AMES, Iowa — Pork producers and enthusiasts from across the country gathered in Iowa in late June to learn the ways to reach a brighter future.
Stacie Matchan is a program specialist with the Iowa Pork Industry Center, a branch of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, which hosts programs such as Iowa Swine Day.
It’s the center’s biggest annual event, she said, with 550 registered guests this year. Matchan said the event has “a little bit of everything for everybody”, with attendees ranging from Canada to all over the U.S.
“We do have a lot of producers, allied industry, academia, veterinarians,” she said of the attendees at Iowa Swine Day. “That’s why we do our morning plenary sessions as more big picture talks, and then our afternoon breakouts we kind of get a little more specialized for people.”
Matchan said the biggest topics covered at this year’s Iowa Swine Day were sustainability, foreign animal disease and labor, during a tough year for pork farmers in the country.
“It’s been tough, and you know, hopefully it gets better,” she said. “But it’s great to see so many here, when times are tough, and labor is short — the support of this program is still at the top of their minds.”
The future of sustainability
Joseph Kerns, president of Partners for Production Agriculture, gave an overview of the many ways that carbon market could impact animal agriculture.
“Who is going to regulate the carbon markets, and how are we going to do that?” asked Kerns. “It became painfully evident that we’re not going to have any regulation of carbon markets anytime soon, and that’s where we find ourselves right now, in this ambiguous space.”
Banks Baker, global director of product sustainability for Pig Improvement Company, said that shareholder proposals on greenhouse gas emissions rose to an average of 59% last year compared to 25% in 2017.
“We’re seeing a lot more pressure — not just from consumers but actually from the people that own the company, as shareholders, and then also institutional investors,” said Baker on corporate climate targets. “We’ve gotten to the point now by the end of last year, December 2022, 83% of Fortune 500 companies now have climate-related targets.”
Baker also spoke on the role of genetic improvement in regards to sustainability.
“We know that one of the most important things that a farmer can do to improve the sustainability of his business — outside of management — are choosing animals that already have a higher propensity for efficient production,” said Baker. “Animals that are efficient, that are robust, that are healthy — this needs to be a part of the solution.”
Establishing a winning culture on the farm
Janae Metzger is the HR manager at Pig Hill Company in Alvord, Iowa. Pig Hill is recognized as a company with a solid “winning” culture, and Metzger shared how under her HR leadership they were able to achieve that.
After taking over as HR manager of the farm, Metzger said some of the first things she did to establish a culture of employee improvement was adding drug testing and expanding interview questions as well as the entire interview process.
In 2020, they incorporated the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which she said helped greatly improve their operation.
“Some of the tools that (EOS) has brought to our business really helped us establish our culture, our core values, our mission statement, our engagement with our team, and just aligning management with the right generation and transitioning from the senior to the junior partners,” said Metzger.
She said her biggest realization was that winning was a journey, and not a destination.
“We’ve come a little ways in a few years here, and I guess I tell you that just because you gotta start somewhere,” she said. “We didn’t have this all figured out right away, and it’s a continual process. That’s why I call it a journey, because I have not arrived at any destination.”