Commit to Committees: Why Young Pig Farmers Must Lead

why industry leadership
Shari and Jarrod Bakker operate contract wean-to-finish barns as well as a showpig operation in Iowa. ( Farm Journal's PORK )

When you walk into board meetings across the country, it’s rare to see many 30-somethings or younger in the room. Thomas Titus, an Illinois pig farmer and member of the Illinois Pork Producers Association Board of Directors, says that’s one reason why he tries to be as involved in leadership opportunities as he can.

“Support in many of these organizations are waning,” Titus says. “I think it's important for the millennial generation to get involved in these roles, to step outside of your comfort zone, to learn more about different perspectives, and to see how we can improve our industry in general.” 

He says it takes all types of perspectives and backgrounds to help shape what the organization will look like going forward, whether it's a state pork producer group, a purebred youth organization or the local Farm Bureau.

Jarrod Bakker, an Iowa pig farmer, decided to get involved in a leadership role with the Iowa Pork Producers Association because it was an opportunity to share his unique perspective on the pork industry.

Being involved in the commercial pork industry and having contract wean-to-finish barns, as well as a showpig operation, allows Bakker to see the pork industry from many angles.

“I see the good in every part of the industry. I want to help bridge that gap and bring everyone together to help people realize at the end of the day we are all on the same team,” Bakker says.

Start local
Iowa Pork Producers Association chief executive officer Pat McGonegle says the first step is to get involved in your county or local organization. He also recommends stepping up to serve on committees or expressing to the organization some areas that you have an interest in. 

“As you look at Iowa Pork, we use committees to help make sure we’re headed in the right direction and to help with sorting through the day-to-day business of the things that we do,” he says.

A key trait of a successful board member is a willingness to express views and to listen, McGonegle says. He also says board members have a fiduciary responsibility to keep track of the funds of the organization.

Position for success
Serving in a member organization gives producers a voice and allows them to help steer the direction of the organization, McGonegle says.

However, he says there’s no question it’s harder for young farmers to get involved because they often face quite a few barriers when it comes to taking on a leadership role.

“Typically, young farmers are trying to get their business going and they have young families, so time is a considerable barrier,” McGonegle says. “But I think we are doing things organizationally, so involvement requires less time – we are becoming more flexible. We have to be more flexible to connect with younger producers.”

Titus says there aren’t too many nights a week that he doesn’t have a meeting of some kind. But he’s not complaining. 

“A lot of times you never know what you don’t expose yourself to,” Titus says. “The greatest value of serving in these organizations is often that you learn different ways to do your job better. Everyone has a different perspective – there’s no one right way to do it. You can learn something about a different production practice or approach. I think that’s extremely valuable and excites me to be more involved and to learn different ways to do our jobs better.”

McGonegle hopes – regardless of age – that people look at involvement in an organization as a growth opportunity to better understand issues, whether they are scientific, market-based or consumer-driven.  He wants producers to be able to take back what they’ve learned to their farm and position themselves better for the future too. 

“I think it’s key for an organization to put producers in a position to learn, grow and better understand things,” McGonegle says. “That ultimately makes better participants and someday, better leaders.”

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