Kansas is named the “Great Wheat State” for a reason. The history of producing wheat in this state is rich and the roots of family farming run deep. Leland Johnson of Johnson Brothers Farms is a 4th generation wheat farmer in Pottawatomie County, and he happens to be one of the general contractors working on the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center in Manhattan.
The Kansas Wheat Innovation Center has been a vision of the Kansas wheat industry for quite some time. The 8.3 million dollar building has been created with the goal of progress and making history for the wheat industry in Kansas. The main focus of the center is research with a goal to increase yields by 20% by 2018.
Working to build the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center on behalf of his employer, Coonrod and Associates, has opened Leland’s eyes to new ideas about farming. He has recently become a KAWG member and through conversations with Kansas Wheat staff, learned of K-State’s new wheat variety, Everest, which he planted last fall.
As Leland shared his family’s heritage and story, he revealed his passion for the land and being a farmer. He spoke about how different his upbringing was compared to many of the younger generations today and is thankful for being able to live the lifestyle of a farmer. He believes that his childhood of working hard at the farm has given him values and character that are often missing from today’s society. Leland said, “If you’ve got farming values, hold on to them.”
Today Leland, along with his three brothers farms the same land that his great grandfather homesteaded after emigrating from Sweden. The Johnson family has been growing wheat since the 1870’s. Donald Johnson, Leland’s father is still out working in the field too. At 86 years old Donald has embraced new technology and rides out to the farm on his ATV every day.
During our conversation, Leland talked about the relationship between farmers and consumers. “There is a whole different way of life out there if people just opened their eyes,” he said.
Sometimes it takes a little looking back at the past and our heritage to truly understand the present. His comment could easily be taken both ways. As agriculture continues to progress into the future it will take both farmers and consumers to open their eyes to a whole different way of life. Leland’s family was part of a generation that built the foundation for what the wheat industry is today. It is always great to meet farmers like Leland, who through his work on the family farm and Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, is laying the foundation for the future of the wheat industry here in Kansas.