Many sons and daughters look up to their fathers, but Matthew Johnson is especially proud of his father, Randolph Johnson, of Harrold, S.D.
"My dad left the family farm in the late '70s after graduating from Sully Buttes High School to … follow his father's footsteps by serving this great country and providing the honorable and much needed protection of our freedoms," Matthew wrote, nominating Randolph for Master Farmer recognition. "He enlisted in the Navy where he served for six years between a submarine tender and on a submarine itself. While in South Carolina, serving this great country he met the woman who would become my mother. After his time in the Navy was completed, he moved back to Onida to take over the family farm. My mother followed and the two were married shortly after. Later the next year I was born to this world.
"You can imagine the culture shock to my mother, who grew up in the city of Charleston, S.C., now living on a farm in the middle of a mid-western state. Unfortunately this was too much of an adjustment and she and my dad divorced. ... My dad was awarded custody of myself, so now he was starting out in farming, newly married and divorced in two years and raising a son in all sense on his own. Luckily, for both of us, my dad's strong faith in God and having very tight knit-family provided my dad much support along with his parents (my grandparents) living two miles down the road. My dad grabbed his boot straps, stepped up and showed me what it takes to be a man, how to grab life and move forward and persevere.
"…I continue to grow in respect and love for my father. He has shown me that no matter what life throws in your direction as long as you have the two main F's in life -- Faith and Family -- you can pull through any situation.
"Today my dad is remarried to a wonderful woman, whose love of the farm is as great as his. They continue to grow the farm and now farm approximately 1,600 acres and help with land management practices with my grandparents.
"Being a father now myself has been an eye opening experience to the struggles and challenges my father dealt with; let alone as a single parent. I hope one day to return to the farm to assist my father and see my son be able to take on the challenges and rewards of farming, but mostly I hope I am as great of a man and father that he is."
How he did it
How did Randolph Johnson succeed as a beginning farmer and a single parent?
He had help, of course. His parents lived down the road. But he didn't want his son Matt to be raised by his grandparents.
"I wanted to spend as much time as I could with him," Johnson recalls.
Fortunately, Matt was an "easy child. He wasn't sick very much … he ended up taking a lot of naps in the tractor, " Johnson says.
Like many of his generation, Johnson got started farming in the 1980s. To survive, he had to be frugal. He's careful with money today, even after enjoying several years of higher yields with no-till and higher market prices. In central South Dakota, drought is never far away. Johnson still runs a tractor he operated in the 1980s, and he only recently bought a new pickup. Rather than building a new machine shed, he moved an old one in from a neighbor's farm.
Johnson grows spring wheat, winter wheat, corn and sunflowers. He likes wildlife, but hasn't enrolled land in government conservation programs. Instead, he sets aside land and plants wildlife food plots on his own. "I have my own ideas on wildlife management," he says and his approach has apparently been effective. Hundreds of pheasants winter in his shelterbelts. His farm has been selected to be part of the South Dakota Governor's Annual Pheasant Hunt for the past three years.