Leon Johnson is the founder of River View Farms, a diversified crop and livestock operation in Orange County Indiana, where he built a legacy of innovation and community service that now spans eight decades. He attended Purdue University for one semester in 1931, returning home upon the death of his father to care for his family and their dairy farm. He returned to Purdue in 1933 as a student in the Ag Winter Shortcourse.
Johnson was known throughout his career for trying and developing new methods of production, and even new enterprises. While he returned home in 1931 to a traditional dairy farm, he later converted the dairy barn into a three story broiler house. He became a Ralston Purina feed dealer, and started his own hatchery on the farm. He pioneered the use of space heat in broiler houses, and he was one of the first people to start turkey chicks using open room brooding. In the early 1940’s he put air ducts and a large fan in a hayloft to dry baled hay. In 1950 he built a wooden building for drying wet shelled corn, and in 1955 he built his own feed mill so that he could utilize his own corn. Over the years, his innovative enterprises included raising birdsfoot trefoil for forage and seed production, milo grain production in the 1950’s, popcorn production, sheep and hogs, and pheasants for a specialty market. In addition to his grain and broiler and turkey operations, this diversification helped him manage his risks. He worked with equipment manufacturers to design and test new technologies, including automatic turkey feeders for confinement feeding and a John Deere prototype planter than planted corn into fresh plowed soil. In the early 1960’s he was one of the first southern Indiana farmers to adopt minimum tillage for corn production, and hosted the statewide Minimum Tillage Field Day about two years into their experiment. Johnson relied on meticulous record keeping to make an objective analysis of the profitability of his various enterprises, and he was continuously updating his enterprises and his production methods to maintain his profitability. He adopted the Purdue Farm Record Book System in 1936, and he set a goal of being in the top 10% for efficiency. His management proficiency and innovation was recognized by numerous national farm magazines who profiled him and his management systems. In 1963 Johnson was selected to represent Indiana on an agricultural trip to Russia. Throughout his career he was an invited speaker at numerous national and state conferences including: Ralston Purina’s dealer conventions; the National Institute of Animal Agriculture; Iowa Pork Producers; and the Institute of American Poultry Industries’ Fact Finding Conference. The Indiana Farm Management Tour has visited River View Farm three times, twice when Leon was the principal manager and most recently in 1994 under his son Lee’s leadership. The farm has hosted numerous other management field days and programs, as well as many visitors from countries around the world.
Johnson has an impressive record of community and agricultural service. He was one of the first presidents of the Orange County Farm Bureau, and as one of the three founders of the Orange County 4-H Club Association, Inc. he led that group’s effort to purchase twenty acres and construct with public funds a community center that was used by 4-H and other activities. As a member of the Orleans Community School Board in the 1950’s and 1960’s, he led planning and implementation of several building projects. As an active member of the Syria Christian Church, Johnson has chaired the Board of Elders and the Joint Board and has served 40 or more years as a deacon and elder. He chaired two major building projects for what is now the current church sanctuary and education wing which includes classrooms that are used daily for a pre-school.
Leon Johnson’s career is marked by a list of firsts, as he was always an early adopter—and even developer—of technology. One retired Purdue professor remarked that Johnson is the only person over 90 with whom he regularly conducts a conversation by e-mail.