Who in the pork industry would you most like to interview?

Would you pick the most successful pork producer you know? A specialist in your chosen field? Perhaps a scholar or a company executive in a discipline you'd like to know more about? A young entrepreneur? A pork industry veteran?

Start a list. We did.

It wasn't a short list. But we narrowed it down a bit and set out to conduct the series of interviews that are presented in a brand new feature that we call “The MASTERS of the Pork Industry” (see page 10).

We traveled to eight states, conducted 10 interviews with 12 remarkable people. One interview included a husband-wife team, another a father and son partnership.

We launched into the interviews by collecting information on each person's rich heritage. Some were raised on a hog farm; others were not.

We dug deep into their respective specialty areas — pork production, pork packers, swine veterinary services, meat quality, animal welfare, market outlook/industry analysis and Extension services.

Each of these Masters has spent the better part of their careers in pursuit of excellence in their chosen segment of the pork industry.

We asked each to tell us about their life/career mentors; then, we closed the interview by asking: “What is the best advice you've ever received?”

Their very thoughtful comments were inspirational and noteworthy. What a wealth of knowledge we have tapped into.

Years of Wisdom

After we compiled this information, I began to wonder how many total years of experience these people had logged in the pork industry, so I took a rough tally. With some allowance for their formative years, the dozen participants comprised a grand total of nearly 500 years of experience in the pork industry! Remarkable.

One of those interviewed claimed “fetal imprinting” had likely influenced his choice of career paths. His mother, late in her pregnancy, had sat patiently on the sidelines of the showring at the Indiana State Fair as his father competed in the championship drive of the 1941 swine show. I credited him for 64 years.

Not many in the industry have more knowledge and history to share than Glenn Grimes, hog market prognosticator, extraordinaire. I asked Glenn what advice he would give a young person interested in a career raising hogs. Here's his response:

“If you're located in the Corn Belt, where we're going to feed the hogs, take a look at contract production. If you have good enough records to know you're good at raising pigs — if you can produce pigs at $37/cwt. and cover all costs — I would say there's an opportunity for you, if you can survive the start-up period. And, remember, you have to be big enough to provide for your family. I would say that would be 500 sows, minimum.”

My favorite and most profound piece of advice was shared by Wendell Murphy, a man who built a small pasture feedlot into the largest family-owned pork production system in the world. Mr. Murphy said: “One thing I learned early on — if you're just going to do what's convenient, you're going to leave a lot of important things undone.”

Surely, he is right.

Is it any wonder that one of the things I enjoy most about my job is being able to sit down and visit with folks from all facets of the pork industry? There's a wealth of knowledge and wisdom tucked away in their life experiences, just waiting to be tapped and shared.

That's one of the greatest and most remarkable attributes that separate our industry from many others — this sharing of ideas, knowledge and aspirations.

We hope you find value and inspiration in the thoughts of these veterans, young entrepreneurs and visionaries.

Hoosier-Tar Heel Connection

We've also taken a slightly different tactic in our traditional state-of-the-industry reporting, opting to narrow our focus to just two states — North Carolina and Indiana.

North Carolina, the second-largest pork-producing state, was selected because producers there have undergone tremendous environmental scrutiny while operating under a moratorium that has disallowed the construction of any new hog buildings since 1997.

Indiana, the fifth-largest hog state, was chosen because of the governor's initiative to categorically increase pork production.

Certainly not lost in our selections is the obvious link between the states. Newly weaned pigs by the truckloads are shuttled daily from the Tar Heel state to the Hoosier state for finishing, where corn and packing are plentiful.

Interviews with individuals from various facets of the pork industries in those respective states revealed some new philosophies, clarified some ongoing challenges, and offered a glimpse into their futures.