Year Inducted: 
2015

William JohnstoneWilliam C. Johnstone spent a large portion of his career with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, where he worked as a county agent and later as a specialist. He graduated from UK in 1916 with a bachelor’s degree in horticulture.

Johnstone’s first job upon graduation was as the manager of an orchard, but within a short time he was offered the opportunity to perform work similar to extension in Brazil. He left the United States in 1916 and spent about seven years teaching Brazilians how to work with mules to plow and plant corn. He returned to the United States in 1923, and worked for two days as assistant county agent in LaRue County before becoming county agent in Taylor County.

Within a year, Johnstone was offered the job as county agent in McCracken County. His first association with soil conservation occurred while he was in this position, and he became one of the first agents to develop a soil erosion demonstration area in the state in collaboration with what is today known at the Soil Conservation Service.

Johnstone began working in Lexington researching cover crops and their use to stop erosion. Johnstone became the chief proponent of the Kentucky 31 fescue variety, developed from seed from the grass found on a farm in Menifee County by one of his colleagues. Farmers in Kentucky and throughout the eastern United States quickly adopted the variety. Although it did have its shortcomings, Johnstone saw it as a good groundcover that would prevent erosion and last indefinitely. It is a versatile plant used for livestock feed, lawns, turf and conservation purposes and is adapted for a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. It can still be found on millions of acres today, however, other varieties are available with greatly improved palatability and animal performance.

In 1945, Johnstone devised the extension project known as the Corn Derby as a means of awakening farmers to the potentials in corn production. As a soils specialist, he gave major attention to using cover crops following corn. The aim of the derby, a precursor to many of the yield contests farmers are familiar with today, was to demonstrate the advantages in growing corn only on more level land and getting larger yields per acre by soil management, good stands and the used of adapted varieties. It showed farmers that high yields were possible, and it taught them how to produce them. The project’s slogan was “40 by 60”, showcasing the intent to increased state yields from 30 to 40 bushels per acre by 1960. They surpassed that goal within three years.

Johnstone was also leader of the Kentucky Green Pastures Program, a joint venture with several state and federal agencies, that was structured much like the Corn Derby. The program sought to improve pastures and pasture utilization, but, based on Johnstone’s writings, it was also considered a whole farm project. The program created a lot of interest and was considered a success.

In 1949 Progressive Farmer Magazine named him the man of the year in service to Southern agriculture. In 1951, a group of Kentucky farmers and businessmen presented him with a new automobile for his service to agriculture. In the early 1950s Johnstone left the university after 29 years to become the agricultural representative for the Kentucky Bankers Association.

Johnstone fescue, developed in the early 1970’s by UK and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, was named in his honor. He died in 1978.