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Johnson Farms named 2023 Ag Bowl Captains

August 28, 2023

Agriculture and education have been intertwined in this region for well over a century.
Pioneers came to the area to work the land and raise families but always knew that education was critical to their future.

“Early settlers knew if they were going to survive out here, education had to be at the forefront,” said Charlie Johnson, who farms south of Madison. “And they knew people weren’t going to be able to get an education if there weren’t going to be teachers.”

Dakota State University was created in 1881 to meet that need, but has since evolved into a STEM-focused university with a mission to incorporate technology into education, arts & sciences, business, and cyber fields. Johnson hopes that DSU’s initial teaching mission continues for many decades, yet sees that Dakota State can also be a leader in science and research.

Dakota State also sees and appreciates agriculture’s impact on the institution.

“Agriculture has always had an impact on the University, and that will continue in the future, but in new ways,” said Jeff Dittman, Athletics Director at DSU. “We have current research projects that study how technology and agriculture work together. We see examples in athletics, too, with the soy-based artificial turf we’ve installed on the new athletics field.”

Eight years ago, DSU Athletics created Ag Bowl to recognize this connection between ag, athletics, and academics. The celebration includes the recognition of a local farm family as Ag Bowl Captains, and this year, that honor goes to the Johnson Farms families.

Charlie’s brother, Kevin, said he was rather surprised when they learned of the honor. “We’re humbled. I would say that’s the word to use,” said Allan Johnson.

The family farming corporation is a partnership between the three brothers and their wives: Allan and his wife Marcia, Charlie and his wife Bette, Kevin and his wife Audrey, and Charlie’s son Jordan. Cousin Aaron Johnson has his own farming operation, but “we do a lot of things together,” said Charlie.

The families live on five residencies within three miles of each other south of Madison, where they have farmed for decades. They have also been an organic farm since 1976, growing organic oats, soybeans, alfalfa, and corn.

That decision was their father’s idea. “He wouldn’t allow anything to be used on the farm that he couldn’t put on the tip of this tongue,” said Charlie. “We’d like to think we’re good ambassadors for the organic effort.”

They are also strong supporters of Dakota State, with several family members who have degrees from or worked at DSU. Bette’s mother earned an education degree from Dakota State. Marcia is a DSU alumna, who also worked on campus for many years. Charlie is a DSU alumnus, graduating with a business administration degree in 1980. The families have welcomed out-of-state athletes to their home for meals, “to make them feel more at home,” said Allan. “They would bring their friends out, too, and that was a lot of fun.” Johnson Farms also participated in recent alfalfa research at DSU, and were pleased to see DSU host the Midwest Forage Conference last winter.

These types of partnerships with ag producers improve the entire area. Charlie noted the efforts of community leaders and the Chamber’s Ag Committee who have worked to keep strong ag businesses in town, such as the two implement dealers, co-ops, and grain facilities in the area. Charlie said the Madison area is well served with infrastructure, making it “a strong, beautiful area.”

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