Emerging Technology, Emerging Leaders

No one can deny that the swine industry is up against some worrisome headlines: African swine fever, animal rights activists, trade tariffs. After thought-provoking conversation with leaders from all over the country at the National Pork Industry Forum and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians conference, my list of story ideas to pursue grew. 

Still, I kept coming back to 10-year-old Ty.

Why? Because these meetings affirmed to me how much our industry needs him. With the labor shortage facing the pork industry, it’s more important than ever to expose young people like Ty to the multitude of rewarding careers offered in the swine industry. 

Ty and buddies
(l to r) Max, Ty and Hunter share a passion for pigs. How do we keep them interested in a future career in the swine industry?

Ty helps his buddy Max care for his 4-H pigs. Ty’s parents did not grow up on a farm. But, they made a deal that they would consider buying a few pigs for Ty if he joined 4-H and learned more about the responsibility needed to raise pigs. He’s already halfway through his first year of 4-H and loves it. He started livestock judging in January – he’s a natural.

You might be wondering why this kid matters to our industry. 

Ty is smart. He’s a problem solver. He is eager to learn. He likes pigs. He may not come from a family that owns a 1,500-sow farm, but he offers exactly what our labor-concerned industry needs – passion and the ability to learn.

I’ve heard many pig farmers and industry leaders say labor is one of the biggest issues that keeps them up at night. Who will take over their job someday? Who will step in as their farm’s nutritionist? Human resources director? Barn manager? Who will discover a vaccine for African swine fever? Who will lobby for pork producers on Capitol Hill?

I believe Ty could. 

But he needs our help. If we can capture his attention through his passion for pigs, then we may be able to draw him in. Very few people get the privilege of growing up on a pig farm. We need to provide opportunities for kids like Ty to be exposed to the pork industry, to learn by watching you, so we can identify kids with a passion for pigs to fulfill our industry’s labor force needs.

Ty and friends
Ty (second from right) enjoyed spending the week at the county fair with his friends in the pig barn.

Will Technology Be the Bridge?

Emerging technology was a key topic of discussion at both conferences – ranging from computer science to biology.

Bill Even, CEO of the National Pork Board, said the pork industry is building one of the greatest think tanks in the world when it comes to emerging technology in the livestock industry. Last fall they hired a director of emerging technology to lead these efforts.

“We’re at the cusp of this on the livestock side,” he said. “The technology in our tractors, sprayers and combines is stunning. We are just at the front end of a precision agriculture wave, washing across the pork industry – from production and feed mills to disease monitoring and packing plant operations.”

Think of all the doors technology can open for our young people who have an interest in the swine industry. But we don’t need to stop there. 

“There are many really bright people out there – they don’t have to be in agriculture to be able to solve the problems our industry has,” Even said. 

I’m more confident than ever that we will continue to rise up to the challenge to produce the best product possible despite the challenging circumstances (like a shrinking labor force) that will inevitably come our way. You can move the needle by reaching out to young people and sharing your story. How will you invest in the next generation? 

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