At the 2020 Sorghum Yield Contest Gala, Winter Johnston was inducted to the Sorghum Yield Contest Hall of Fame in the Dryland-No Till East Division.
In the hills and valleys of McConnellsburg, Pennsylvania, a sorghum farmer has proven it is possible to produce competitive yields outside of the Sorghum Belt. Through smart management practices and the ideal growing conditions offered by the northeastern coast, one sorghum farm family has risen to the top time and time again.
Hall of Fame Inductee Winter Johnston is only the second sorghum farmer to be inducted into the National Sorghum Producer’s Yield Contest Hall of Fame and the first to be inducted into the Dryland-No Till East Division.
“I didn’t expect to be put into the Hall of Fame at all,” Johnston said, reflecting on her recent accomplishment.
Johnston grew up on a dairy farm just 15 miles away from where she currently farms in Fulton County, Pennsylvania. When she married her husband, Harry Johnston, they started farming together on a plot he already owned, and they grew their operation from there.
The couple grows sorghum, corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. Their dryland operation sprawls across nearly 2,000 acres in addition to 2,500 acres they custom farm.
Johnston’s husband Harry has a degree in agronomy which he utilizes on the operation. His education helps determine chemical applications, crop rotations and management practices.
“My husband can pretty much make just about anything grow,” Johnston said.
Her responsibilities are “pretty much everything [her husband] doesn’t do.” Johnston said she selects hybrids, picks up seed, orders chemicals and organizes deliveries for their expansive operation.
This agronomic background and cooperation allow the couple to produce crops, especially sorghum, in a way that is not only competitive in the yield contest but profitable to the operation.
Johnston said most of the grain sorghum raised on their farm ends up as bird seed. After harvest, the couple hauls their grain to an elevator and is processed in a manner that makes it ideal for the specialty feed market.
She said their grain sorghum typically gets a premium price, as compared to corn. Although 2019 was a trying year for most farmers, Johnston’s operation fared well. With initial concerns about excess moisture affecting the sorghum yield, Johnston was pleasantly surprised to harvest an impressive yield.
“Sorghum kind of likes the dry and the wet weather,” Johnston said. “There’s really nothing it doesn’t like.”
A culmination of sorghum’s ability to adapt to an array of conditions and smart management have helped place Johnston among the top yielding producers since 2012.
Johnston said she and her husband decided to enter NSP’s Yield Contest after seeing another farmer in the area be recognized as a national winner. Convinced they could do just as well, the couple signed up and have been competitors ever since.
“We’ve always wanted to have the best we can have,” Johnston said.
Johnston said she never expected to be put into the Hall of Fame but is thankful for the opportunity to be inducted. She said being recognized nationally for her operation’s achievements amongst other farmers is a privilege.
“Obviously I know we can make things grow,” Johnston said, “but I never expected to be put into the Hall of Fame.”
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine in the features department.