Al Wulfekuhle, Iowa Pork Producers Association President
This week straight from the Iowa Pork Congress, National Hog Farmer Editor, Cheryl Day, visits with Al Wulfekuhle, president of the producer association in the country's leading pork-production state.
What you will learn from this interview:
- The key to introducing new pig farmers to the industry.
- Look ahead, the big issues to tackle in 2016 for Iowa pork producers
- Presidential goals to accomplish this year.
Day: What is the overall attitude of Iowa pork farmers moving into the new year?
Wulfekuhle: Iowa pork producers are “cautiously optimistic.” Summer futures are offering profitability levels. Overall, producers are thinking it will be a pretty good year. However, more pigs are coming. Genetics, sow productivity and feed efficiency keep improving through the years. We keep expanding through these advancements before any major planned expansion projects are complete.
Day: Since you started in the pork business, what has changed over the years?
Wulfekuhle: During my whole career (36 years), the issues have continuously changed. One issue we did not have before is consumer perception. They want to know more about production. They want to know we are caring for our animals and want to have a little say in how we care for them. That has brought on the common industry audit and self-assessments. They also want us to be little more transparent and that is what we are trying to do.
Day: Tell us about your business philosophy for your hog operation.
Wulfekuhle: We have seven employees and have a good relationship with all of them. They allow me to do what I am doing here today. We try to do a lot for them. As part of their compensation package, we give them shares in the hog corporation and many have purchased additional shares as a result. Most of our employees own wean-to-finish units that we lease back from them. Kahty and I actually moved off the farm, selling it to one of his employees to assist him in getting started as an independent hog farmer. Mentoring young hog farmers is very important to me.
Day: How do you get the next generation into the pig business?
Wulfekuhle: There is a challenge to entry which keeps getting tougher because everything is so expensive. It is hard to get young people started as pig owners. So, I would challenge other independent pork producers to try to help their employees to get their foot in the door. Contract growers are great, but I would like to see more new people have ownership. Helping the next generation is more about being a mentor rather than a boss. It is about showing them how to do a budget and how to go to the lender. There are programs available for the new farmer with the Farm Service Agency. We have to show them how to fill out the paperwork and apply for the program, giving them the confidence to proceed.
Day: As president, what is your bucket list of items that you want to accomplish?
Wulfekuhle: I have things I want to accomplish as IPPA president:
- More membership involvement: We are a grassroots organization and we have a committee structure with 16 committees. IPPA has a committee for everyone. We try to use whatever people’s talents and expertise are to benefit our organization. I like to get more people in involved in our organization from all aspects not just pig owners but also those employed in the industry.
- Nutrient reduction strategy: IPPA just started a task force and we would like to get going on that. The goal of the task force is to maximize the nutrients in hog manure. We are working with Iowa State University so it will be science-based. This program will work in coordination with corn and soybean organizations by investing in the Iowa Ag Water Association program, which is a good start. We felt like we needed to do more. Part of the goal is to use new technology to measure nitrogen that is available in the soil to crop and to be able to adjust rates to maximize yields. As hog farmers, we are restricted by our manure management plans. We want to maximize nutrients based on application timing, how much rain we get and how we apply it. Educating the hog farmers will be a big part of this program.
- Connect with consumers: We need to connect with consumers better. In the last two years, IPPA has formed a social media committee which prompted hosting a food blogger tour with National Pork Board and National Pork Producers Council – Pass the Pork Blogger Tour. One other important program is Farmchat, which connects classrooms virtually with the hog farm. It is using technology to take the iPad out to someone’s barn and do a live media chat with the classroom and the producers as they walk around the barn.
- Foreign animal disease: Foreign animal disease risk is huge. We have been working with the ISU diagnostic lab to put premise ID numbers on all samples the lab receives, since having an ID number is mandatory for Iowa. Then you can trace it back quickly. Now we are taking it one step further and we are adding barcode labels so those samples can be easily scanned. Next phase is electronic submissions to make the paperwork seamless. The final stage is working with University of California, Davis, to use geospatial mapping to see how disease spreads. That is what stopping the next foreign animal disease is all about – communication, identifying it quickly, identifying the surrounding sites, quarantining and shutting it down. I am very passionate about this project.
Day: What are the big issues in 2016?
- Profitability: Expansion has come, and we are little worried about packer capacity this fall and winter. Hopefully, we keep weights current going into the fall, so, we do not get backed up at the packing plants and have another 1998-type scenario. I lived through that and I do not want to ever do that again.
- Export markets: Free trade agreements will be huge but unfortunately it looks like no one (legislators) will touch the Trans-Pacific Partnership until the lame duck session. We need to open up exports and we need to even out the playing field.
- Education: We also need to educate the producers especially with the new Veterinary Feed Directive coming up in Jan. 1, 2017. I do not think it is going to be a big issue for our state, but I do not want anyone coming to me and say I did not know about this.