Top Hog Operations
By Diane Mettler
Four exceptional farms are honored as the Pork Checkoff 2011 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards
By Diane Mettler
Each year the National Pork Board honors farm families that demonstrate a firm commitment to safeguarding the environment and their local communities.
Judges representing pork producers and environmental organizations choose the winners based on applications provided by the producers. Their operations are evaluated on their manure management systems, water and soil conservation practices, odor-control strategies, farm aesthetics and neighbor relations, wildlife habitat promotion, innovative ideas used to protect the environment and an essay on the meaning of environmental stewardship.
“These four families, in addition to being committed stewards of the land, are great representatives of the thousands of pork producers who work every day to protect our environment and to be good neighbors in their communities,” says Everett Forkner, president of the National Pork Board.
Let’s meet the 2011 winners:
Golden Circle Pork
Rod and Missy Bice own Golden Circle Pork, a 3,300-head wean-to-finish farm near Woodward, Ia. For nearly three decades they’ve been practicing sustainable farming.
Even though the Bices have been constantly looking for ways to improve the farm since building their three barns in 1996, they were a little surprised by the award.
“It just seems like most of the stuff we do is just common sense,” says Rod.
The farm has shallow pits under the barns that are scraped daily, and the manure is gravity fed to the 1.2-million-gallon manure tank. The manure is agitated and spread on their farmland in the spring and the fall.
Rod uses flow meters on the tanks and rate controllers in the cab.
“We also use auto steer equipment,” he says.
He injects the manure eight to 10 inches deep to eliminate run-off potential. And the auto-steer technology on his tractor allows even more precise manure application.
When injecting, Rod uses DMI injectors on the back of his manure tanks, but sometimes, depending on how dry or how wet the field is, he leaves the trench open. Therefore, “we added disk covers to throw the dirt back into the trench.
To help ensure they are not over applying, Rod says they also do a fall stock test.
“We gather up some of the stocks that were left in the field and test to see if there’s any nitrogen left in them. The results give us a better idea if we are under or over applying.”
Of the Bices’ approximately 1,300 acres, manure is applied to about 300 acres annually. “We’re a 50/50 corn/soybean rotation, so usually around 650 to 700 acres of corn a year and probably about half of that gets manure applied to it.”
The Bices have also taken on other environmental projects, like planting rows of trees around the manure storage tank as a wind buffer, and ensuring they don’t spread anywhere near ditches or creek fronts.
“We also planted grass buffers about 100 feet out from each side of the creek and ditches,” says Rod.
It hasn’t always gone smoothly. When the Bices built their barns, people as far as 20 miles away signed a petition.
But soon people saw there wasn’t a threat.
“The nearest neighbors moved in just shortly before we built and they thought it was just going to completely ruin their lives. About three years later, we got a letter from them apologizing for any inconvenience they have caused us,” says Rod.
He points out that USDA incentive programs have helped. Although one of the reasons they applied was that the eight practices that made a farmer eligible were things they were already doing.
“Everybody asks, what did you do to win, and all I can say is that little things make a big difference,” says Missy. “It’s just what you do when that’s your livelihood. You want to protect the environment where you work and raise your family.”
Joel and Sarah Knoebel are the new generation of farmer. At only 28 and 27, respectively, and having only been farming for four years, they’ve already had a big impact in their community of Elysburg, Pa.
At the time of the award the couple had 4,400 head. Since then they have purchased another farm and feed mill and have acquired 6,600 head and doubled their acreage.
Joel feels the reason their farm stands out is his and his wife’s strong community relations and involvement.
“I’m a 4H leader for the countywide livestock club and oversee the 4H market program. We also host our local high school’s junior/senior ecology class,” says Joel. “The class comes out to our farm every year and we explain what we do and how it fits into our farming program.”
The couple has also created their own scholarship, which is offered to any student with an interest in a postsecondary education in an ag-related field. It’s a simple process.
“They submit their applications and my wife and I go over them and then we choose,” says Joel.
The Knoebels presently have two large barns — a large 4,400-head barn with four rooms, and a two-room 2,200-head barn. Each barn has a six-foot-deep pit, which they pump in the spring and fall to a tanker and apply onto their fields.
“We topographically apply everything,” says Joel. “And sometimes, we will incorporate with the disk.”
Manure is spread as far as 3.5 miles.
“We have a tank we haul behind our tractor and I also utilize custom haulers, which have trucks with low-compaction tires,” says Joel.
Knoebel’s crops are a rotation of corn and soybean crops, and Joel says they also utilize cover crops as much as possible.
Even in the rural farming area of Elysburg, some neighbors have complained about odors. Joel says their best line of defense is communication.
“We try to keep good neighbor relations to alleviate the two or three days a year when it smells to some people,” says Joel.
For example, when individuals near their new farm got a little upset last spring, Joel wasted no time stepping up.
“We try to talk to them directly. Answer their questions on why we do what we do. That doesn’t seem to appease everyone, but it helps alleviate about 80 percent of the concern.”
Joel, who runs the farm with his brother, dad and father-in-law, says they take pride in how they do business with people.
They also like that they’ve had an impact on the farmers-to-be. “We give back thousands of dollars each year through 4H and through the scholarships,” says Joel. “We’re proud that we give back when we can and keep trying to give back to the area that raised us.”
As for the future, it looks bright for the young couple.
“We’re going to continue to diversify and do what’s sustainable for our family and our business plan.”
At the 205-acre Langdon Farm, located in North Carolina, you’ll find crops, a 5,000-head feeder-to finish-operation and a cattle operation.
This Pork Industry Environmental Steward award isn’t the first time John and Eileen Langdon have been recognized. They were honored by the Cattlemen’s Association several years ago and were a Conservation Farm Family two years ago.
“We’ve put in a lot of best management practices,” says John. “We try to conserve fresh water and we also try to recycle the nutrients from the hog farm through an anaerobic lagoon, which treats those nutrients. We irrigate the effluent from the lagoon onto our fields and crops, which grow hay and pasture grass and grain.”
The Langdons also installed automatic, frost-free waterers in the fields so the cattle don’t drink from the creek, fenced the creeks, and maintain grass or trees as a filter strip along the banks.
“We will do a little bit each year, as we can afford to do so,” John says.
As for the hog houses, John has four anaerobic lagoons, built between 1977 and 1996. Waste is flushed into the lagoons and the anaerobic process digests most of the nutrients in the lagoon before the Langdons pump the top 18 inches onto their crops.
“The anaerobic bacteria digests the majority of the manure,” explains John. “The lagoons reduce the nutrient load and thereby reduce our land requirements to utilize that material.”
When it’s time to pump, the Landgons use a six-cylinder diesel Cummins engine with a Cornell pump.
“We have six-inch underground PVC trunk lines that run out along our fields with hydrants at 360-foot spacings. We hook three-inch hard hose traveling reels to those hydrants and use a one-inch taper bore nozzle to apply the effluent,” says John. “We also have some solid set irrigation, which is on 80-foot spacings and has small sprinklers where the fields are odd shaped or the topography is such you don’t need high volumes.”
This efficient system allows them to utilize almost all their fields.
With cities crawling ever outward, odor has become a concern. The Langdons try to maintain a good relationship with their neighbors. And, ironically, in some cases the neighbors are hopeful a pig farm will keep more people from building nearby.
“For the most part I think we live in harmony relatively well,” says John.
He says he’s proud that he’s continued on the family farm. His father and grandfather raised crops and they’ve added livestock.
“I’m also proud that my wife, a veterinarian, has encouraged us to step it up a notch,” says John. “It helps us strive for excellence so far as the animal health and welfare goes. Not that we wouldn’t without her, but it’s a benefit.
“Our children are watching us and we feel a moral obligation to do the right things, not just talk about it, but actually practice it,” adds John. “And hopefully they will look at what we do and will pass it on to the next generation and help sustain agriculture in our country.”
Wuebker Farms LLC
In 1999, when Jeff and Alan Wuebker’s father passed away suddenly from a heart attack, the two brothers instantly became partners in the family’s hog operation. It was a lot to handle at the time, but today Jeff says they feel blessed to have such a tightly knit family.
Today, the brothers have 1,800 sows in a farrow-to-wean operation and produce pigs on contract for another Ohio family. The Wuebkers also raise some feeder steers and farm approximately 1,200 acres of corn, soybean, wheat and a little alfalfa, grown primarily to export manure off the farm.
Each year the farm applies close to four million gallons of manure. Jeff says the slurry isn’t terribly strong because the water used for washing dilutes it and the sows in gestation are on a maintenance (versus growing) diet.
“We’ve used the same custom applicator for 20 years and he understands that because we’re a breeder operation, biosecurity is very important to us.”
Over the decades, the Wuebkers have been making improvements to the farm. The most recent addition to the farm was an enclosed wash bay with waste-water storage built in 2009.
“It’s located away from the hogs and allows for more thorough cleaning and drying of transport trailers, especially during the winter months,” explains Jeff. “We feel this will reduce the chance of disease transmission compared to washing them outside on a concrete apron and not being able to thoroughly dry them.”
One of their most unique barns was built in 2006 — an 80-foot by 309-foot barn with a full eight-foot-deep pit underneath. What makes this barn unique is the trough running the two short lengths of the barn. It’s four feet wide and two feet deep, and was built at the request of the custom applicator.
“Many barns have a small area where manure pools when pumping out, but our applicator wanted something bigger because we’re pumping 1,100 to 1,300 gallons a minute through our drag line system, because our manure isn’t very thick,” says Jeff. “With the trough, when we’re pumping down to that last eight inches, the manure is just rushing all the way across the floor and into the trough — causing a flushing effect like a dairy barn.”
The trough was a little more expensive because it required a couple more concrete pours, but it’s been worth it.
“Every time we pump it we’re right down to three to four inches of sludge at the bottom.
The Wuebker family has always been up for trying what’s new. Jeff and Alan’s dad was very involved early on with the local water district when they built their two-million-gallon holding pond. And today, the brothers are experimenting with cover crops.
To date their efforts have been met with some obstacles, including a radish crop that produced radishes the size of a two-liter pop bottle. This year, however, they are expecting their hard earned knowledge to pay off.
When asked what he thinks makes their farm stand out, Jeff says, “Everyone on the farm is focused on doing a good job. We don’t cut corners.”