In the early 1980s, the nascent days for the ethanol industry, there were a multitude of questions about its use.
They poured in from farmers and corn growers, motorists and politicians.
Larry Johnson, a farmer from Cologne, Minn., accepted the task of answering those questions. He eventually became known as the “Ethanol Answer Man.”
“I think [the role] evolved gradually and naturally for him,” said his brother, Cliff Johnson of Chaska. “He didn’t just jump into it. He had been a farmer and corn grower for 20 to 30 years. And he got involved with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association.”
Cliff Johnson said one of the things that helped his brother in his role as an ethanol spokesman was that “he had the mind of a chemist. He would hear an idea and he would say, ‘I get this.’ ”
Larry Johnson died July 19 after suffering a stroke. He was 76.
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association tweeted that Johnson was “a pivotal figure in the growth of ethanol.”
Cliff Johnson said his brother was suited for his role.
“He listened to everyone’s opinions,” he said. “He said, ‘You can’t learn, or know whether to disagree, if you don’t listen.’ ”
Because of his brother’s patience, Cliff Johnson said, “Everybody liked him.”
Larry Johnson was born to Marion and Clifford Johnson on Feb. 24, 1944, in St. Peter, Minn. He grew up on his family’s farm in San Francisco Township in Carver County. He attended a one-room rural schoolhouse before graduating from Waconia High School.
He attended the University of Minnesota before becoming a farmer.
“He and my brother Jim took over the family farm,” said Cliff Johnson. “Besides field crops, they raised turkeys by the thousands. It was one of the largest operations in the state.”
Larry Johnson spent nine years on the board of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and served as the group’s president in 1985. He spent six years on the board of the National Corn Growers Association.
In 1985, he started a consulting business. He stopped farming full-time in 1988 to focus on it.
One of his clients was the Minnesota Agriculture Department. Johnson traveled statewide to promote ethanol.
He helped found the public/private partnership in Minnesota known nationally as the “Minnesota Ethanol Model.” The model was based on the agreement between public and private parties to keep profits in local communities by providing jobs.
In addition, Johnson served on several task forces and boards. He was a supervisor on the Carver Soil and Water Conservation District from 1978 to 1990 and served as chairman of the Metro Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts for 10 years.
Most recently, he was a secretary for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. The nonprofit, based in Waseca, Minn., partners with businesses and entrepreneurs to produce new uses for agricultural products.
In addition to his brother Cliff, Johnson is survived by Sandy, his wife of 56 years; two sons, Adam of Belle Plaine and Aaron of Cologne; a daughter, Angela of Union Hill, Minn.; another brother, Jim of Chaska; a sister, Joy Heimark of Belle Plaine; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.