For today’s #onthefarm, I interviewed @foodprovider, Mike Ver Steeg from Iowa. He’s a pig, corn and soybean producer who farms with his dad, mom, wife and children. I’ve been planning to leave the row crop farmers alone for a couple weeks so they can tend to harvest. But unfortunately, a good chunk of them across the Midwest have been kept out of the fields by wet weather. And not just rain, but snow.
So with rain pestering Northwest Iowa, Mike was able to join me for about an hour today to discuss his hog and crop operations, sustainable agriculture, his use of social media, ag in Iowa and how excited he is to see his children get into farming.
One thing I’ve really picked up on during the past few #onthefarm segments is that my guests have some great lines to talk about farming. Two or three of Mike’s tweets were retweeted by several people. These two lines stood out:
“If U have ?’s abt farming, ask a farmer, don’t believe groups of ppl that have never been on one!!!”
“The better we care for land & livestock, the better the land & livestock responds & provides 4 our families.”
Maybe it’s a good idea if each farmer should think about having two or three standard lines to slip into each conversation about farming.
I want to thank my friend (and colleague) Janice for filling in for #onthefarm last week. She did a great job. You can review her chat with @ilovefarmersorg and @DrJSV on her personal blog. I figured it would give regular readers a break from my interview style and liven it up a bit. I’ll try to have a guest moderator every 4 to 5 weeks.
And thanks to Andy Kleinschmidt for the new transcript format idea!
So, after all that, here’s the Twitter interview with Mike. Hope you enjoy. And, as always, please let me know how I can improve #onthefarm!
n_web: Q1: Mike, tell me about your operation. Corn/soy and hogs, correct?
foodprovider: Hogs main part of operation. I own sows, sell weaned pigs to dad. Raise corn for feed, soybeans sold, but purchase soybean meal. No-till soybeans into bean stalks. Strip-till pig manure for fertilizer for corn.
n_web: Q2: I don’t know anything about a hog operation. Can you give me a 101 of how it works? Take a few tweets!
foodprovider: Sows housed inside in gestation & farrowing stalls for their comfort, protection, worker safety. 70 degrees even during winter. Breed sows everyday. Farrow sows everyday. Have 2 associate who help with sows. Sows R artificially inseminated. Semen purchased from family owned boar stud & delivered fresh when needed. We wean pigs, 15lbs. 3X’s per week, & are put in a nursery for 7 weeks (60lbs) then moved to finisher barns until 280 lbs. We mix all our own feed. Use our own corn, and purchase other inputs.
n_web: Q3: Stupid Q: How many “litters” (or whatever the term is) can a sow have in a lifetime?
foodprovider: Sows R 9 months old when bred 1st time, have 2.5 litters/year, can be kept up to 8-12 litters. We have family farm. Work w/ my Dad & Mom, kids love to help out.
n_web: Q4: How long has the farm been in the family? What are the successes/challenges your family has faced during that time?
foodprovider: My dad is a veterinarian. Had a practice from 66-80. Decided he wanted to farm instead. Dad started this farm on his own. Dad grew up on a farm about 25 miles east of ours. Grandpa had pigs, cattle and crops. Was a successful farmer. Been very fortunate to purchase land, & have grown pig operation over the years. Moved to multi-site production. We like to be as self-sufficient (sustainable) as possible. Feed corn to pigs, use pig manure for fertilizer, mix own feed.Every year is different. Have challanges with pigs (current mrkt prices) and with weather in crop production.
n_web: Q5: What are your thoughts when someone says what you do isn’t sustainable farming? Maybe that question should have been: “do people tell you that you aren’t sustainable?”
foodprovider: Nobody has every told me we are not sustainable. Many references on twitter that I tend to take personally. I think they R misinformed. We practice no-till to prevent soil erosion, and build organic matter and soil structure. We use pig manure for fertilizer, so we don’t buy much fertilizer, which lessens dependence on foreign oil. Our corn and soybeans R fed to pigs. I guess U could say we add value to our crops. Farmers care for the land and livestock because we want our children to have opportunity to farm. The better we care for land & livestock, the better the land & livestock responds & provides 4 our families.
n_web: Q6: So what do you think you (and other farmers and the ag industry) can do to change opinions? Or at least hear your story?
foodprovider: Social media is providing that opportunity. I feel good when I can answer honest ?’s of followers on twitter. I also had a farm tour for homeschool kids & parents a month ago. Help kids learn where food comes from. Farmers need to remember that we are not “just farmers.” We are foodproviders! LOL. Need to take opportunities to work on media & speaking skills w/ progams offered by commodity grps & Farm Bureau
foodprovider: Other day I had a post abt applying organic pig manure 2day. Guy that wasn’t even following me replied back that he did not think pig manure could break down in soil. Was an honest ?, & I had opportunity to educate him.
n_web: Q8: I like reading your harvest updates (or lack thereof) but what benefit do u see in telling people how harvest is/isn’t going?
foodprovider: Maybe it is just a way for me to “vent” this yr. LOL. Seriously, farmers always like to update each other on how progress is going. Possibly helps get a feel of what markets might do. I have Farm Bureau friends across country that I like to call from time to time to see how crop conditions R doing. It is just something farmers like to do. Gives followers on twitter the ability to understand there R good times & challenging times on the farm.
n_web: Q9: Farmers are a pretty tight-knit group, aren’t they?
foodprovider: Yes, it is amazing to me how strangers can become a tight knit team on the American Farm Bureau Young Farmers & Ranchers Comm. I have been to different ag events across the US & farmers & ranchers can always share a common bond. Also shows up in our communites. Farmers donate time, equipment, resources to help our towns & schools.
n_web: Q10: You’re from Iowa, and ag means a lot to the state. Can you talk about ag’s importance there and its future?
foodprovider: Without ag, many of our small towns would dry up. All new wealth comes from the land. Farmers take the risk to create the wealth, then start spending in communities & the ball keeps rolling. There will always be a future for ag in #Iowa. God has given us fertile soils to produce an abundance of food to feed the world. Many farmers my age now farming with parents. We have kids getting excited to follow our footsteps as well. Lots of promise in #4H clubs & #FFA chapters around the state!
n_web: Final Q. Q11: Talk about people calling it “swine flu” and it’s impact on the hog industry and your family farm.
foodprovider: The whole flu thing started about the time we see the pig market rise. Well, it didn’t this year. The biggest thing it hurt was our exports. Exports R very important to pig farmers. There R still some countries… That R using the flu to block exports
n_web: Maybe this is the final Q: What excites your kids about farming? Do you think it’s a trend that kids are coming back to the farm? Sorry to sneak one more Q in there. Your previous answers with kids and youth generated that one.
foodprovider: My kids love the fact that (when homework is done) they can come out & help on the farm. Working is a great way to bond with kids & teach them morals, work ethic, responsibility, & abt God’s creation. I still think livestock will be a great way for young ppl to start farming.
n_web: Anything else you’d like to add or chat about or point out?
foodprovider: Just the fact that farmers care for livestock & land. Don’t believe what U hear from grps in the concrete jungle of D.C.
n_web: This was great, Mike. Thanks for your time. And tell the two ladies that I’m sorry for stealing you for an hour!
foodprovider: If U have ?’s abt farming, ask a farmer, don’t believe groups of ppl that have never been on one!!!
foodprovider: Enjoyed the time. Went by fast, hope those following learned something.
n_web: I hope it dries up soon so that you can get in the field. In the meantime, I’ll support you and others with pulled pork tonite
foodprovider: Thanks. October is PORK month, so CELEBRATE with THE OTHER WHITE MEAT!
foodprovider: Got to go back to the farm.