Sunday, March 10, 2019

We Care: It's Our Job
by Georgia Miller, Communications Intern, NPPC

Centuries ago, when technology spanned no further than the wheel and shovel, the first farmers and ranchers raised their animals according to their own rules. There was no manual or book, save the farmer’s almanac, to guide them along their way. They relied upon one another to learn new things and to hold themselves accountable for the advancement of production practices. Every farm was different, but a common instinct drove all successful farmers: your livelihood depended on the responsible use of your land and the proper care of your animals.

These instincts haven’t left us, but consumer trust and understanding of food production has diminished as new generations are growing more and more distant from agriculture. Although our food is safer, better-tasting and more sustainable than ever before, many consumers aren’t convinced. By 2050, there will be 10 billion mouths to feed, making technological innovation, production efficiency, and safety more important than ever. If we are to successfully address this challenge, we must find new ways to educate consumers about the technology and innovation that will be key in meeting the world’s food needs and expectations for ever-more sustainable production systems.

Gene editing in livestock, for example, is an emerging technology that can accelerates genetic improvements that could be realized over long periods of time through breeding. It allows for simple changes in a pig’s native genetic structure without introducing genes from another species. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) is a advocate for the development of this technology because it has the potential to eliminate animal diseases, such as Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome, that cause animal suffering while decreasing the need to use antibiotics in pork production and reducing pork production’s environmental footprint.

The promise of technologies like gene editing won’t be realized if we don’t reduce the gap between the pace of innovation and consumer understanding of modern food production.

That’s why NPPC and the National Pork Board created We Care℠, an initiative designed to promote responsible practices in all areas of production while meeting consumer expectations for transparency at the local, state, national, and international levels. The We Care commitment has allowed U.S. pork to use nearly 76 percent less land, more than 25 percent less water and seven percent less energy since 1960. It is this same commitment that drives our support of gene editing and other technologies that allow us to build on our track record of success.

While nearly everything about farming has changed in the last 200 hundred years, one thing has always stayed the same: when it comes to our animals and our land, We Care. It’s our job.

About the Author:

Raised on a third-generation swine and grain farm, Georgia Miller realized her love for agriculture at a very young age. She is from Niantic, Illinois, where her family has raised purebred Berkshire hogs for more than 50 years. Currently, Georgia is a student at Iowa State University studying Agricultural Education and Agriculture in Society. At NPPC, she is taking that passion to new heights by expanding her knowledge of public policy and agricultural issues to become a stronger, more diverse advocate for the industry she loves so much.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Minnesota Pig Farmer Leads by Example on Water Quality
This blog was submitted by the National Pork Board in Celebration of National Ag Day.

Randy Spronk takes safeguarding the environment very seriously on his family’s
Edgerton, Minnesota, pig farm. He has since the day he started raising pigs almost
40 years ago.Spronk has decades of data and information on his farm’s environmental 
footprint — overall water quality, how many gallons of manure his farm has yielded, 
how many gallons have been applied to his crop acres, how his crops have utilized 
that manure and more.

He does it first and foremost because it’s the right thing to do. He’s also been able to 
make use of that data in ways that improve his farm’s overall environmental footprint. 
t’s enabled him to put his attention to his natural surroundings into action by taking 
further steps to improve the performance of both his pigs and row crops.

Real Pig Farming sat down with Spronk to discuss his farm’s history and 
how he uses technology to sustainably raise pigs and crops in on his southwestern 
Minnesota farm.

Real Pig Farming: Talk about your history as a pig farmer and your farm today.
Randy Spronk: I graduated from college in animal science in 1981, then moved 
back home and started with 100 sows. I bought the farm in 1988 and partnered with 
my brothers. We started together with a 300-sow farrow-to-finish farm, and we’ve 
grown ever since then. Spronk Brothers is our livestock farm, and we have around 

10,000 sows now. We have our own on-farm feed mill and are vertically integrated 
backwards. We harvest 2,600 crop acres and we feed all of our own pigs.

RPF: What are your water quality goals?
RS: For my entire farming career, I have made the environment a huge priority. It’s 
a lot of hard work, but it’s a labor of love. I know that if I don’t take care of the 
environment around me, it will take care of me. I obviously want to improve our 
water quality, and show society that we can improve overall water quality. We want 
to make it better, not just prevent it from eroding. I want to be part of the solution, 
not part of the problem. At the farm level, I work to ensure that once that water is 
on our farm and in our pig barns, the manure doesn’t go anywhere until I am 
ready to use it agronomically, and then I am going to use it for an agronomic benefit. 
I don’t waste any water.

RPF: Why is water quality so important to you?
RS: Our farm is on the Buffalo Ridge, which is sort of the “Continental Divide” 
between the Missouri and Mississippi River watersheds. It’s a critical area for 
water quality, and we’ve always wanted to be part of the solution, not part of the 
problem. I’ve always felt that I’m a caretaker entrusted not just with the pigs, but 
the soil and water here. That’s my occupation, it’s what I do every day, and it’s what 
I was educated to do. It’s important to me to utilize these resources — our soils and 
water — to produce food and make decisions that benefit both me and society. 
We all coexist.

RPF: What makes your attention to water quality unique?
RS: We’re certified with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification
Program and I have a third-party verification conducted that shows the farm’s 
environmental impact with Centrol Crop Consulting, Inc. We have worked with 
the same agronomy consultant to conduct those verification's for 25 years, and 
through my entire farming career, I’ve always worked with a third-party to sample 
manure pits, conduct soil tests and give recommendations on how to manage our 
manure so it’s best for our soils and water. We have 25 years of data on a spreadsheet 
showing nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium in our soils, and we use the latest 
agronomic rates to produce our crops using our own manure. We don’t waste 
anything. Our manure has a lot of value, and we use it that way.

RPF: What role does technology play in your water quality efforts?
RS: We grid-sample our fields in 2 ½-acre grids and we know exactly what our 
crops and soils need from a nutrient standpoint. And, I have all of that information 
on my smartphone, so it’s with me at all times. I can tie my manure applications 
to crop yields in ways that show how beneficial they are to our water quality. 
Since now we can sample our manure pits before we apply the manure, we 
can program rates in and apply exactly the amount of fertilizer at the optimal rate. 
In the 1990s, we were putting on 4,000 gallons per acre. On most of our corn acres 
today, it’s probably 2,500 to 3,000 gallons per acre because of increased nutrient 
content that justify those lower rates. We always know exactly what we’re applying 
before we even go to the field. Then, we can go back and report that through a 
third-party so we keep our records up-to-date.

RPF: What do you see as important to the future of water quality on farms like yours?
RS: I think we’re going to continue to innovate on the animal nutrition side. We’re going 
to find ways to innovate, adapt and change so that we can apply that manure more 
effectively, and ultimately have the ability to do more with less. A 100-bushel corn crop 
was huge for my dad. If we’re not raising at least a 200-bushel crop now, we’re doing 
something wrong. We’re going to continue to find ways to raise our pigs, utilize manure 
and raise stronger crops, all while improving our water quality. Animal nutrition and 
manure application technology will help us accomplish all of those goals.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

It Takes Talent to Feed the World

by Nanci Lilja, President, CHS Foundation

When most people think of agriculture, they wonder how we are going to feed the growing population of 9.6 billion by 2050.  And while that’s an important question to consider, I find myself thinking more often about the individuals needed to fill the talent pipeline to feed that growing population.

With nearly 4 in 10 agriculture jobs going unfilled each year and the average-age of farmers ever increasing, it’s going to take a pragmatic, creative approach to encourage young people to pursue careers in agriculture.

While filling the talent gap and meeting the labor demand is an issue that cannot be solved by any one individual or organization, I feel a personal responsibility to be part of the solution. Fortunately for me, I get to go to work every day knowing that CHS and the CHS Foundation are investing in programs that develop ag leaders for life and encourage students to pursue careers in agriculture.

In my role as CHS Foundation president, I get to interact with some of the students we support through programs like FFA, Ag Future of America and 25 university ag programs.  It’s inspiring to hear from students of all ages, backgrounds and perspectives about how one experience in middle school, high school or at the university level sparked their involvement in agriculture. I always leave those conversations feeling inspired and renewed in my belief that the next generation is going to find new ways to propel the ag industry forward and be well-equipped to step into ag careers.

All of us in agriculture have a unique story to tell, and that’s why our support of National Ag Day is important.  Because while we know the challenges and exciting opportunities of this industry, we recognize that our policymakers and the general public may not.  There is something very powerful about students sharing their passion and celebrating their unique contributions to the ag industry, and we’re proud to be a part of that. 

Sunday, March 3, 2019

This essay is a merit winner in the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit for more details on National Ag Day.

Agriculture: Food for Life

How will our country lead the way?

Brody Allen Snook, Marseilles, IL

An elderly couple's house is filled with the shouting of gleeful children, the greetings of weary adults, and the barking of a perplexed dog.  Both young and old have come from afar to see each other for the first time in weeks, months, or even years.  It does not become clear until everyone gathers for dinner what the occasion is: Thanksgiving.  For a short couple hours, the grown-ups can take a break from their busy lives to reconnect with those they love, and the little ones can discover who has learned how the burp the alphabet.  And best of all, everyone is able to gorge themselves upon a feast fit for a king. 

American farmers—the unseen heroes in this scene—continue with their lives after the day is done without gratitude from the rest of society.  These farmers pull off small miracles every day by producing something that brings people with a common purpose together despite their differences.  The collaboration of cultivators across America to create the traditional Thanksgiving dinner is a prime example—turkey from Minnesota, stuffing from Kansas, potatoes from Kansas, etc. This conglomerate of food embodies the effort of farmers to feed the 325 million hungry bellies in this country three times a day, 365 days a year.  

This mission becomes progressively more challenging as the global population projects to reach 9 billion by 2050.  The never-ending task of satiating Americans will only remain attainable if agriculture technology continues to advance and increase produce yield.  Engineers must innovate new technology to maintain pace with population growth.  The potential advances in efficiency through the analysis of data from "smart agriculture" sensors is sufficient to pave the way for an era of cultivation powerful enough to sustain 9 billion lives.  Farms of the future will all have state-of-the-art sensors that can provide data on soil content, nutrient levels, compaction, air permeability, moisture, and pH in different areas of farmland.  The integration of this sheer amount of information allows farmers to optimize their use of finite resources.  Because farmers will know where their crops are deficient or thriving, there will be no more waste of water or pesticides in areas that do not need treatment.  Precision agriculture will maximize efficiency in agriculture to ensure the sustainability the growing global population. 

The promising future of American agriculture will provide encouragement for the next generations to join the effort as not only agribusinesses but also small family farms thrive in the era of integrated data.  Farming will become a picture of the future instead of a practice of the past.  And only by looking to future can we ensure the integrity of America and the rest of the world. 

Friday, March 1, 2019

This essay is a merit winner in the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit for more details on National Ag Day.

Agriculture: Food for Life

How will our country lead the way?

Emily Li, Sugar Land, TX

As the minute hand of the clock inches ever closer to noon, the soft rustling of students 
packing their bags begins to intermingle with the cheerful din of the classroom. Suddenly, a 
monotone chime pierces the air. It is time for lunch. Waves of people crash in the halls and 
students rush to claim the best seats in the cafeteria. And, as individuals begin settling in for a nice, filling meal, everyone is, without their knowledge, forging a deeper connection to the 
agricultural world. 

In the United States, every single person is affected by agriculture. Beyond the indisputable fact that farming is what produces the food that fuels the body, many unexpected products can be traced back to the hard, dedicated work of a farmer. Every stylish article of clothing crafted out of leather or cotton, every brilliantly colored crayon held together by soy – even plastic, potentially containing corn, is a product of agriculture. Most Americans would be unable even to imagine life without such commodities. However, as the number of people in the world continues to rise at breakneck speed, fulfilling the rising demands for these amenities could prove to be an issue. 

The global population is projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050. Currently, the average farmer is 58 years old, and there is a shortfall of students entering agriculture, leaving thousands of jobs unfulfilled each year. These job vacancies present a problem: who will replace current farmers once they have grown too old? If there is nobody to take over agriculture now, the world will soon need to find a new way to feed its people. This is where the latest scientific advancements come into play.

America is currently a trailblazer in innovations meant to lighten the strain placed on farmers by a thriving population. Recent advancements in genetically modified organisms augment existing plants and animals, bolstering their flavor and production. Cutting edge technology such as drones and precision agriculture allow for increased yields in the fields. As a result, more food can reach homes across the nation, and at a lower expense to consumers.  

As the population grows, Americans are opening their eyes to how big of a role agriculture plays on their daily lives. Children are beginning to learn about the importance and impact of farmers from a young age. More Americans are interested in the production and processing of food. Now, one can only hope that the emergence of new agricultural technology will pave the way for the future of American excellence, while simultaneously feeding the United States' ever-expanding populace. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

21 years under the stars

By Shelley E. HuguleyFarm Press Editorial Staff

This month, my farmer and I will celebrate 21 years of marriage. If you had asked me as a little girl if I would grow up to be a farmer’s wife, I would have cocked my head, wrinkled the crease in my forehead and said, “a what?” The redheaded part would have been easy. I’ve always been crazy about redheads.

When my farmer and I first met, I was a couple of years out of Texas Tech University at Lubbock, Texas. I was living on my own and driving what I affectionately called “a piece of Nissan.” What you need to know is my Nissan ran through much of college on a prayer and chance. One of its fine features was its absolute refusal for the windshield wipers to work. But that’s not really a big deal when you live in West Texas, right? On the rare occasion it did rain, I would simply reduce my speed and follow the white lines on the road.

My farmer, prior to us dating, overheard me telling someone about my wiper crises, and said, “Are you serious, your windshield wipers don’t work?” He went on to explain how he knew how to fix most anything and could he take a look. Not only did he repair the wipers but noticed my tires were worn down to the chord. My farmer told me he was certain God had extra grace for women because if these had been his tires, he would have already had a couple of blowouts.

I’ll never forget the first time I visited the farm. Having grown up in the city, we had nights when the stars were brighter than others, but nothing like I witnessed in the pitch-blackness, except maybe a floodlight by the barn, that night at the farm when I looked up. I remember standing outside the farmhouse in amazement. I had no idea what I had been missing.

In the fall of 1997, I found myself in the middle of a cotton field behind my farmer’s house, with him on one knee proposing and me screaming with excitement. Good thing he asked me in the country! Dressed in his work jeans and t-shirt, he led me out to the field to show me some “good” cotton, where my engagement ring was strategically placed in a cotton boll. I’ve been walking in high cotton with him ever since. (I didn’t say high prices.)

When you divorce the city and marry the country, there’s a bit of a learning curve. For example, in a small town when people ask you where you live, they are not asking you for your physical address. What they are actually asking you is who lived in your house before you did. “I live in the ol’ so and so house.” And for someone who did not grow up in a small town, not only was I trying to learn people’s names but who lived in their house before they did! The funny thing is 21 years later, I ask the same thing.

In a small town you keep your pantry stocked with cake mixes. Whether it’s a birth or a death or a cake auction, a girl can’t be without a cake mix. You also learn the value of home-canned vegetables. I had never had “canned” food other than Campbell’s off the grocery store shelf. My mother-in-law made and canned chow-chow, a relish you put on black-eyed peas. Those jars were like gold, carefully rationed throughout the winter and spring until it was time to can some more.

I’ve learned a lot over the last 21 years. Our family has grown from two to five. We’ve weathered and are weathering some tough farming years. But as long as I’m with my farmer and remember to take moments to stand in awe of the stars, we’ll celebrate 100 more.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Going a Step Further with Environmental Stewardship

This blog was submitted by the National Pork Board in Celebration of National Ag Day.

The team at Dykhuis Farms, Inc. raises pigs and row crops in a system in which one complements the other. But, the men and women on the Holland, Michigan, farm are also raising environmental quality standards in an area where water quality is a major concern.

The farm owned and operated by Bob and Lorrie Dykhuis and their five children and their familiesdaughters Erin, Rachel, Cara and Jenna, and son Josephis home to around 18,000 sows and 3,000 corn and soybean acres. The farm that started with 80 sows in 1978 is rooted in core values surrounding animal welfare and environmental sustainability.

Those two go hand-in-hand, especially in how the Dykhuis Farms team approaches water quality. It’s emblematic of the holistic, complementary cycle that characterizes the western Michigan farm and the animals and crops it produces. The farm’s row crops help sustain the pigs the Dykhuis family raises, while the manure from the pigs provides valuable fertilizer to help achieve high crop yields.

RealPigFarming recently sat down to chat with Brock Gobrogge, certified crop adviser and crop manager for the farm. In addition to working to ensure the farm produces bumper crops, he’s tasked with utilizing manure from the pig side of the business. And, he’s leading a team who’s proving the value of pig manure as a way to sustain soil fertility in the long term.

RealPigFarming: Why is environmental stewardship so important to Dykhuis Farms?

Brock Gobrogge: It’s always been important on this farm. Today, Lake Makatawa is a high-phosphorous lake because of the concentration of livestock production in our area. We know that there can be an impact on water quality, and we have worked hard to not only establish best management practices, but go a step further to make sure we’re as environmentally responsible as we can be with everything. We want to make sure we’re not only not harming the environment, but that we are doing things that can improve both the environment and our water quality.

RPF: What are some of the things you do to accomplish that?

BG: We are aware of the most agronomically and environmentally sound practices possible. We are attentive to the composition of the manure from our pig farm, and are always thinking of the best ways to utilize it on our crop fields. We conduct soil nutrient tests every two years, and we test our manure with every application so we know we are applying exactly the right amount. All of our equipment is “smart” equipment, so we can apply precisely based on what our soils and crops need. We’re doing a lot better matching those things up. And, we have invested in systems that allow us to store more than a year’s worth of manure, which enables us to get more out of that manure from an agronomy standpoint.

RPF: How would you grade yourself on these efforts?

BG: We’ve been able to achieve more balanced soil fertility in our fields. We know where our phosphorous levels are lacking, and we are able to apply precisely the amounts we need. We’ve found there’s a real monetary value to our manure in how it helps feed the living organisms in the soil. That leads to better overall soil health, and it helps get those nutrients to the plants so we can raise healthier, higher-yielding crops. It’s a cyclical process with our manure. We can use what most consider a waste product to improve our crop yields and do a better job sustaining our pigs.

RPF: How do you see your environmental stewardship activities changing and improving in the future?

BG: There’s so much left to learn. We know we can raise healthy crops utilizing our pigs’ manure, but how do we raise even healthier crops? We can pour all the nutrients into our soil that we can, but we’re not using them efficiently if we’re not getting those nutrients to the plants themselves. We’re at a high level of production now, but we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with our ability to improve our soils and crops using manure. There’s so much about soil microbiology that we don’t know yet. Manure is one way to improve soil conditions, but we don’t know all of its benefits yet. We’ll continue to learn and find ways that manure can benefit our crops.

On a broader level, I think more of the most progressive pig farms out there are starting to capitalize on the benefits of their manure. I think more pig farmers are sharpening their pencils and finding the right balance. We’re producing millions of gallons of manure a year, and we can use it in ways that increase our bottom line while protecting our waterways and the environment.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Wondering What to Do for National Ag Day?

By Isabella Chism

Are you pressed for time and struggling to come up with ideas on how to celebrate National Ag Day (March 14) in your local community? Consider these ideas:

  • Share on social media. Post a photo that shows what agriculture means to you – whether it’s the ingredients for your dinner, a rural field or a busy market. Use the hashtags #AgDay19 and #FoodforLife. Sharing links to the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest Winners across your social media platforms is another great option. Find links to the winning entries in the written essay and video essay contest here:
  • Organize a pizza party on a farm, in a classroom or at a mall. Explain how ingredients from kids’ favorite food come from farms and ranches and how each is processed and delivered to the grocery store or restaurant.
  • ​Volunteer at your local school and plan a classroom activity to teach kids about the importance of agriculture. (Examples: make a compost bin for them to observe in their classroom or do an egg shell seed growing experiment.
  • Encourage a local elementary school to designate a day during National Ag Week (March 10-16) to distribute quizzes and puzzles with school lunches. This might also serve as an opportunity to explain the connection between farms and mealtime. Your state’s School Food Service Association may be able to provide assistance. Or, with cooperation of the school, ask farmers or grocers to donate items (milk, ice cream, bread, burgers, etc.)
  • Approach your local public library about organizing an exhibit. Books about rural communities, animals, farms, etc., could be part of a special section that encourages children to learn more about agriculture and how it affects their lives.
  • Check out local farms or dairies in your area that offer tours and information about how they produce, sell and market their food. Visit with non-farming friends or family and round out the day by making a farm-to-table meal.
  • Throw a cook-off party with friends. Try to incorporate ingredients your state is known for, i.e. pork, apples, almonds, beef, corn, etc
  • Contact your legislator and remind him or her about the importance of supporting farm initiatives.
Isabella Chism, an Indiana row crop farmer, is chair of the Agriculture Council of America, which organizes National Ag Day. She also serves as vice chair of the American Farm Bureau’s Women’s Leadership Committee.

Friday, February 15, 2019

This essay is the winner of the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit for more details on National Ag Day.

Agriculture: Food for Life

How will our country lead the way?

Grace Brose, Box Elder, South Dakota

There's a little boy, out in the front yard with a beat-up toy truck, filling the back end full of dirt, only to dump it all out and start over again. Pretty soon that little boy is a teenager, and he finds himself trying to rock that old Ford out of some rut, thinking he may have underestimated how much it rained last night. In the blink of an eye, he's a newlywed, breaking ground on a two-bedroom, white-picket-fence dream. He's ready to plant some roots. Well, now that little boy is an old man, and in his two hands, you can see years of hard work and sacrifice. Every blemish is its own story. Those hands are strong enough to plow and plant, and sweat and bleed, yet gentle enough to raise a family.

That is the story of farmers and ranchers all across the country.  That is the story of generations of my family, the reality of my fellow rural Midwesterners, and a great source of pride.  That cannot end the story, though.  The world population is ever-growing, and those old men cannot plow and plant forever.  Now is the time for my generation to step up and step in because agriculture is more critical than ever.  Agriculture is a science. Like any science, it is continually changing.  It is no longer just eighty acres and a dream.  IT is precision ag, genetically modified organisms, cover crops, no-till techniques, innovative pesticides, and more!  Innovations in technology, transportation, architecture, and even medicine mean nothing when people are dying of starvation.  The global population growth is not slowing down, and I am not exaggerating when i say being able to feed that population is paramount to sustaining life on Earth.  The Midwest, the United States, and the entire globe must realize the importance of modern agriculture.

With that said, I am infinitely proud of the life my family has been able to build through the generations. I am proud of a farmer that will spend several months and thousands of dollars cultivating the ground, planting his crop, and watching it grow, only to have it blown away in a storm a few weeks before harvest. I am proud of a rancher that will be up multiple times in the night during calving season to check on his cows but still shed a tear watching a mama cow lay beside its stillborn calf. Most of all, though, I am proud that one day, I will be able to combine the traditions of my family with the needs of the world. That, indeed, is something beautiful.

This essay is the winner of the 2019 Ag Day Essay Contest.  Visit for more details on National Ag Day.