DASSEL, Minn. – There is room for new pork producers in Minnesota, says Minnesota Pork Board President Pat FitzSimmons.
While raising pigs has financial risk, pork production can provide a good living to support a family.
Every person involved in pork production makes a significant lifestyle decision, though.
Today’s pork producer understands that care of the pigs always comes first. Managing pigs requires knowledge of swine husbandry, building maintenance and upkeep, nutrition, worker relations, marketing, transportation, biosecurity and more.
“There is a great need for our younger generation, and not only in the upper management, but just people who are willing to start working for a pork producer and move up and learn the industry,” said FitzSimmons, in an interview at his home.
In 2012, the U.S. had about 68,300 hog operations vs. 73,600 operations in 2003. The 2012 average size operation was 972 pigs vs. 821 pigs in 2003, with about 6 million more pigs raised now per year than 10 years ago.
Sixty percent of U.S. hog operations house more than 50,000 head annually, according to the Pork Checkoff’s Quick Facts bulletin.
Lifetime of pork production
In his own career as a pork producer, FitzSimmons grew up near Good Thunder, Minn., and was raised with six brothers and two sisters. His grandparents, parents and uncle and aunt all farmed together.
Today, FitzSimmons farms and works with his brothers, two brothers-in-law, a family friend and many from the next generation of the FitzSimmons family. Their company, Protein Sources Management and Milling, is headquartered in Mapleton, Minn.
“We have a very good relationship among all of us, and we just come back to where we ‘office.’ It’s one room in Mapleton where we all operate. We all have our specialties and things we do. We get it done,” he said.
Many conversations and decisions are made around the kitchen table.
“We watched how my dad and his brother worked together, and if I look at my uncle’s boys, they are the same way as us,” he said. “They work on a daily basis together.”
In the mid-1980s, Pat and his wife, Marie, moved to Cokato, Minn., to manage a finishing site for the FitzSimmons family. They also raised six children there.
Eventually, the Cokato farm converted to replacement gilt production. Pat and Marie’s youngest, Kim, and her family now live on the farm.
Pat and Marie live in Dassel, and Pat now makes frequent 100-mile commutes south to Mapleton for work.
Protein Sources, in 2013, includes farrow-to-finish operations, as well as management services for hog and farm operations. They own and run a feed mill out of Mapleton, and own a boar stud facility in northern Minnesota.
With their many years of experience, Protein Sources offers complete management services, building, maintenance, human resources, accounting, financials, marketing, consulting, and veterinary services.
This past year, FitzSimmons spent most of his time overseeing the construction of a farrow-to-wean facility in Long Prairie for a family operation from Webster City, Iowa, as well as other construction projects. He also manages the pig flow out of the Cokato farm.
Most of Protein Sources’ assets are located in southern Minnesota, in the heart of Minnesota’s pork production area. Having seen most of Minnesota’s farmland, FitzSimmons thinks the lower tier of counties continue to hold good potential for pork production.
“It is going to be hard to move the hog populations out of southern Minnesota,” he said. “If you take your I-90 corridor, including Martin County and Blue Earth County, they are close to packers, close to feed supplies, and close to the hog industry.”
Help is here for raising pigs
The Minnesota Pork Board and Minnesota Pork Producers Association strive to help pork producers in any way they can.
While the Pork Board works on promotion and education using checkoff dollars, the Pork Producers Association works on public policy and lobbying for members.
Setting high standards for pork production, the Pork Checkoff offers Pork Quality Assurance Plus. Revised in 2013, this program provides a framework for food safety standards and animal care.
Transport Quality Assurance is another program that helps swine transporters, producers and handlers understand how to handle, move and transport pigs. Attendees also learn the impacts of their actions on the well being of pigs and pork quality.
“As you bring in new workers that weren’t raised on a farm, we spend a lot of time training,” said FitzSimmons.
The Pork Checkoff also offers web-based tools to help pork producers reduce their environmental footprint. Many producers also have in place a nutrient management plan. This plan includes conservation practices and management practices to ensure production and environmental goals are met. Correct hog manure application methods are incorporated into these plans to maximize crop production.
The checkoff organization oversees efforts to minimize pork’s carbon footprint, water footprint, air footprint and land footprint.
According to the U.S. Environmental Pollution Agency, U.S. pork production contributes just one-third of 1 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Since 1990, U.S. farmers have increased meat production by almost 50 percent, with relatively constant greenhouse gas emissions.
Pork producers have worked hard to improve feed efficiencies, manage manure well, and use cropland to the best of their abilities.
The Pork Checkoff has even developed a Live Swine Carbon Footprint Calculator to help pork operations identify ways to minimize their carbon footprint.
Today’s Minnesota pork producer
In 2013 it’s possible to raise pigs in a variety of ways, but every producer is expected to give high quality care to their animals.
FitzSimmons thinks the average Minnesota pork producer in 2013 is trying to raise pigs in a responsible, caring way.
“They try to be good stewards of the land,” he said. “They also try to be good neighbors and good people. Most help their communities.”
As Baby Boomers move toward retirement, young producers will be needed to continue to provide high quality pork to the consumer.
“Most of Minnesota’s hog operations are family owned, and they are trying to bring in a wide variety of the next generation,” he said. “It’s a good lifestyle. We enjoy it, and it’s a great way to raise a family, and keep them involved in farming.”
The FitzSimmons family is just one example of the many Minnesota pork producers who are well satisfied with their choice to raise pigs in 2013.