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My daughter Beth has a whiteboard in her room. Every night before she goes to bed, I write a phrase with the letter “B” on it. It’s a fun routine we do that’s meant to encourage her and end the night on a positive note. Recently before an important cross country meet, I wrote the phrase, “Don’t stop “B” lieving”.
How many of us in agriculture need to take those words to heart? Sometimes it would be easier to stop believing. Poor weather, low yielding crops, employees that don’t have our animals’ best interests at heart and organizations that want to demonize agriculture can get the best of us some days. At times it feels like the world is against agriculture. For a group of people that feeds the world, it would easy to stop caring, to stop believing in the positive aspects of agriculture.
But that’s not who we are. Despite challenges, we believe there will be another spring, another fall and another crop. Despite those who say we mistreat our animals, we believe that protecting them from the elements and each other provides the best care and welfare. For those consumers that may not understand what we do, we believe that by telling our story, we can make a difference.
We provide safe, healthy, and affordable food not just for a nation, but for the world. As pork producers each pound of pork we produce uses 41% less water than 40 years ago. We’ve reduced our carbon footprint by 35% at the same time.
Steve Perry had it right. Don’t Stop Believing.
I’ll admit this writer of the Pork Power blog has gone through a bit of writers block recently. It seems I would begin to start a subject, only to get part way through and decide it wasn’t really what I wanted to say.
Over the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to be involved in number of events that involve promoting pork to people who don’t typically interact with pig farmers. From the Boston Marathon in April, to Grandma’s Marathon in June, to the Oink Outing in Edina a few weeks ago, I’ve had a chance to give them a healthy, tasty sample of pork and more importantly talk to them about raising pigs.
The marathon events were just plain fun. While I enjoyed interacting with people at the Farmers Market Oink Outing in Edina, I had a number of conversations that made me realize how much people just don’t trust pig farmers anymore… and that makes me sad.
It seems there was a time when farming was a noble profession. Farmers didn’t make much money, but they were growing food for people, which was good. It also meant those people were free to get other jobs and not have to be farmers. Somewhere along the way, a few bad apples have ruined it for the rest of us and now the common thing to do is call all farmers “corporate farmers” who practice “factory farming.” Ouch, that hurts.
I had people in Edina tell me they won’t eat meat because of the way animals were housed. When I told them about our farm and how we take care of pigs, you could see them make the mental transition to “Okay, now I trust you, but I don’t trust the other people.” So how do I explain to them that the vast majority of pig farmers in MN and the U.S. can be trusted, even if you don’t have the chance to meet with them. I want them to know that with the guidance of our veterinarians and consultants, we can make the right decisions on the welfare of our animals and we don’t need someone else making that choice for us.
I’ve never taken the trust of someone else for granted. I’ve tried to teach my kids that trust is an important part of someone’s character; it’s a measure of someone’s worth. So how do I explain to my kids that a whole new segment of society thinks we’re “worthless” and can’t be trusted to take care of the very animals that provide our livelihood.
Just as important, how do I get people to trust pig farmers again?
Most pigs are green. I know what you’re thinking. You’ve seen white, black, red and even blue-butt pigs, but green pigs?? No such thing. Okay, so when I say green I’m not referring to the color, but the sustainability of pork production and how well it fits with the crops we grow.
Right now we’re busy planting corn and beans. Much of the reason we’ll have a good yield is because of the fertility of the soil. The hog manure we apply to the soil has a major impact on fertility. We test the manure for nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. We also test our soil for those same nutrients. Where the soil is low in nutrients, we apply more manure to increase the fertility and the yield. This allows us to get the right balance of nutrients. In the past without testing there was a greater chance of over applying or under applying the manure, which is wasteful.
A popular subject is carbon footprint. Whether you are a consumer, producer or manufacturer, reducing your carbon footprint is important. Through the Pork Checkoff producers funded research efforts that measured and identified the overall carbon footprint involved with pork production. I’m happy to say the production system we use, with deep pits has the lowest GHG emissions. Why is that? Our facilities help our pigs grow more efficiently, which means they use less feed. The deep pits and manure application systems we have allow us to capture the most nutrients for the crops and reduce our need for commercial fertilizer. Today’s as farmers we produce 50% more pork with the same GHG emissions. That’s being responsible.
Most people I talk to don’t realize what a productive and efficient cycle pigs and crops create. While you may not actually see green pigs on our farm, you can feel good knowing every day we’re trying to do the best we can to be responsible to our neighbors and our environment.
Okay, so I may be a little older than what most people think of for adoption but in this case the adoption means I’ve been chosen by the Worthington Middle School students through Provider Pals. This program is a cultural exchange between those in agriculture and inner-city students.
Provider Pals was started by Bruce Vincent, a logger from Montana as a way for urban and rural students to exchange information and gain a better understanding of their common ground and their differences. For more information on Provider Pals you can visit their website at http://www.providerpals.com
The MN Pork Board has sponsored 4 pork producers to be part of this program, of which I and my daughter Beth are fortunate enough to be able to participate. Over the next few months we’ll be exchanging information on ourselves and the activities that happen on our farm with these students. I am looking forward to the students’ questions and helping them learn more about life on a hog and grain farm. It will be important not just to show them what’s different, but what we have in co
The farmers have not been the only people feeling the pressure to get their crops planted. I have experienced the same thing with our vegetable garden. The cool, wet spring weather has delayed the planting of my garden. The old adage of planting potatoes on Good Friday went by the wayside, even though Easter was late this year. It seems that just when the ground had dried out enough to plant, we were busy with a track meet or another event. When we were ready to plant, the rains came.
Last night I organized the kids and after supper we “attacked” the garden. The weather forecast was for rain Friday and Saturday, which meant Thursday night, was our best opportunity for planting. I ran the tiller and prepared the ground. Beth and Brett focused on the potatoes. I planted the lettuce, carrots, beets, onions and beans. Adam wanted to start a strawberry patch so we purchased new plants and he worked on getting them into the soil.
After 1 ½ hours, we’d accomplished our goal, the garden was planted. I still need to put in my tomatoes and we’ll probably plant a mound or two of squash and perhaps some sweet potatoes. Having the majority of the crops in the ground makes me feel better, just like the farmers as they’ve worked late nights to get the corn and soybeans planted.
Guess what happened, just as predicted. It started to rain early Friday morning. As I listened to the raindrops hit the roof, a sense of relief came over me. Unlike the early pioneers, my life doesn’t depend on whether I get my garden planted, but it still makes me feel better knowing that I did.
Exactly where does your food come from? Brandon and I had the opportunity to answer that exact question yesterday during an “Oink Outing”. The MN Pork Producers connected us with 4 moms from the Cities who answer the daunting question of “What’s for supper?” every day. We also had the opportunity to visit with Chef Paul Lynch of Fire Lake Grill House. Chef Paul shared with the moms and us how easy it is to prepare pork, did a cooking demonstration for us, and finally served us a delicious meal.
Following our meal at Chef Paul’s restaurant we drove to our farm for a tour. The four women who were unfamiliar with farming had excellent questions ranging from, “What do the pigs eat?” to “What have the high corn and soybean prices done to our farm’s profitability?” and everything in between.
Society has access to so much information that it is sometimes hard to sort out fact from fiction. That is why we really appreciate the opportunity to show people what exactly it is we do, and more importantly, why we do things the way we do them. It is not only in our pigs’ best interest to be comfortable and healthy, but in our best interest to raise production animals in a comfortable and healthy way.
Your food doesn’t come from a grocery store or a restaurant. Your food comes from a farm. Happy Eating!
Our border collie, Hal, has amazing instincts. He lives to herd anything. Cattle, sheep, cars, children… he’s not picky.
This afternoon I was washing the dishes and looking out my window at the amazing view of our pastures, fields, and neighboring farmland. As I stood there scrubbing fried egg off of a skillet my mind wandered to who knows where. My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a 4-wheeler and barking.
I focused in on where the noise was coming from and quickly realized Hal was trying his best to help my brother-in-law herd the cattle. Unfortunately, my brother-in-law wasn’t try to herd the cattle. He was trying to move them from one pasture to another. Hal wouldn’t allow it. His instincts told him to keep those cattle right where they were.
I giggled to myself, because it was quite a funny site. Then I felt guilty, because I’m sure my brother-in-law saw no humor in this situation at all. I grabbed Hal’s leash and figured I would at least try to remove Hal from the situation. I hiked out into the pasture, down our big sledding hill, and up to Hal, the cattle, my brother-in-law, and Andy, an employee. Hal paid no attention to me, he had work to do.
I had seen Hal follow our 4-wheelers many times, so suggested that Andy drive his 4-wheeler up towards our house. Andy slowly moved up the hill with me walking beside him. It worked! Hal ran along behind the 4-wheeler. Whew! The cattle were moved onto fresh grass and the work day continued.
It looks like we may have one more job this summer… training Hal.
It’s not often that Dale is away from the farm and the boys and I have to do chores. But when it does happen there always seems to be some type of adventure involved. This past week Dale had the opportunity to attend a marketing seminar and tour the Board of Trade in Chicago. No problem, the boys could do chores while he was gone. Did I mention that the sows always seem to farrow when he’s gone?
Sure enough Wednesday night a sow that had taken almost all day to have 4 pigs needed some help. There was still one inside her that was having trouble getting out. Brett and I prepped ourselves for assistance. He gave his best effort with no luck. I gave it a try. Newborn pigs are slippery no matter where they are at. Getting ahold of them and keeping your grip while helping the sow is tough. Did I mention that about this time we called Dale on his cell phone for tips? Yes, we’re in the barn and he’s in the restaurant in Chicago. I love technology.
Determined to help that pig be born, the sow and I combined our efforts. We were successful. Fearing the worst, Brett and I both yelled “it’s alive” as the pig opened its eyes and started to move around. Instinct took over as the pig gained strength and went to look for Mom and a meal.
Brett and I both felt good about our efforts and results. During this time another sow in the barn had started to farrow and there were new pigs on the ground. We’re hoping these will be our State Fair pigs.
When’s the next time Dale will be gone and we’ll have to do chores? I don’t know. But I’m willing to bet the kids and I will be involved in another adventure.
Throughout this blog you’ve had the chance to get to know us. Now I’d like to tell you a little bit about our farm. Dale’s grandfather Ed Stevermer started this farm in 1917. We are living in the house he built. It’s changed a bit over the last 93 years. The house has gotten bigger, while the number of people living in it has gotten to be fewer. That’s typical farm house progression.
We have a farrow to finish operation which means we have sows that give birth to little pigs on our farm. We raise those pigs until they are ready for market, which is about 5 ½ months of age and weighing about 270 lbs. We sell about 2500 pigs per year. Each pig will eat about 9 bushels of corn so our pigs require about 118 acres of corn for feed. An acre is about the size of a football field, so it takes 118 football fields of corn to produce the pork on our farm. We grow corn to feed to our pigs and then sell the pigs to provide lean protein for others to eat. Meanwhile, the manure from those pigs is organic fertilizer for our corn and soybean ground. It’s a nice sustainable cycle.
We also grow soybeans, which provide a nice crop rotation for the corn. Dale will sell them to the processor, as a cash crop. The soybeans are crushed and the meal is separated from the oil and we’ll buy back the soybean meal to feed to our pigs.
You may be wondering how our farm got its name. Grandpa Ed was selling Chester White breeding stock and needed a name for the farm. He called it Trails End Farm because it was near the end of an old Indian trail.