If you’re trying to find 21-year-old Matt Johnson, look in three places: the cattle barns outside his Henry County farm, the show ring where he’s been known to parade his prized livestock or the classroom at the University of Illinois.
Dedication and love of the industry is what drives this young man who, like many others in the state, is the future of Illinois agriculture.
“Showing cattle has opened many doors for me, and I have had the pleasure of meeting a lot of wonderful people along the way,” Johnson says.
Johnson grew up on a diversified grain and livestock farm in Northern Illinois, where he helps his family grow soybeans and corn. In addition to the farm, his family owns a Pollard Hereford cow operation.
At age 7, he started showing cattle in open shows at local county fairs, beginning in his home county, Henry County, and later joined the Illinois Junior Hereford Association and the National Junior Hereford Association at age 8.
Since then, he has exhibited Hereford cattle at many junior open shows, including the Junior National Hereford Expo, Illinois State Fair, Illinois Hereford Preview Show, Wisconsin Hereford Preview Show and World Beef Expo.
But his involvement does not stop there: He also enjoys working for Perks Ranch and Rustic Oak Farms, as well as at shows like the National Western Stock Show, American Royal and North American International Livestock Exposition.
“The highlight of my cattle showing career was winning senior showmanship at the 2015 Junior National Hereford Expo in Grand Island, Neb.,” Johnson says.
Now a student at the University of Illinois, Johnson is a senior majoring in crop sciences with a concentration in crop agribusiness. He is also the president of the Hoof N’ Horn club, member of Field and Furrow club, and the historian of the Alpha chapter of Alpha Gamma Rho.
Additionally, Johnson works as a research assistant at the campus South Farm in the small grains research and breeding program.
After his graduation in 2016, Johnson hopes to work as a production agronomist for a major seed company in Illinois.
He would like to eventually return home to the family farm and have a full-time role in the operation. But for now, he is expanding his herd of Polled Hereford cattle – along with his future career plans.