Q&A Series: Pig Farmers Open Up About the Future

( Farm Journal's PORK )

No one could have predicted the way COVID-19 would change our world in 2020. As the industry adapts and moves forward, Farm Journal’s PORK asked five pig farmers to share how COVID-19 has impacted their operation’s future plans and what they can’t live without on their farm.

Pat Albright
Albright Swine Farms, Coldwater, MI

The Albright family has a 200-sow operation producing showpigs, breeding stock and niche pork in southern Michigan. They also have an eight-unit hog roasting business and contract feed pigs for a larger local producer. They are owners in a multi-species USDA harvest/processing plant.

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your operation’s future plans?
A.
COVID-19 has made our decision to invest in our own harvest facility; a decision that for several years looked questionable, now looks like a wise one. Demand for our niche pork and showpigs has kept growing through this. We are looking at ways to capitalize more on those aspects. We also understand our need to continue to be a part of the commercial industry and possibly expand that part of our business. Honestly, the biggest impact for me will be that this virus will cause us to lose a significant number of swine operations. While some might say it just sped up the inevitable, it still saddens me to see.

Q. I can’t live without my ___________ on the farm.
A.
I very much hate to admit it, but the thing I can't live without would be my phone. While I do spend more time than I would like talking and texting, we also have our sow records and breeding info on an app that makes it very handy to look up info on the go. The biggest reason I can’t live without my phone is Snapchat because it allows me to get regular updates on the activities of my grandchildren.

Shana Beattie
Beattie Family Farms, Sumner, NE

Shana and her husband, Bart, operate Beattie Family Farms, along with Bart’s parents. They operate wean-to-finish barns. Additionally, they partner in a 11,000-head sow farm, which is the source of their weaned pigs all near Sumner in south-central Nebraska.

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your operation’s future plans?
A.
2020 looked to be an opportunity to build some equity back into the farm, but COVID-19 quickly changed that overnight. Now the focus is on how we can be highly efficient in operations as well as looking for opportunities to minimize costs and inputs while we weather this storm. Rather than striving for opportunities for growth and production increases we are now focusing on survival.   

Q. I can’t live without my ___________ on the farm.
A.
Family has always been the priority on this 6th-generation farm, but now more than ever it has proved to be a stronghold. Through the lifestyle changes COVID-19 has forced us into, it has been a blessing to have our four kids work alongside us during these trying times. Farming has been business as usual, no quarantine, no working from home. It has been very beneficial to have our kids working with us daily since the middle of March. Since there has been no in-person school, livestock shows, ball tournaments or track meets to attend, each one of them have put many hours on the farm  Not only has the help been a benefit to our business, the kids have had the opportunity to really see the spring farming cycle here at Beattie Family Farms. The kids have been starting weaned pigs, branding cattle and learning to plant soybeans, among many other not so glamorous jobs! 

Pat Hord
Hord Family Farms, Bucyrus, OH

The Hord family raises corn, soybeans, wheat and barley in addition to a farrow-to-finish swine operation and a beef feedlot. They also operate two grain elevators that purchase corn from local farmers and process it, along with other ingredients, into feed for their animals. The family partnered with the Clemens Food Group, along with 11 other producers, in the pork processing plant in Coldwater, Mich.

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your operation’s future plans?
A.
It is becoming clearer the U.S. pork industry has more animals than processing capacity. We were heading toward capacity issues before COVID-19, but the general thinking today is we will not be able to get back to the capacity we had pre-COVID-19 due to modifications the processing industry is needing to make. Therefore, it appears our industry will need to shrink, rather than grow, in the near term. We have put on hold any growth plans and are evaluating any additional modifications we should be making to our system. We are still working through remodeling projects to convert our crated barns to open pen, which need to be completed by 2022.

Q. I can’t live without my ___________ on the farm and why.
A.
I cannot live without my team. It has always been apparent our people are our greatest asset. But when you go through stressful times like we have in the past 10 weeks, it tests every area of your farm. It was gratifying to see each of our team members step up to another level to use their talents and strengths to pull together to navigate these uncertain times. I am very thankful for each one of them!

Pam Janssen
Janssen Farms, Minonk, IL

The Janssen family has a 260-head farrow-to-finish pig farm. Additionally, the farm has 220 head of feeder calves and 1,200 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. Their farm was established in 1874 and has been recognized as a centennial farm. 

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your operation’s future plans?
A.
Profitability is a challenge, but there’s something to be said about being a smaller farm. We are carrying on as normal – we’ve been able to get our finishing pigs in. We haven’t had to make those difficult decisions other producers have had to make. In time, we think there will be some holes that will need to be filled due to larger producers having to euthanize pigs. We hope we can fill that void in some way to help the industry move forward.

Q. I can’t live without my ___________ on the farm and why.
A.
Family. We have three kids who are absolutely the reason we do what we do. Our oldest, Ben, drives a semi for the neighbor but also helps us farm and does a lot of the fieldwork. He is always around when we need him. Our daughter, Kim, is a loan analyst for a community bank, which is always an interesting perspective to bring to a farming operation. Our youngest son, Brian, is on the farm full-time with my husband Bob and me. Without family and kids to help us do things, we wouldn’t have what we have, and they wouldn’t have a legacy to build on.

Bill Tentinger
Tentinger Farms, LeMars, IA

Tentinger Farms is a wean-to-finish operation finishing 45,000-plus market hogs annually. Pigs are sourced through long-term contracts with sow farms located in South Dakota and Canada. They own some finishing and nursery space, but primarily use contract growers to care for their hogs. The operation also includes corn and soybeans. 

Q. How is COVID-19 impacting your operation’s future plans?
A.
COVID-19 has not changed our business plan a lot although it has created a sense of caution in short-term thinking, but we still are focusing on possible slow and steady growth of our hog operation by adding inventory.

Q. I can’t live without my ___________ on the farm and why.
A.
I cannot come up with any one thing on our farm that I could not live without, but I can name a few. Our nutritionist, lender, veterinary, packer and fellow producers are all an important part of our farm because they are partners. With good open lines of communication, they have become trusted advisers. But in the end, it is family because that’s what it really is all about. Without family, there really is no purpose for all this.

We know that nothing can replace World Pork Expo, but we will be uniting together June 1-6 for PORK Week across all of our Farm Journal platforms to elevate the important role the pork industry plays in feeding the world. Share your stories and post photos on social media using #PORKWeek to help us honor the pork industry. From “AgDay TV” to “AgriTalk” to “U.S. Farm Report” to PorkBusiness.com and everything in between, tune in and join us as we acknowledge the most noble profession there is: feeding people.

More from PORK Week:

Q&A Series: Economists Weigh in on Pork Outlook

Q&A Series: Swine Vets Speak Out About the Impact of COVID-19

Q&A Series: Pork Industry Leaders Explore Ripple Effects of COVID-19

 
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