Leadership, work ethic key ingredients for success in farmer’s dual role
Ben Wikner knew from about the age when he was first able to walk that he wanted to one day become a pig farmer, following in his father’s footsteps in working on his family’s sow farm in northeast Iowa.
While that aspiration never changed, he added another role to his desired career and life path: The U.S. Military.
“My community has always been important to me, and in my senior year of high school, I joined the local volunteer fire department,” said Wikner, who today raises pigs with his father and brother near Farmersburg, Iowa. “After doing that for a few years, I wanted to do more to serve, so I joined the Iowa National Guard and went away for basic training, something that was a big step in helping me get out of my comfort zone and grow as a person.”
In the six years since his enlistment, the 24-year-old Wikner who says he “bleeds red, white and blue” has balanced service to his community and his country with raising pigs that are eventually finished out by other area pig farms. He’s found raising pigs on his family’s farm to be a good complement to his military service with the National Guard, which mainly comprises work on the weekends and less-frequent training exercises around the nation.
Keys to balancing two roles
Wikner is quick to recognize his military service does occasionally impede his work on the family farm. He knows his family plays a significant role in the early success he’s achieved serving in the National Guard and working full-time as a pig farmer since his graduation from Iowa State University two years ago.
“My parents are always there to support me when I am away spending time in the Guard, and they’re always there to pitch in on the farm when we’re busy,” Wikner said. “They know what I have to do during my service, and since they pitch in a little extra while I’m away, I put in extra effort when I’m home to take some of the responsibility off of them. It takes a tribe to make this all work.”
Though he’s early on in both his career as a pig farmer as well as in the military, Wikner said he’s already felt personal benefits to the two lines of work. Though military service sometimes seems a world away from his family’s pig farm, he recognizes there is one component of success in both jobs. Though one is for his nation and the other for young pigs, service is a common thread between the pig barn and the barracks.
“They’re two different worlds, but they both teach integrity, honesty and duty,” Wikner said. “I have a duty to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and I also have a duty to provide the best possible care for my pigs. My country comes first, and my pigs come first. That’s how I see it.”
Traits for success
Leadership is another trait important to both roles Wikner occupies. With six full-time employees on his family’s farm, duty, leadership and morale are hugely important to raising pigs, just as those qualities are in the military. As he grows his knowledge of and experience with military leadership and discipline, he’s gradually recognizing how much his two jobs have in common.
“I am not leading troops here on the farm, but there are things I have learned in the military that I can bring to this farm. Morale is so important to a successful workplace. I can’t say to an employee ‘You didn’t do this, now drop and give me 50,’ like we do in the Guard,” Wikner said. “What do I take from the military? On the farm, we always face diversity when something breaks or something doesn’t go right. On the farm, you just buck up and get it done. Every day is a challenge on the farm, and I’m used to it. That is a valuable trait in the military too.”
Since he just re-upped his service in the Iowa National Guard for another four years, Wikner said his military service will likely continue well beyond 2023. He’s looking forward to finding new ways he can become a better pig farmer because of his military service, and vice versa.
“I am going to stay in the military for a while. I really enjoy it, it adds a lot of value to my life and brings me a lot of joy,” Wikner said. “And, I am going to raise pigs for as long as I am able to make a living. We are a family farm, and I take a lot of pride in that fact, so I am going to keep working to make sure it stays that way.”