Dennis Johnson Jr., his wife, Rachel Johnson, and Butch. Seated in front grandsons, Logan Morris, Bentlee Morris.
The Hancock County Cooperative Extension Office named Dennis “Butch” Johnson III as its 2021 Cooperator of The Year.
Johnson, age 55, farms approximately 1,000 acres of ground around the Panther Creek area in Hancock County. Farming is in Johnson’s blood as both his grandfather and father farmed before he did.
“I have always farmed,” Johnson said. “I have never done anything else. I love it.”
Field Technician Gary Baker said the extension service named Johnson as the cooperator of the year due to the improvements he made on his farm land, especially a water quality control plan to control erosion and pollution. These plans contain several different aspects to achieve the main goal. When it comes to preventing erosion, Baker said the extension service urges no till farming.
“Any ground that has a slope to it, we want farmers to no till that ground to prevent erosion problems,” Baker said.
Johnson said he used no till on his ground prone to erosion, and light till on his other ground. In addition, he works to keep Panther Creek open where it passes his property in an effort to prevent it from backing up and causing the banks to erode, costing him some cropland. He said the water quality program does help him in the long run.
“It is a good program,” Johnson said. “It helps you with things you probably wouldn’t do.”
Baker said as part of a water quality control program, the extension works with farmers to ensure they do not spray pesticides too close to a ditch. He said spraying too close to a ditch lets the pesticides drain off and get into the water.
“That way farmers are not polluting the water or hurting wildlife downstream,” Baker said.
Other programs help farmers install drainage tiles in their fields. The tiles both drain off excess water in the spring, but also draw water to crops in the summer. In the spring the tiles drain off water quickly, which allows the ground to dry and the farmer to plant his crops earlier.
“The tiles are to prevent flooding and prevent water from standing in crops,” Baker said.
Johnson owns a large part of the ground he farms, and he rents the rest. He mainly grows row crops such as corn and soybeans.
“I used to raise tobacco until about two years ago,” Johnson said.
Farming changed incredibly from when Johnson first started. Technology completely transformed farming. In the past, farming equipment consisted of a piece of equipment with a motor, wheels, steering wheel, power take off and hydraulics. To operate one, a person simply needed to know how to start it, change the gears and operate the hydraulics and power take-off.
Today’s farmer needs to know how to operate complex computerized devices installed in the tractor cab, such as a GPS system. Once the farmer outlines his field and sets the boundaries, the GPS takes over from there.
“You get your GPS lined out, and once you get it lined out you push a button and it will drive itself,” Johnson said. “Used to rows looked like a snake going down through there.”
Equipment today, due to the technology, costs dramatically higher. Johnson said a new combine costs about $500,000, and a new tractor anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000. Johnson said he does not purchase new equipment, but good used equipment and makes necessary repairs. He shops around on the Internet for good deals. He spotted a used tractor in Illinois online this spring, went to check it out and bought it. Johnson then put it in his shop and fixed it up.
“I had ag in school, but most everything I learned I learned here in this shop,” he said.
His father, Dennis Johnson Jr, taught him quite a lot about working on equipment. He also learned by doing. Johnson said being a farmer means wearing different hats every day, depending upon the situation.
“You have to be a mechanic, a welder, an electrician, a dozer operator, anything,” he said. “Every day you might be doing something different.”
Recently, the prices for grains increased significantly. Baker said many people think the steep rise in grain prices means a lot of extra money going into the farmers’ pockets.
“They really are not because the cost of seed and fertilizer is going up with the price of the product,” Baker said. “Their net profit is not that much higher.”
Though Johnson followed in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, neither of his children did. His son decided to work on computers, and moved to Florida. His daughter Bethany works for the Hancock County Extension Service. Her husband Dwayne Morris recently started farming. Johnson thinks his son-in-law and his grandsons will be the ones to step up and follow in his footsteps.
Johnson and his wife Rachel live in the Reynolds Station area of Hancock County.
By Ralph Dickerson