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Bill Johnson: Meet the man behind those commonsense weed control recommendationsBill Johnson: Meet the man behind those commonsense weed control recommendations

Weed control specialist took a detour on his road to becoming a hog farmer - it became permanent.

Tom Bechman 1

January 18, 2016

2 Min Read

Bill Johnson has walked Indiana corn and soybean fields for 14 years, looking at weeds and making recommendations about how farmers can improve weed control. He also does herbicide comparisons in his own plots, and takes a look at potential new products before they reach the market. And along the way, he trains graduate students, too.

Anyone who talks to the Purdue University weed control specialist for very long, or who listens to his talks at a winter meeting or a field day, knows that he understands farmers. That’s one reason why he’s emphasizing use of residual herbicides this winter.


“I realize many of them are trying to cut costs, and will be eyeing residual herbicides as a place to cut, because they’re typically more expensive than what they’ve applied in the recent past,” Johnson says. “But due to weed resistance issues, those simple, cheap programs aren’t working as well anymore. If you want relatively clean fields, you’ve got to start with a residual in most cases.”

Almost a farmer

If his farmer mentality comes through at times, and that’s why many farmers pay attention to what he says, it’s because he almost became a farmer.

“I didn’t set out to become a weed scientist,” Johnson says. “I grew up on a hog farm in Henry County, Illinois in the northwestern part of the state. At one time it was the hog capital of the world.”

Through his 4-H and FFA projects, Johnson had put together a small herd of about 25 sows, and was headed toward entering the hog business. He attended Blackhawk East Junior College, and worked on nearby farms.

So why didn’t he end up raising hogs? “Hog prices took a tumble around that time, and it didn’t look profitable,” he recalls.

Meanwhile, he finished his bachelor’s degree at Western Illinois University. With strong mentoring from some professors and with some work experience scouting for farmers and businesses, he decided to pursue graduate studies. He received his Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Arkansas.

It was the days of triazine-resistant lambsquarters and pigweeds running rampant in those parts. Johnson relies on some of the skills he learned then to help farmers cope with resistant weeds today.

He was a weed scientist at the University of Missouri for seven years, before arriving at Purdue in 2002.

“I’ve had good mentors along the way,” he says. “But if hog prices hadn’t tanked when I was thinking about going into the hog business, things might have turned out differently.”

Those low hog prices were a fortuitous turn for Indiana corn and soybean farmers - not so great an event for weeds!

About the Author(s)

Tom Bechman 1

Editor, Indiana Prairie Farm

Tom Bechman is an important cog in the Farm Progress machinery. In addition to serving as editor of Indiana Prairie Farmer, Tom is nationally known for his coverage of Midwest agronomy, conservation, no-till farming, farm management, farm safety, high-tech farming and personal property tax relief. His byline appears monthly in many of the 18 state and regional farm magazines published by Farm Progress.

"I consider it my responsibility and opportunity as a farm magazine editor to supply useful information that will help today's farm families survive and thrive," the veteran editor says.

Tom graduated from Whiteland (Ind.) High School, earned his B.S. in animal science and agricultural education from Purdue University in 1975 and an M.S. in dairy nutrition two years later. He first joined the magazine as a field editor in 1981 after four years as a vocational agriculture teacher.

Tom enjoys interacting with farm families, university specialists and industry leaders, gathering and sifting through loads of information available in agriculture today. "Whenever I find a new idea or a new thought that could either improve someone's life or their income, I consider it a personal challenge to discover how to present it in the most useful form, " he says.

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