Some 33 pork industry owners and managers from 10 states and Canada completed certificates in business management in May through the Executive Pork Producers Program, offered by the University of Illinois’ College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana.
They participated in the two-year certificate program to hone skills to improve their company's bottom line and cultivate the industry's leadership community.
“In our industry, in-depth education programs that focus on pigs are rare,” says program participant Clare Schilling, co-owner of CD Bell, a sow and grain operation in New Athens, IL.
“We learned not only about production, but also about the financial, business, welfare and media aspects of the industry,” she says. “When you're in a hog barn all day, you don't really think about that, so the program brought in a lot of different factors to think about.”
The Executive Pork Producers Program addressed essential skills for excellence in swine business management. The objective was to enhance the financial management, leadership, strategic thinking and problem-solving skills of leaders in the pork industry.
“It's hard for people to build the skills they need without going to business school,” adds Jim Lowe, DVM, a swine industry consultant, co-coordinator of the program, and an instructor at the veterinary college. “This program was tailored to allow them to do their jobs at the same time.”
The pork producers program was organized as 10 interactive learning modules delivered in Urbana, IL, on two days in alternating months from November 2011 through May 2013. Between modules, participants completed assignments while applying the information in their workplace.
“Ours used to be just a family farm, but now I'm in charge of 17 people,” Schilling says. “This program has taught me a lot about employee engagement and ways to treat them well.”
The pork producers program was modeled after the University of Illinois's nationally recognized Executive Veterinary Program in Swine Health Management, which has graduated nearly 200 swine veterinarians who currently work with a large percentage of the pork producers in North America. Both are focused, intensive programs designed to deliver skills that can be used from day one.
"With input from leaders in swine health, the pork producer curriculum was selected for quality and relevance to industry needs. Information was presented to build skills progressively over the two years," says Larry Firkins, DVM, assistant dean at the College of Veterinary Medicine and one of the organizers of the program.
Fred Kuhr, director of production for Professional Swine Management, LLC, Carthage, IL, initially signed up for the program because of the reputation of Lowe and Firkins.
“I got a tremendous amount of exposure to people and classroom information that I would not have been able to get on my own,” Kuhr says. “Some of the program's speakers were tremendous, and access to those speakers would never be available to me on my own.”
Lectures were given by nationally recognized experts in the field, from both academia and industry.
Among the programs goals were to teach a critical set of business skills that enhance decision-making abilities and to develop a network of swine production leaders who will share ideas on key issues facing the ever-changing pork industry.
“It's a pretty daunting assignment to feed seven billion people,” Lowe says. “Those who work in agriculture wake up every day with the noble cause of feeding the world in a safe, effective and wholesome way.”