Livestock Industry Loses Valued Analyst

Valued DTN Livestock Analyst John Harrington Dies

John Harrington worked for DTN from 1985 until he retired in early 2019. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- When I googled "John Harrington" to see if the internet world knew anything about DTN's long-time livestock analyst that I did not know, the first article that came up was about Sir John Harrington, an Englishman credited with inventing the first flush toilet.

Our John Harrington -- the REAL John Harrington in my book -- would have loved that. He had even mentioned his inadvertent namesake a time or two over the years in his columns. He was a persistent seeker of a good laugh.

John passed away June 10, at Bryan Memorial Hospital in Lincoln, Nebraska, after a heroic battle with cancer and a heart condition. He was 67 years old.

DTN Market Reporter Linda Nellson worked side-by-side with John for 20 years, producing the weekly newsletter Feel of the Market (FOTM) and ably assisting John with DTN livestock market coverage.

"John was my mentor for 20 years," she said. "He had struggles his entire life, but he was one of the strongest people I have ever met and it sounds like he fought a good fight to the very end," Nellson said.

"John was born with cerebral palsy, but he never let that slow him down, or stop him from following his dreams," she said.

A 1974 graduate of Hastings College, he went on to a year of advanced studies at the University of Nebraska. In his newsletter's website, John credited his real education to years spent under the tutelage of his father, H.W. "Bud" Harrington. "A recognized giant in the field of innovative production and product development, Bud's formidable talents as a national speaker and tireless beef promoter helped shape the face of the industry throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Such expertise, enthusiasm, and singular focus were not lost upon his son," Harrington wrote.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, John managed his family's 45,000-head commercial cattle feeding operation, as well as a 3,000-head swine finishing floor. In 1984, he started Feel of the Market as a consulting firm specializing in fed and feeder cattle marketing, as well as his acclaimed weekly newsletter by the same name. The newsletter was circulated among cattle feeders, ranchers and meat processors throughout the U.S. and Canada.

In 1985, John joined DTN as chief livestock analyst in addition to continuing to produce the newsletter. For DTN, John developed Harrington's Sort and Cull livestock blog, The Market's Fine Print column and myriad other daily market comments, market analysis tools and charts, including DTN's Livestock Margins spreadsheet. He also wrote his Sort and Cull monthly column for Progressive Farmer magazine.

John retired from DTN/Progressive Farmer in early 2019, although he still occasionally wrote blogs, explaining that would be "when something needs to be said or simply when there is fun to be had," as he told one of the DTN editors. His last blog appeared in mid-April.

DTN Editor-in-Chief Greg Horstmeier said it was an honor to have worked with John. "I read, admired and was inspired by John's writing and wit since college. It was a true honor to get to work with him in his last decade at DTN. There will not be another like him."

John won writing awards from the American Agricultural Editors' Association, North American Agricultural Journalists association, and Livestock Publications Council, usually in categories for columns, blogs and humor writing.

In 2016, when he and Progressive Farmer's Senior Editor Victoria Myers together won first place in the marketing article category for an article called Cattle Industry Reboot, the judge wrote, "Even in a category with tough competition, this submission stood out. It was well-researched, yet combined lively writing and story-telling to make a complete story. Nice job!"

In 2014, he was part of a DTN/Progressive Farmer team that won first place in the team category of the AAEA awards for their story "Spring of Hope." He also won first place for humorous article that year for "A Cautionary Tale of Grilling Finance."

Those awards helped him earn a Master Writer (Level 5) award from AAEA, one of the highest levels of recognition from his writing peers.

John was also active in his community.

John served as Hastings City Councilman from 2006 to 2018.

He and his wife, Barb, have three children: Megan Crane (Mike), Erin Howe and Pat McQuillan (Jamie); and six grandchildren (with one on the way).

In one of the last columns John wrote for DTN, he succumbed to his artistic side and his love of the cattle industry.

"As strange as it may sound," John wrote, "I owe these thoughts on the relative nature of 'beauty' to the harsh winter reality of the polar vortex and a rather foolish drive through Nebraska's Platte Valley in late January. Cutting my way through freezing temperatures and subzero wind chill, the magnificence of nonstop vistas (or so it seemed) of black cows on blond stalks often made it difficult to keep the truck safely focused between icy ditches.

"In terms of life-giving heat, the winter sun proved as useless as a broken radiator. Yet its high-noon rays only seemed to sharpen the black-and-blond contrast, especially against the white etchings of freshly fallen snow. Here was a breathtaking combination of animal and landscape that urban sightseers could never imagine.

"To be sure, the beauty I beheld that day was skewed by a country eye long trained on the cyclical pattern of beef production. It had developed the pleasant habit of blinking from calving to turnout to roundup. So seeing a kind of splendid artwork even in the rawest of winter nurseries should not be surprising.

"Perhaps more important, the black noses aggressively rooting through trampled cornfields were much easier to admire given anonymous ownership. Beautiful or skinny packages of humps and bumps; brave warriors against extreme elements or under-hayed scavengers on last legs -- they were not my cattle."

Here's wishing John an eternity full of gorgeous fields of good forage, populated with shiny, well-fed bodies of the animals he admired his entire life.

Cheri Zagurski can be reached at cheri.zagurski@dtn.com

(ES/AG)