Farmer Perspective: Q&A with FBN member Zach Johnson, AKA the MN Millennial Farmer
To his hundreds of thousands of YouTube channel subscribers, Zach Johnson is better known as the MN Millennial Farmer. He is a fifth-generation farmer from Lowry, Minnesota, where he and his wife Becky live with their three children and their niece, and farm with Zach’s father.
His great-grandfather came over from Sweden and homesteaded their land in 1876, which they still farm as a row crop operation today. I had the chance to talk with him recently about becoming an FBN member, the early days of starting his channel versus today, and why he’s so passionate about talking to consumers about farming.
Sally Krueger, FBN: You became an FBN member last year. Why did you join?
Zach Johnson: The power of the network and farmers coming together in an open and unbiased way to share and learn from each other.
Now, being able to login to my account and use FBN Seed Finder to see which seed performs best in my area, see the price transparency and yield of that seed compared to others, it’s incredibly valuable for our farm.
We have also shopped and purchased chemicals from FBN Direct because the prices are always there, available for me to see, and being able to cut out the middleman from our purchasing, and get our chemistry delivered directly to the farm really is simple, but also convenient and saves us money. It just makes sense for our farm.
SK: How were you managing your farm’s operational data before joining FBN?
ZJ: Before joining FBN, we were mostly just using what was available to us through our equipment. We had a couple of tools, but we could only see what was happening on our farm, and we didn’t have that level of insights to see trends and patterns.
Now we have a large dataset from the network that we can actually use—before it was just something we had for reference, but now we have true decision-making data.
SK: This was also your first Farmer2Farmer, which is the annual FBN user conference. Why do you tell other farmers they should be there next year?
ZJ: It’s an incredible conference. It’s so exciting to be there with that many other farmers who are all just as excited to be there, ready to learn and have fun. The energy is great.
You have to go for the main stage speakers—they are all worth it, just for that. I’ve been doing some speaking opportunities myself and to see them on stage and how they share and tell stories was awesome.
But there’s a lot more, like opportunities to network, meet other farmers, meet the FBN team, hear what’s coming from FBN.
There was the Ag Startup Competition this year. I met Jay Hill online through my channel and his, but then we had a chance to meet in person at Farmer2Farmer, and it’s those relationships and learning that can really make a difference for your farm.
SK: I think at one point I saw this small but energetic crowd of blue jackets following you around at Farmer2Farmer…
ZJ: Haha! The group of FFA students that was there recognized me, and they were shy at first. But I told them to come over and say hello and take a picture with me.
SK: I read somewhere online that you started your channel in about 15 minutes. You took a video with your phone and posted it… the rest is history, I guess?
ZJ: Yeah, I had been thinking about it for a few years, but I wasn’t really sure about actually doing it, because it’s a lot to put yourself out there and share openly with the world about your family and business.
I’ve never wanted the channel to be about my own personal recognition, but to show people how we really live and farm. I also believe that there is a lot of misinformation out there about farming and how we operate our farms, whether that be about the chemicals we use or the seed we plant.
So for the first year or so I was just making videos with my phone. For that first video, I propped up my iPad on a dusty drum in the shop. It was a nice day outside and we were washing a truck, and I just showed what we were doing and showed my kids playing.
I hoped that people could relate to that and would be willing to listen to and think about what I showed them.
SK: Today you have more than 236,000 subscribers—this time last year I think you were at about 50,000, right? What’s it been like to see your followers grow so quickly?
ZJ: Things really took off at harvest of 2017, so about 18 months ago. I had about 7,000-8,000 followers then. We posted one harvest video and it went viral—people loved it.
Millions of people were watching it and we couldn’t believe it, so we tried to make some more and see how those would turn out. It just kept growing. From there, my wife, Becky, has joined in on helping me to edit and post videos, and with this many people watching our videos we just said, “OK, let’s see where this goes and say yes to these great opportunities.”
We never imagined it, but we’ve met so many kind people, and had so many opportunities to talk about our farm. It’s a great feeling, and we enjoy it.
SK: You were at the FBN booth in Orlando for Commodity Classic this year, and a couple asked you to take a photo with them and send a video to their son back home—that was awesome.
ZJ: It was fun. They asked me if I would record a message for him and say hello… so I did… and reminded him to clean up his room before his parents get home.
SK: And that’s why your channel is popular with both kids and adults! You’re known as a bit of a “gearhead”—and I mean that in the most respectful way because I’m married to one myself. How did farm machinery become such a big part of your channel?
ZJ: We’re all kids at heart, and the grownups as well as the kids like the big farm equipment and machinery.
I’ve got a buddy who told me that his daughters like it best when I’m in the combine or the planter. He also said that he was sick of hearing my voice so much in the background with his kids watching the videos, so he decided to sit down with them and watch some.
Then he told me, “Ok, these aren’t so bad!” But, seriously, Dad has always been very mindful of taking good care of your equipment, and keeping it running well.
We just believe that it’s a big investment and a critical part of how we farm. We’ve always tried to run good, reliable equipment, but we’ve had lots of colors… some green, some red and even white over the years.
SK: So, what comes next for MN Millennial Farmer?
ZJ: At this point we, my wife Becky and I, are really just putting as much effort into this as time will allow us, and where it goes from here remains to be seen!
We’re just trying to explore and understand what we can offer, and how we can help to benefit agriculture through that along the way. It’s been a crazy learning experience so far!