The Johnson family – (from left) Ellen Eide, Gerald Eide, Cindy, Mark, Brad, Kari, Pam, Richard, Emily, Trinity, Meridith, Lee, Serena and Zac – is this year’s Minnesota Milk Producers Association Producer of the Year award winner. They milk 1,200 cows on their farm, Johnson Rolling Acres, near Peterson, Minnesota.
The Johnson family – (from left) Ellen Eide, Gerald Eide, Cindy, Mark, Brad, Kari, Pam, Richard, Emily, Trinity, Meridith, Lee, Serena and Zac – is this year’s Minnesota Milk Producers Association Producer of the Year award winner. They milk 1,200 cows on their farm, Johnson Rolling Acres, near Peterson, Minnesota. PHOTO BY KRISTA KUZMA

PETERSON, Minn. – Mark and Trinity Johnson had no hesitations when Minnesota Milk Producers Association contacted them about giving a tour of their dairy to several Minnesota Milk members traveling through the area.

“We have an open-door policy,” Mark said. “We like showing what we do.”
However, they were surprised when Shannon Watrin, Minnesota Milk membership director, presented their farm and family with the organization’s producer of the year award.
“It’s a huge honor just to be nominated,” Trinity said. “It makes us feel like our farm is doing something right. And, to actually be recognized by our peers is a huge thing.”
Six partners in the Johnson family – Mark, Brad, Richard, Trinity, Lee and Zac – own Johnson Rolling Acres, which includes a 1,200-cow dairy near Peterson, Minnesota. Mark and Trinity take care of the dairy portion of the farm while Richard manages the crops and is the whole farm manager. Brad is in charge of the 10,000 hogs the farm finishes each year and helps with projects in the shop. Lee is a diesel mechanic who runs the chopper and manages the shop while Zac is another crop manager and also manages manure. “All of us have our areas we specialize in,” Trinity said.
The farm has 27 employees to help them get the work done.
“Whenever there’s a busy season, we focus on the dairy, but we definitely help with crops or anything else that needs to get done,” Mark said.
The Johnsons want to make sure everyone on their farm knows they are valuable to the enterprise.
“We treat everyone like family,” Trinity said. “When you’re here, we want you to feel just as important whether you’re the guy out scraping or you’re one of the owners. It doesn’t matter what you do for us, we want you to feel like family and like you’re appreciated.”
The farm was started by Mark, Brad and Richard’s parents in 1979. About 10 years ago, the family decided to do succession planning before their parents passed away and as the younger generation grew close to wanting to join the farm.
“A lot of the land was transferred to our generation, and then we worked it out so it was easy for the next generation or anyone else coming in,” Mark said.
In order to become a partner in Johnson Rolling Acres, a person must first go to college for at least two years and then work for another business for two years to gain experience elsewhere. After that, the person may become an employee at Johnson Rolling Acres for two years while they are evaluated to see where the person would fit. The partners then vote if that person may join in on ownership.
“I’m not a son to any of the senior partners,” Trinity said. “My grandpa got me into it.”
Along with his grandpa, Trinity had mentorship from his uncle and aunt, Ellen and Gerald Eide, who recently retired from ownership and their official positions with the farm, but still are there to help whenever they are needed.
“They are still an important part of the farm,” Trinity said.
With several entities on the farm, there is usually one project going on. The current project at Johnson Rolling Acres is adding on a 60- by 120-foot extension to the sand shed in order to wash sand bedding year-round.
“Our current system is a homemade retrofit,” Trinity said. “It was really cheaply done but it worked really well for us for a lot of years.”
The Johnsons wash sand once a week and then pile it outside until it is dry enough to go back in the barn; however, the sand piles freeze in the winter, halting the washing system for about four months. The family wanted to change that, plus the family needed to make changes to follow new state regulations.
“Now if that sand has touched manure, it is now considered a manure solid whether its cleaned or not,” Trinity said.
“So, we have to have either an impermeable surface – a cement pad and collect 100% of the rain water – or put a roof over that which defeats the purpose of drying the sand or do something different. We chose to go this route.”
The new shed will be heated to wash year-round and the washed sand will sit on a cement pad that drains into the lagoon.
The sand shed sits next to one of the two freestall barns the Johnsons have for their milking herd. The first barn, built in 2000, underwent the second most recent project on the dairy with an upgrade on many items: curtains, freestalls and pouring a new outside wall to give cows in the stalls along the walls an additional 2 feet of lunge space and a 96-foot-long addition to the end of the barn to make space for dry cows. The biggest change, however, was the switch from natural to tunnel ventilation. Along with the 24 55-inch fans put in on the east side, the Johnsons also added baffles that are 48 feet apart and hang 8 feet from the cows.
“I don’t care if the birds are cold, so we keep the air flow at cow level,” Trinity said.
When the temperature dips to 34.5 degrees, the tunnel ventilation fans on the east end will shut off and the fans in the ceiling turn on to take out the moist air and continue proper air exchange.
“Everything’s automatic and on sensors,” Trinity said.
The barn houses younger cows – 2-year-olds and second lactation cows – while the second freestall barn, equipped with cross ventilation, houses older cows.
“We let them be in the Cadillac,” Trinity said.
Cooling cells using recycled water on one side of the cross-ventilated barn turn on when the temperature reaches 65 degrees. They create cool air that is pulled to the other side by 59 fans. Trinity said the barn stays about 12 degrees cooler than the outside temperature during the summer. As the temperature drops, fans go off. When it is zero degrees or below, four fans stay on in the barn to help exchange air.  
The reason for these builds, changes and upgrades over the years comes back to the Johnsons’ overall goal for the dairy.
“We really go all in on cow comfort,” Trinity said. “We want the girls to be as happy and as comfortable as possible. So, we spend money on that part of it. If the cows are happy, we’re happy. They’re the most important part of our business and we have to make sure they’re taken care of.”
In the future, the Johnsons hope to stay relevant in the industry and keep the farm open for Johnsons down the line.
“For our area, we are a large farm, but we want to continue making progress,” Trinity said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean more cows. It means doing a better job with what we have. We’re all striving to build something that will be here for the next generations, and to keep our family farm what it is – a family farm.”