Visitors to the Ludeman family operation in the mid-'90s found a sizable crop farm and '70s-era farrow-to-finish facilities capable of turning out about 2,000 hogs annually.
What a difference a decade makes. Crop acreage has doubled to about 2,800 acres. Sows and baby pigs are gone. The hog portion of the family business, now called Saratoga Pork, is housed in five, 41 × 208-ft. finishing barns built in 1997.
The Ludemans, located near Tracy, MN, finish about 15,000 feeder pigs annually under an agreement with a northeast Nebraska sow and nursery unit. They buy the pigs on a formula basis and market the finished hogs themselves.
Before the barns went up, the family considered all the environmental factors. Deep pits can store manure 12 to 14 months, if necessary. The pits, each able to store over 450,000 gal., are surrounded by perimeter tile. Each barn has four access ports to detect any leakage.
“This family has always been conservation-minded,” explains Sandy Ludeman, who farms with his brother, Brian, and nephew, Ben, manager of the pork operation.
“My grandfather had a conservation plan. My dad experimented with minimum tillage. We're located near the Cottonwood River and we've always tiled and had grassed waterways. So the environment was already part of our consciousness,” says Sandy. “Our intention is to do it, do it right, and to be good stewards.”
When plans for the finishing operation were unveiled, some neighbors had reservations about being so near.
“There was a hint of controversy in the air about the hog industry, although there was no large resistance here,” Sandy says.
“When we built it, we invited the local Kiwanis Club out to visit for lunch, just to see if they thought it was so terrible. We had one unfinished barn at the time, so we moved picnic tables into it and had 35-40 people in there. We ate Subway sandwiches and we talked about what was happening in the pork industry, that it was turning to larger sow units and producers were becoming specialists. We told them we'd made the decision to add value to our grain and become finishers.
“One fellow asked, ‘When hogs are on the site, what will they smell like?’ I said, ‘Well, 4,000 are right next to you right now.’ He said, ‘Really?’ They were kind of surprised,” recalls Sandy.
With that beginning, Saratoga Pork was quickly accepted by most people in the area. “Now people ask how the pigs are doing. It really helped having that group come out here. Now people are somewhat informed about us and have some idea of what's going on. It helped diminish the fears somewhat,” Sandy says.
Being neighborly ranks high on the Ludemans' priority list. They keep the place neatly mowed, and have planted trees to deflect odors. Nearby ponds are surrounded by trees and shrubs and provide good habitat for pheasant, ducks, Canada geese, wild turkey and whitetail deer.
“We see red tail hawks, kestrels, even bald eagles. Wild turkey was reintroduced to this area in the last few years and established roosts along small streams on the property. They'll come out in the corn fields in spring and we enjoy watching them,” Sandy says.
The Ludemans also have shelterbelts, which serve as a living snow fence and provide food and homes for many songbirds, deer and pheasant.
“Where there's a big, open expanse with a wind problem, we put a windbreak. We've got three,” explains Sandy.
“The living snow fence protects roads here. Ours are 280 ft. back from the road, 50 ft. wide. They're in the Conservation Reserve Program, which helps pay for the trees and time spent planting them.
“There's going to be wildlife in these places. Pheasants Forever helped us put in cedar trees, buffalo berry trees, laurel willows, nankin cherry and red twig dogwood,” he says.
Crops, Hogs a Good Mix
Crops and hogs are a good mix for the Ludemans. Manure is tested annually to determine application rates. Their land base is large enough to allow for manure applications just every fourth year. It replaces commercial fertilizer that would cost $33 to $35/acre.
“It has probably cut our commercial fertilizer to one-fourth of what it once was,” Sandy says.
“Any way you look at it, the manure is a big plus. At times when hogs were cheap, the only plus was the gain in fertilizer value,” he adds.
They also work closely with a friend who owns a four-barn hog operation and hires a commercial pumper/applicator, but has no land base. The Ludemans buy manure from his operation for application in their fields each year.
Figure in the benefits of increased organic matter, and micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, copper and zinc, and the true value of the liquid manure could be pegged at $65 to $70/acre, Sandy points out.
“We're getting micronutrients we wouldn't get in regular fertilizer. Our purchased fertilizer has dropped to an almost insignificant amount. In 2005, when fertilizer prices are way up, that really pays. Overall, we've raised fertility levels, and we're getting better yields. They're pretty consistent,” Sandy says.
Their cropping operation, known as SanMarBo Farms, continues to use minimum tillage on most acreage. They usually run a one-pass tillage rig on soybean stubble before planting, disk-chisel cornstalks in the fall, and follow with spring cultivation.
“We're not making a lot of passes through the field any more. We no longer cultivate. We no longer have a need for silage and hay equipment. Technology has changed how we do things,” he says.
“All of this helps us to be better stewards — not tilling as much, leaving a lot more residue on the ground, using manure instead of commercial fertilizer. The big farmer has to be a good conservationist. He needs to save time and have good economic reasons for his decisions,” he adds.
The Ludemans cooperated with the county to build two water retention projects that removed large culverts from a road, replacing them with smaller ones that actually back up water into two of SanMarBo's pastures. Water can back up for a quarter mile and be 25 ft. deep, but is prevented from washing out the roads. The water slowly drains over a period of days, so the stream returns to its original size.
They also built two sedimentation basins in fields, designed to slow surface runoff so more moisture remains for crop use. They're “mini-dams” a couple of feet high. The Ludemans can farm over and around them with 24-row equipment.
Saratoga Pork and SanMarBo Farms are on the route for visiting tour groups. In the past few years they've hosted World Press Fellows, foreign journalists studying in the United States with a required weeklong stay on a farm. So far, these visitors have written about the farm in publications in the Philippines, South Africa and Sweden.
The Ludemans have also hosted a number of other groups, including Swedish pork producers, a Chilean group studying value-added agriculture, and Russians interested in grain handling systems. They serve on numerous task forces, boards and committees.
“What we really try to do is see if there's a way to do something better,” Sandy says.
Environmental Stewardship Program
An environmental recognition program sponsored by National Hog Farmer and Pork Checkoff.
Environmental stewardship requires constant work and vigilance. The Environmental Stewardship Awards Program is for pork producers with all types and sizes of production systems who demonstrate their positive contributions to our natural environment.
Pork producers, operation managers and industry-related professionals may submit nominations for this program. One progressive pork production system in each of four regions in the U.S. is selected annually. Nominations for the 2006 awards must be postmarked by March 31, 2006.
A national selection committee, comprised of experts from various pork industry and natural resource organizations, reviews all nominations. The committee focuses on eight key areas: general production, manure management, soil conservation practices, air quality management strategies, aesthetics and neighbor relations, wildlife management, innovation and a short essay on the meaning of environmental stewardship. Each winner receives a special plaque, an expense-paid trip to the awards ceremony and a $1,000 cash honorarium.
For more information on the Environmental Stewardship Program or for nomination forms, call (800) 456-7675, or write: National Pork Board, P.O. Box 10383, Des Moines, IA 50306. Nomination forms will be posted on these Web sites in December, January and February: www.porkboard.org  or www.nationalhogfarmer.com .
A Message From National Hog Farmer
National Hog Farmer is proud to partner with the National Pork Board and Phibro Animal Health in bringing pork producers and the public the positive environmental stories portrayed in the 2005 class of Environmental Stewards of the Pork Industry. It is our hope that this recognition of outstanding stewardship, begun in 1994, will generate more thought-provoking ideas and serve as an inspiration for the nation's pork producers as they work hard to be environmentally conscious citizens.