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Johnson’s Rolling Acres honored by Minnesota Milk

Johnson’s Rolling Acres is a multigenerational family farm that milks 1,200 cows, finishes 10,000 pigs per year and is supported by over 3,500 acres of crop land.

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The sign outside of Johnson’s Rolling Acres, a multigenerational family farm that milks 1,200 cows, finishes 10,000 pigs per year, in Peterson, Minnesota on July 12, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek
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PETERSON, Minn. — A farm in the rolling hills of Fillmore County was named Producer of the Year by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association.

According to Minnesota Milk, the Producer of the Year is an annual award to Minnesota dairy farms that “represent all Minnesota dairy farmers through leadership roles within the industry, display commitment to future generations and active within their local community.” Award recipients receive a scholarship toward educational programming as well as a framed art print.

Johnson’s Rolling Acres of Peterson was named Producer of the Year by the Minnesota Milk Producers Association during a tour organized by Minnesota Milk last fall and was honored at their farm on July 12.

Johnson’s Rolling Acres is a multigenerational family farm operated and owned by a total of six partners: Mark, Bradley and Richard Johnson and junior partners Trinity, Lee and Zac Johnson.

“The family’s commitment to future generations is clear,” said Lucas Sjostrom, executive director of Minnesota Milk. “Their foresight and detailed planning creates a set of clear expectations for future generations and their practical conservation practices ensures their farm will prosper for years to come.”

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The diversified farm, which started in 1979, milks 1,200 cows, finishes 10,000 pigs per year and is supported by over 3,500 acres of crop land.

“Tonight's the night we get to celebrate with all our friends and family, and people we do business with the most,” said Trinity Johnson on July 12.

He said it’s the first time the dairy has won the producer of the year award, after being nominated a few times in the past.

Trinity Johnson said that he’s the third generation on the farm, after this grandfather started the operation with his uncles in the late 70s. His three uncles make up the senior partners while his cousins and himself make up the junior partners.

“That's been my grandpa’s and uncles’ motto forever — diversity,” said Johnson. “We've always been a very diverse farm since my grandpa started.”

With the dairy industry struggling over the past decade, Johnson said being diverse has helped them stay profitable.

“In years that maybe dairy hasn't been as good, the hogs or the crops — or one of the three usually has been decent, to help get us through to where we're at,” he said.

Trinity Johnson said they sell all of their milk to Foremost Farms. He said the past couple years of “phenomenal” milk prices have helped them bounce back after several years of poor prices.

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A cow sticks his head out of the barn at Johnson’s Rolling Acres in Peterson, Minnesota, on July 12, 2022.
Noah Fish / Agweek

“It's been nice to be able to get us back up and get everything back to where it was, and hopefully keep on going forward,” he said.

Expanding for the next generation

Trinity Johnson said his grandpa started the dairy herd with about 20 cows. In the 2000s, the family started to expand.

“In the year 2000, we were milking about 150 cows in a tie-stall barn,” said Johnson. “Then we built our first freestall barn parlor to go up to 600.”

He said in 2012, “to make room for the next generation,” they completed another expansion to increase to milking 1,200 cows. Johnson said the expansions were not necessarily to make more money, but to make more room for more family members to come aboard the operation.

“That's what helped make room for me and my two cousins to be able to come home,” said Johnson of the expansions. “And I'm hoping that eventually, my kids and my cousins’ kids will be a fourth generation that’ll want to be involved.”

Rolling hills

Johnson said their farm is under a lot of “scrutiny,” with its size and location in the karst region of southeastern Minnesota, where the topography makes the area's water resources challenging to protect.

“We strive to do the best that we possibly can do, because if we don't take care of the land, the land isn't going to take care of us, and without it, it's kind of hard to do what we do,” said Johnson. “I drink the same water everybody else does — I want to make sure it's clean.”

He said the award is a tribute to the generations that started the operation.

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“This award — it's awesome, but it's not necessarily for me and my two cousins,” said Trinity Johnson. “This is for my grandpa, who I wish was still here to see it, and my uncles. They're the ones that have worked their tails off for many, many years to get to where we're at.”

Noah Fish is a multimedia journalist who creates print, online and TV content for Agweek. He's also the host of the Agweek Podcast.

While covering agriculture he's earned awards for his localized reporting on the 2018 trade war, and breaking news coverage of a fifth-generation dairy farm that was forced to sell its herd when a barn roof collapsed in the winter of 2019. His reporting focuses on the intersection of agriculture, food and culture.

He reports out of Rochester, Minnesota, and can be reached at nfish@agweek.com
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