Reflecting on 2018

posted on Wednesday, January 2, 2019

As 2018 draws to a close, we reflect on and recognize the unwavering resilience of farmers. Many in agriculture will remember this year for its uncertainty. Grain farmers were already feeling pinched after consecutive years of a depressed farm economy when tariffs on many agriculture goods were announced this summer. Tariffs on pork exports to China and Mexico and the rampant spread of African Swine Fever through China, Russia and Poland sent chills throughout the pork industry.

Yet through it all we took the time to celebrate. We celebrated the continued spirit of farmers across Iowa and our nation, taking special note of the passion, drive and commitment of our younger generation.

Young people who see a bright future in agriculture, laying the groundwork for future generations to be able to live and thrive in rural communities.

In this issue of Homegrown Iowa we’ll introduce you to a few of those optimistic, young farmers— Trent Hatlen, Jordan Vansice, Adam Swalla, Megan Foster and Shaun Walkup. All living in different rural Iowa communities, with different, but important, roles in pig care. And all representing communities that are benefiting from the growth of livestock.

Hatlen Family Welcomes Adrians Finisher Farm 

Over in Buena Vista county lives Trent Hatlen and his daughter, Adrian. His mom, Linda, is their neighbor. Trent got his first opportunity to raise pigs on his parents’ farm, years ago. Now the 43-year-old is doing the same for his daughter, Adrian.Adrian, Linda and Trent Hatlen

The Hatlen family recently cut the ribbon at Adrian’s Finisher Farm, a 4,800-head farm built on his Century Farm outside of Rembrandt. Trent is now a contract grower for Iowa Select Farms. He owns the barn, will benefit from the manure and take care of the pigs.

The Hatlens began raising pigs on the family’s farrow-to-finish farm in the 1970s. In 1997, Trent bought the sow herd and sold wean pigs to his parents. But tough markets forced Hatlen to cut back on livestock and eventually get out of pig raising to focus solely on crops.

“Farming’s been really tough the last couple years — super tough,” Hatlen said. “I tended to the family farm by myself. My mom’s always been so supportive and we’re just kind of scratching our heads, asking ‘How do I continue to keep farming?’"Watch the video here and read the full story here

Vansice Family Celebrates Hog Heaven 

Jordan, his wife, Stacia and their children, Lilie and Staden live on a Century Farm in Marshall County near the town of Melbourne, Iowa. Jordan and Stacia are fifth generation farmers and recently celebrated the opening of Hog Heaven.

Vansice Family Jordan and his parents used to raise pigs. His mom, Jodi, ran a farrowing house and nursery. His father, Doug, looked after the finishing. They also had a cow-calf operation.

“Then 1998 came, and we knew we either needed to invest more or get out,” said Jordan. “We got out.” The Vansice’s made do with the income from grain and custom feeding cattle for a neighbor. They also rented out their pasture ground to an uncle. But with the recent hard times in the grain sector, Jordan and his father met with Farm Credit Services of America to discuss options.

They recommended that with these hard times they should look at a pig barn to replace commercial fertilizer costs, but also for the additional income. His lender had information on the different options—contract production, crop fertility programs and opportunities in pig care.

Then, the Vansices started doing their research, even making pro and con lists and working the napkin math. “There is a lot of opportunity here, but we wanted to find the right one,” said Jordan. “We spent a lot of time reviewing our options with the different production companies. Iowa Select Farms kept rising to the top.” Read the full story here. 

Adam Swalla Finds Opportunity near Woodburn,Iowa

Down in south central Iowa, we cut a ribbon in honor of a new sow farm named after it’s township, Smyrna. The opening of the farm offered an opportunity for a team of farmers to care for 7,500 sows at the new, state-of-the-art farm.Swalla Family

Adam Swalla is the manager of Smyrna. Eighteen people make up the Smyrna farm team, coming from the communities of Corydon, Allerton, Chariton, Russell, Derby, Woodburn, Osceola, Kellerton, Indianola and Albia.

The open house was an opportunity for Adam to bring his family to a sow farm, something that he’s never been able to do in the nine years that he and his wife Sarah have been together. “Having my wife and kids here was really, really special for me,” said Adam. “Not only because they finally get to see where I work, but because this farm also represents a completely new life for them, too.” Read the full story here. 

Megan Foster Earns Promotion at Smyrna Sow Farm 

Megan Foster is the farrowing department head at Smyrna, a proud member of Adam’s new farm team. She and her husband, Jeff, live in Allerton and have two small children.

She started with Iowa Select Farms as an entry-level caretaker 18 months ago on a farm outside of Derby. She didn’t have any experience in agriculture, let alone pig care.

Megan FosterWithin six months of her start date, her supervisor, Doug Bates, approached her about the Production Leadership Program, a training and development program for employees who aspire to become a department head or manager.

Just a few months into the Production Leadership Program, construction crews broke ground at Smyrna, just a few miles down the road from her farm. Along with a new farm comes a new team, and new leadership opportunities.

Megan remembers the conversation with Doug, like it was yesterday. “He said I should apply for the farrowing department head position,” said Megan. “I remember going home and writing seven pages of notes for a job I never thought I would get.” Read Megan's full story here. 

Shaun Walkup Finds Career in Livestock Care

Shaun Walkup is the breeding department head at Smyrna. Shaun grew up on a row crop, swine and cattle farm south of Diagonal. When he was little, his parents raised feeder pigs and farrowed sows in an old farrowing shed. “I have always felt right at home around animals,” reflected Shaun “I’m lucky to have found a great opportunity around my hometown.”

While in high school, he began working at Iowa Select Farms part time, rotating through breeding and farrowing at nearby sow and gilt development farms. He joined Iowa Select Farms full-time after graduation; after a brief time away, he rejoined the company as an animal caretaker in January 2017, ready to make an impact.

This summer he applied for, and became, the breeding department head at Smyrna. Shaun always comes in ready to work.

Don Hunt, a regional supervisor who recently moved his family to Derby, Iowa, says Shaun brings a lot of energy and passion to pork production. “He shows up motivated to jump in and start making progress,” said Don. “Leaders like Shaun can’t wait to get their teams as excited about pork production as he is, and show them the potential of what people can do.”

“Looking back, I had great teachers and I am appreciative of that,” said Shaun, reflecting on the managers who trained and coached him years ago. The most influential teachers were his parents.

His dad, Robert, managed Parker Sow Farm for 16 years, and his mother, Misty, is the farrowing department head at Last Chance Sow Farm.Shaun Walkup

“My mom taught me to slow down a little, be patient and most of all be myself,” said Shaun. “She’s been a big influence on my life.”

Maybe someday Trent and Jordan will get pigs raised on Adam, Megan and Shaun’s farm. Until then they are all united in their mission to raise healthy pigs to feed the world while cultivating deep family roots in rural Iowa.

Communities Grow, Thanks to Livestock 

This year marked the year we celebrated growth in rural Iowa. Growth of livestock farms grows jobs for Iowans living in rural areas, which in turn grows incomes and generates more business in small communities. 
Smyrna Sow Farm         $4,700,000 annual economic impact
Adrian’s Finisher            $403,000 annual economic impact
Hog Heaven Finisher     $403,000 annual economic impact
$5,506,000 added economic impact to the state of Iowa

Dr. Dermot Hayes, ISU Economist, says Smyrna sow farm will generate a $4.7 million economic impact to Iowa every year. That impact begins with $700,000 in payroll, then factors in the added corn and soybean consumption and the new business Iowa Select Farms will do with local utilities and services providers.

Smyrna Sow Farm Open HouseA sow farm is a “living and breathing business,” which means it needs nurturing 24/7 through usage of energy, Internet, feed and trucking. It also captures the indirect impact of what those 18 people and their families mean to local restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations and main street businesses.

While finishing farms have less economic impact compared to the larger high tech, sophisticated breeding and farrowing farms, the impact to farm families like the Vansice’s and Hatlen’s is significant.

Dr. Hayes says one, 4,800 finisher will generate $403,000 in annual economic impact, factoring in the farm incomes, local business support, value of manure and increase consumption of local corn and soybeans.

“Livestock growth is a viable way to save rural areas,” Hayes said. "Studies show that counties with a high dependence on agriculture grew more slowly than others, but those where livestock production increased fared better."

Monchuk et al (2007 and 2011) explored the factors that caused some rural communities to decline and others to grow. They did this for all counties in the Corn Belt, and again for all counties in the U.S. The analysis revealed that counties where livestock grew by more than 10 percent above the mean experienced an income increase of one million dollars.

Related Reading
Isn't it Time to Cut a Ribbon for Agriculture?
Dr. Dermot Hayes--Economic Impact Report on Iowa Select Farms
Iowa's Hometown Hero--How Livestock Growth Boosts the Rural Economy