Al Johnson – A lifetime devoted to young cattlemen

In an issue of the Iowa Cattleman focused on young producers, you might not expect to see Al Johnson, age 80, interviewed. But Al has been instrumental in getting countless young producers off to a good start in the cattle industry, first through his role as an instructor at Kirkwood College, and also as a partner in farms owned by young producers. We recently sat down with Al to ask him some questions.

ICA: When did you begin helping young producers?

Al: Oh, (laughs) 60 years ago. We’ve been sharing (partnering) since…probably in the cattle business, I suppose, 50-55 years. I taught at Kirkwood College, I was head of the Beef Cattle department for three years, from 1971-1973.

ICA: But right now you’re part of 7 different partnerships. And most of them, you’re part owner?

Al: Our business name is Sterling Cattle Partners, and that’s exactly what we are. Our mission is to see to it that as many other young families have the opportunity to raise their family the way we did ours. And be able to wake up every morning enjoying what we’re doing.

ICA: What do you think has contributed to your success?

Al: We haven’t had much success – our success is in these kids.

You know, being able to watch the grandkids of my students at Kirkwood College, to watch their grandkids show at the Iowa State Fair. Maybe we taught their grandpa something! And he’s a success, and they’re our successes – the kids and our family.

We have 7 kids and we had all kinds of people that helped us raise those kids, all kinds of people that helped them be successful in 4H and FFA projects and athletics and everything else. So many people helped us. We want to do the same for other families.

ICA: What challenges have you had in the partnerships you’ve been a part of?

Al: Partnerships can’t all be the same, because different families have different requirements. They (partnerships) have got to work. For me, it might look like it’s working, but if isn’t programmed properly and it doesn’t fit the needs of the other party, it’s no good.

ICA: You serve on the ICA membership committee and have come all the way to Ames twice this summer for meetings. Why is membership important to you?

Al: One of our partners has a boy who’s 6th grade and the kid loves farming. I said, “You have got to see to it that this business stays. You can’t do that alone.” He keeps talking about how it’s such a great way to raise his family and he’s so family oriented anyway, and I said, “You’ve gotta be a member.” I said, “Besides that, our partnership probably will end if you don’t join.”

ICA: What general advice you have for young producers?

Al: Stay optimistic. A positive attitude is so important. Don’t get discourage. Just because the cattle market’s in the pits doesn’t mean your attitude has to be.