By Darcy Maulsby and Jan Jorgensen
The National Pork Board recently announced the four America’s Pig Farmer of the Year℠ finalists. They all excel in adhering to the We Care℠ ethical principles and in their passion for telling their farm story to connect with consumers to build trust.
The Pork Board congratulates finalists Doug Dawson, Delaware, Ohio; Chris Hoffman, McAlisterville, Pennsylvania; Josh Linde, Manilla, Iowa; and Thomas Titus, Elkhart, Illinois.
“These outstanding pork producers do what’s best for people, pigs and the planet on their farms and in their communities every day,” said National Pork Board President David Newman, a pig farmer representing Arkansas. “These individuals also showcase the broad diversity of today’s family farming throughout the United States.”
While the Pork Board recognizes and honors all of the finalists, only one farmer will be named the America’s Pig Farmer of the Year.
In late August, the finalists met with an expert panel of third-party judges in Chicago. The judges viewed videos produced at the finalists’ farms and interviewed each of them about their enthusiasm for speaking up for pig farming. This year’s judges for the Pork Board’s annual recognition program are:
- Robin Ganzert, president and CEO of American Humane
- Jayson Lusk, department head and distinguished professor, Agricultural Economics, Purdue University
- Kari Underly, a third-generation butcher, author, and principal of Range®, Inc.
- Jessie Kreke, senior marketing manager, Culver’s Franchising System
- Patrick Bane, the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year.
The public also could view the farm videos, found at americaspigfarmer.com, and could vote for a favorite. America’s Pig Farmer of the Year will be announced the week of Oct. 1 based on the judges’ scores and the online voting results.
Always a Pig Farmer at Heart
Doug Dawson – Delaware, Ohio
Success gurus say that if your dreams don’t scare you a little, they aren’t big enough. That didn’t quite apply to Doug Dawson, though, since he knew he wanted to be a pig farmer from age five. “I can sit down on an airplane and talk to anybody about pig farming, our farm’s legacy and our community because I live these things every day,” Dawson said. “It’s easy to talk about something you love.”
Delaware, Ohio, has been home to Dawson Farms Inc. since 1939. Dawson, a third-generation farmer, has a 1,400-head farrow-to-finish farm and markets 44,000 pigs per year. Urban sprawl is changing how he and his family farm, however, especially with the county becoming a suburb of Columbus. “We would expand, but we’re less than two miles from the center of Delaware,” said Dawson, who noted there are 400 homes within half a mile of his farm. “My son wants to farm, and so we’re working so he can have the opportunity.”
Efficiency has become a priority for Dawson as his farm evolves to remain sustainable in an increasingly populated area. Dawson, who farms 2,500 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay, focuses on genetic improvements and skilled management to promote higher-performing sows.
“We’ve made several changes to do a better job,” he said. “We’ve transitioned to an older wean age and have adjusted our genetics, helping us wean 12.2 pigs per sow last year. Through it all, We CareSM principles guide us, especially when it comes to animal well-being.”
Headed in Right Direction
“To me, environmental sustainability is second nature,” he said. “We use manure to ensure that our farm is productive, yet sustainable.”
As an Operation Main Street speaker, Dawson enjoys sharing how the pork industry has reduced its carbon footprint over the last 50-plus years. He also believes in giving back to the community, including donating pork to local fund-raisers. “Working together is the key to meeting today’s challenges and creating a better way forward,” Dawson noted. “The pork industry is heading in the right direction and going strong.”
Farming by Choice, Not by Chance
Chris Hoffman – McAlisterville, Pennsylvania
First-generation farmer Chris Hoffman has learned three keys to progress. Success grows where preparation and opportunity meet. To move forward, you have to give back. Above all, always keep the customer top of mind.
“If consumers don’t trust how we raise our animals to supply a safe, nutritious product, nothing else matters”
…said Hoffman of McAlisterville, Pennsylvania, who runs Lazy Hog Farm with 1,400-sows.
Being transparent about how pigs are raised today will help ensure farming opportunities for the next generation, Hoffman says.Hoffman embraces all of the pork industry’s We CareSM principles, especially animal well-being.
“Being transparent about how we ensure our animals remain healthy is important. Our customers need to see that we are committed to safeguarding employees, protecting natural resources and contributing to our communities,” said Hoffman, a volunteer member of the local fire station. He also supports local food pantries and the Ronald McDonald House.
Leaving a Legacy
It’s easy for Hoffman to see things through the eyes of a consumer because he didn’t grow up pig farming. When he left home to begin his career, he had $300 in his pocket, a strong work ethic and the drive to succeed. At age 19, Hoffman began managing a 850-sow farrow-to-finish farm.
Four years later, he bought his first farm and began caring for 600 sows. He later purchased a neighboring farm and built a pig nursery and grew his operation’s capacity to 1,400 sows. “Making things work means sharing the story of today’s pig farming with key audiences. We need to show people we’re doing the right things,” Hoffman said. Hoffman details the daily care he provides for his animals, from diets designed by a swine nutritionist to clean drinking water that comes from wells on the farm. “We drink the same water our pigs drink,” he said. “One motto I live by is that you can have total control of a conversation’s outcome,” Hoffman said. “If you’re adversarial, it ends up adversarial. If you listen to understand where someone is coming from, you get the aha moments.”
Sharing his farm’s story is important to Hoffman, who wants his children and grandchildren to be able to carry on the farming tradition he started. “My mission is to help this legacy live on.”
Growing Opportunities in Iowa
“I was intrigued with pigs ever since I was a kid,” said Linde, who grew up on a farm north of Westside, Iowa, where his father taught him animal care. “Working on the farm planted a seed in me of what I wanted to do someday.”How do you succeed in pig farming? For Josh Linde, the strategy is straightforward: Be like a tree: Stay grounded. Connect with your roots. Turn over a new leaf. Keep growing.
For Linde, that seed grew into a dream to build his own pig farm. First, however, he earned a college degree in construction and began building pig barns for a living. By 2007, Linde built his first wean-to-finish barn for his own farm. “In 2008, that barn opened the door to one of the greatest opportunities as I joined The Maschhoffs as a production partner,” said Linde, who launched a new career in 2009 as a junior field advisor for the Illinois-based production company.
Today, Linde owns a 2,400-head, wean-to-finish barn. He owns another 2,400-head barn and two 4,800-head, tunnel-ventilated nurseries with his brother Travis, with their younger brother Markus working with them.
“The We CareSM ethical principles ground us in our day-to-day care of pigs and our resources”
…said Linde, who serves as general manager of the Heartland Region for The Maschhoffs, in addition to managing his own farm. “Food safety is always top of my list. Raising pigs in a safe, stress-free environment allows us to provide the best quality pork to meet the world’s standards.”
Navigating Risks, Rewards
Inspiring the next generation to consider careers in pig farming is important to Linde. “Pig farming is a proud, noble profession,” said Linde, who talks to third-grade students about where their food comes from and about job opportunities in their community. He tells his farm’s story as only an entrepreneur can. “It’s a risk to jump in with both feet and say, ‘We’re going to do this for the rest of our lives,’” Linde said. “But I told myself when I built my first barn in 2007 that the only risk was me failing. People need to believe in themselves.”
Focus on the Big Picture
Thomas Titus – Elkhart, Illinois
Everyone seems to have an opinion about farming today. If you’re looking for facts, though, who are you going to trust? A “Google Ph.D.” who searches the internet but has no firsthand ag experience, or a pig farmer who works with animals daily?
“Being able to step out the back door, be immersed in agriculture and know how food is grown is rare today,” said Thomas Titus, a sixth-generation farmer who raises hogs, corn, soybeans, and hay near Elkhart, Illinois.
”I want to better understand consumer concerns about their food and be a resource they can trust”
…Titus said. He grew up learning how to care for the land and livestock, and for six years he worked with the Cargill Pork team specializing in procurement. He leveraged that valuable experience in 2012 when he had the chance to farm with his wife, Breann, and her family. Today he manages Tri Pork Inc., a 700-sow farrow-to-finish farm with his family and three full-time employees. He focuses on the big picture and embraces continuous improvement. “We look for ways to do our job better every day while safeguarding our natural resources and providing the best animal care possible,” Titus said.
Opening the Doors
To help people make the farm gate-to-dinner plate connection, he hosts farm tours for dietitians, teachers and other influencers. He focuses on how they raise pigs responsibly following We CareSM principles. Titus also is active on social media platforms to reach a wider audience. “Sharing farm photos is a powerful way to explain abstract concepts such as our veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR),” he said. “I share that we work closely with our vet to develop a health and well-being plan, much as we work with a physician for our family health.”
Giving back is important to Titus, who serves with the Illinois-based No Mountain Too High Youth Ministry. The group brings animals and underprivileged youth from nearby metropolitan areas together to gain priceless life lessons. He provides pigs the kids can exhibit at the county fair. “We help the kids learn proper animal care and showmanship skills,” Titus said. “I am honored to share our passion for the pork industry and help shape the next generation.”