hen I first found out I’d been named America’s Pig Farmer of the Year for 2019, I was excited, nervous and didn’t know exactly what to expect out of the role. I knew it would be a busy year, but what I didn’t know is how much being America’s Pig Farmer of the Year would affect me.
I hit the ground running with industry events around the country, starting with a roundtable discussion in Washington, D. C., presented by American Humane. The group has a mission to advance agriculture in which livestock are treated humanely, and I had the opportunity to be the “farmer in the room” and discuss the lengths to which pig farmers go to ensure they achieve the highest levels of care for their animals. It was a serious conversation in which we really got to the heart of the matter and discussed the realities of modern farming and how we can ensure we’re doing our best for both our animals and our consumer.
Listening is so important
That experience — one of many speaking opportunities I had throughout the year — taught me a lesson that I think is important to share with all pig farmers. When having conversations with men and women with different backgrounds, from different industries and with different perspectives, it’s important to be real.
Nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes and face challenges. But, through those challenges we can forge connections that can build empathy, understanding and mutual respect that can lead to solutions. Everything isn’t fun and rosy all the time — at least not on my farm — but it’s good to share both the highs and lows of our experience as pig farmers. Instead of passing judgment on people who oppose what we do as pig farmers, it’s better to listen to them, learn why they feel the way they do and explain the realities of what we do for a living.
Highlights of the year
One of the highlights of my year as America’s Pig Farmer of the Year came when I served as a judge for a pork cookoff at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Sure, traveling to Miami Beach, Florida, in February was a welcome break from the winter we had last year in Illinois, but it was the interactions I had with other attendees that made it such a memorable experience. Not only did I get to eat some of the world’s best and most finely-prepared pork, I was able to talk about the importance of pork to a healthy, balanced diet and connect with consumers in an educational setting. It was an eye-opening experience to learn how much consumers appreciate the effort we put forth to raise high-quality pork.
I also had the opportunity during my year as America’s Pig Farmer of the Year to learn about some of the latest new technology that could help shape the future of pig farming. I attended an event about CRISPR gene editing and learned about the promise the technology holds in enabling pig farmers to provide even higher levels of animal care in the future. Technology like CRISPR will continue to advance and help pig farmers be better stewards of their animals and environment, and I am lucky to have learned about it and helped inform others in our business about that promise.
What I learned
The last year has taught me a lot. First, this business is filled with strong, capable men and women who are dedicated to and passionate about what they do. Young pig farmers are some of the most social media-savvy people in the world today, and it’s going to become increasingly important to share our stories in ways that will resonate most with our consumer.
I also learned a lot about myself. I learned the value of listening first and speaking second, working to understand other perspectives and being honest, relatable and real. I also learned that by starting a conversation with a question and ultimately learning about others — even in circumstances in which you may initially disagree — is the shortest distance to mutual understanding and common ground.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve as America’s Pig Farmer of the Year for 2019. I enjoyed it immensely, learned a lot about myself and the job of pig farming, and what we can improve upon as an industry. I look forward to working with my successor to continue the positive dialog and action we developed and sustained in the last year.