YANKTON, S.D. (AP) — Before welcoming their first shipment of pigs, Louie and Josh Johnson welcomed visitors to their new hog nursery.
In the process, the rural Volin father and son hoped their open house would dispel misconceptions about large-scale pork production, the Yankton Press and Dakotan reported.
Johnson Family Pork LLC hosted the three-hour event, which drew an estimated 300 people despite rainy, muddy conditions. The hog nursery represents the latest addition to the family farm dating back to 1894.
“With this nursery, the hogs arrive weighing 10 to 12 pounds and leave when they weigh around 55 pounds,” Louie said. “This is a 2,400-head facility, where we can hold 1,200 hogs on each side.”
The elder Johnson said the open house allowed the general public to tour the barn and see the inner workings. Hopefully, the visitors gained a greater understanding of large-scale pork production, he said.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding about these operations,” Louie said. “We have a lot of farmers here today, but we’re hoping to reach the people who live in town. We had a lot of ‘city’ people already visit.”
The open house came amidst ongoing controversy over the construction of more concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) in Yankton County. The visitors included Yankton City Commission members as well as Yankton County Commission members and candidates.
Louie pointed out the features of his family’s hog facility, including odor control and the collection of runoff for later use as fertilizer.
“You hear these horror stories from other states about problems with their pork operations. You hear about lagoons flooding,” he said. “But we don’t use lagoons here on our farm. We have holding pits under the building.”
In addition, Johnson noted his hog nursery seeks to control odor, manure and other problems that many opponents say are found in CAFOs. He pointed out that he and his family would literally live with such problems.
“This is our family farm,” he said, noting much has changed since his ancestors’ arrival to the area nearly 125 years ago.
Once they entered the barn, visitors could roam throughout the building. They witnessed the white pens and various features for odor control and cleanliness.
The open house was held before the hogs arrived for sanitary reasons.
Jon Gunderson, who lives northwest of the Johnson farm, said the hog nursery would receive a thorough cleaning before the pigs’ arrival.
“If you look up at the ceiling, you’ll see what looks like a shower,” he said. “This place will get a real scrub-down, and they’ll use power washers.”
Gunderson said he realizes a number of Yankton County residents hold strong opposition to CAFOs. However, he urged the general public to learn more about today’s large-scale livestock operations. Technology has changed greatly through the years, he said.
In particular, he pointed to the change in manure collection and usage. “Manure is extremely valuable. This barn could meet 75 percent of the farm’s fertilizer needs,” he said.
The Johnson Family Pork facility drew the interest of state and national officials in attendance.
Centerville farmer Craig Andersen holds the double role of South Dakota Pork Producers Council first vice president and National Pork Producers Council board member.
He commended the open house as a way for the general public to gain a greater understanding of large-scale pork production.
Through the open house, visitors could learn that agriculture represents a huge financial investment, Andersen said. In turn, the producer needs to protect his livestock and investment with proper management and production practices, he said.
Today’s hog operations can make use of improved ventilation systems and pit additives, Andersen said.
“These people (who raise hogs) are watching out for the safety and health concerns of their pigs,” he said. “These facilities are environmentally controlled.”
Besides environmental advances, the CAFOs are driven by the economics of today’s agriculture, Andersen said. Today’s producers are working on thin profit margins which require larger operations in order to survive, he said.
In turn, agricultural methods have progressed to meet the demands of larger operations, he said.
“Things have changed greatly,” he said. “Your grandpa may have used horses, and now you have all of this new machinery.”
The elder Johnson acknowledged his hog nursery isn’t the same as some CAFOs. However, he has expanded his operation through the years — much of it out of necessity.
“Technology has allowed us to do so much more,” he said. “And you’re seeing most livestock operations getting bigger and bigger.”
The growth comes from the need for great efficiency, Louie said. In addition, U.S. pork producers are seeing a growing domestic and foreign demand.
“If there wasn’t a demand (for pork), they wouldn’t be building these barns,” he said.
Louie pointed to dramatic changes worldwide, noting that China has exploded as a market for U.S. pork.
“Their (Chinese) economy has improved, and their diet has improved. They’re demanding more protein,” he said.
However, American consumers are also buying more pork products both at home and when dining out, Louie said. “You’re seeing a huge demand for bacon on everything, like bacon cheeseburgers,” he said.
Agriculture’s economic impact isn’t limited to the farmer, Andersen said. “You have the ag multiplier effect, where each dollar spent by the producer turns over six or seven times,” he said.
The role of agri-business was seen throughout the open house, sponsored by ECL, Parkston-Kaylor Grain & Feed, South Dakota Pork Producer Council and MDS Manufacturing
Brad Hohn of MDS Manufacturing said his Parkston-based business worked with the design of the Johnson hog nursery. The business also produced the white pens and worked with installation of equipment.
Other regional business provided equipment and services for the Johnson operation, which rolled through the economy and helped to create and retain jobs, Hohn said. Farmers want quality material for their operations, he added.
“They don’t want cheap — they want to do it right,” he said.
In turn, agriculture allows rural communities to survive and thrive, Hohn said. The impact is felt across the state, both in terms of consumer spending and the resulting tax collections, he added.
For Louie Johnson, large-scale pork production has made it possible for his farm to remain in operation. It also ensures future opportunities that might not otherwise be available if his son had to start his own farm from scratch.
“We’re Johnson Family Pork LLC, so it can stay in the family if Josh wants to take it all over someday, or if some other family member wants to,” Louie said.
“This is about the future. It’s about my future, and it’s about my kids’ future.”