Iowa Soybean Association Celebrates New Sow Farm Right Along With Us

posted on Friday, March 17, 2017

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

Iowa soybean farmers will soon have more mouths to feed. Hundreds of thousands more.

It couldn’t come at a better time with the nation’s farmers poised to plant more soybeans than ever before — 88 million acres, according to some analysts — and plenty of last year’s record harvest still to market.

Iowa Select Farms, Iowa’s largest pork producer based in Iowa Falls, held an open house on March 10 at its newest $18 million Humeston Sow Farm near Derby. The state-of-the-art facility will house 6,250 sows and farrow an estimated 175,000 piglets a year.

Stocking will begin this week with the first litter arriving the week of April 20.

The hungry mothers will consume more than 548 tons of soybean meal from nearly 25,500 bushels of soybeans, along with 150,000 pounds of soybean hulls, according to Iowa Select projections. Their offspring will chow down more than 6,000 tons of meal made from more than 280,500 bushels of beans.

Pigs are the No. 1 consumers of Iowa soybeans. Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) President Rolland Schnell of Newton said if grain farmers had any doubt how important a growing swine industry is to them, the numbers speak for themselves.

“Every bushel of soybeans fed to livestock reduces the supply and therefore increases demand.  That translates into a higher value for our soybeans,” Schnell said.

According to ISA soybean checkoff-funded research, more than 116 million bushels of soybeans is fed annually to the more than 22 million hogs and pigs in the state. Historically, it’s about one-fourth of total production.

After last year’s bin-buster harvest totaling 572 million bushels, Schnell said additional homegrown demand is needed. And Iowa Select Farms is delivering.

The company plans to build four more 7,500-head sow farms in the state starting this spring. Those sows and piglets will eat nearly 1.5 million bushels of soybeans.

This is in addition to the 120,000 tons of soybean meal, or more than 5.5 million bushels of soybeans, that the company currently feeds its hogs and pigs.

“The livestock industry is a vital component of the soybean industry,” Schnell said. “Many areas of Iowa are long distances from rail and inland waterways to get soybeans to market, so value added industry’s such as pork production are important to profitable soybean production.”

The average diet of Iowa Select pigs contain 7.3 percent soybean meal, 53 percent corn and 33.4 percent dried distillers grain.

The company buys feed from a dozen mills statewide that source local raw materials. On average, mills are within 20-25 miles of hog sites.

Iowa Select owner Jeff Hansen said there’s no better place to raise hogs than Iowa given the abundance of grain and land that needs nutrients. Since 70 percent of swine production costs are feed, he said a strong partnership with grain producers is critical.

“The availability of soybeans and corn are very important to us to produce quality pounds of pork efficiently,” Hansen said. “It’s so important for us to work together. One can’t survive without the other.”

An increase in packing capacity, consumer demand here and abroad and a new innovate air filtration system to keep airborne diseases like porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) from wreaking havoc on breeding herds spurred the expansion, Hansen said. The company previously farrowed 165,000 sows a year.

The new farm is an instrumental part of Iowa Select’s journey to produce more than 1 billion pounds of pork this year. It’s the first new sow facility — three 160x425 foot connected buildings — the company has built in 20 years.

“In the next couple of years, you will see a huge expansion in pork production, which in turn will need more corn and soybeans,” Hansen said.

Ben Haberl, Iowa Select director of feed and nutrition, said the company has and will always rely on local-grown grain to feed animals.

“There’s a great value there from a location and quality standpoint,” he said. “It allows us to be competitive.”

Some hog producers decided to move farrowing operations outside of Iowa due to PRRS. Not Iowa Select.

Now that filtration technology is available, expansion in-state is no longer an obstacle. That’s a good thing for Iowa, according the Jen Sorenson, communications director.

“Sows are where all the economic activity comes from,” she said. “This farm alone is adding 17 employees that receive good pay, benefits and bonuses. That’s what rural Iowa needs.”

You won’t get an argument on that point from Derrick Sleezer, an ISA member and past president of the National Pork Board. He’s a pork and grain farmer near Aurelia.

He was one of more than 1,000 employees, suppliers and special guests that toured the positively-filtered, pen gestation farm. Even though it’s a biosecure shower-in, shower-out facility, it’s equipped to host tours for customers and partner organizations.

“Iowa will continue to grow as the leader in pork production in the country, and that drive the consumption of soybeans,” Sleezer said. “There’s a long-term future in pork.”