You don't need me to tell you that these times are tough, and more than likely they will get tougher before all the dust is settled.
Agriculture has always been plagued by tough times — Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, grasshopper swarms, pseudorabies, 1980s farm crisis, porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome, $8 hogs, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus, fear of African swine fever, just to mention a few. And now, the entire world is within the grip of COVID-19.
Every crisis of the past has seen survivors, as well as, sadly, those who could not and did not make it through the other side. Even in good years, when there may not be a global pandemic or an economic downturn, some individuals or families may be facing isolated turmoil. Whether you are in the same gloomy boat with everyone else, or you're in a kayak of despair, how you come out on the other end may be dictated by luck, by government assistance, aid from other sources, or maybe just by attitude and determination.
The old adage, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger," may hold some truth.
Nobody's life is perfect, many are far from it. Longevity in life and in a career teach you that both are definitely a marathon and not the proverbial sprint. Every May we dedicate our monthly magazine issue to the Masters of Pork Industry, people who have left a tremendous footprint on today's pork industry. The selections for this year's class, as with previous years' Masters, prove that determination to work through life's hurdles can indeed make for successful futures.
COVID-19 prevented us from providing you with more of a substantial list of Masters, but that in no way diminishes the impact that the three honorees have had on the industry.
Everett Forkner has been in the hog business for more than 50 years, and you can bet that he has seen his share of ups, downs, good, bad and ugly.
He found early on, coming from a country school class of 12, that nothing would be given to him. "We were scared to death that they'd flunk us out, so we kept our noses in the books, and we both made the dean's list first semester," Forkner says of when he and his cousin both enrolled at the University of Missouri.
Realizing that he could compete at that level, has served Forkner well as he has built an international name in swine breeding and developed a brand of natural premium pork.
Identifying what needs to be done and pursuing that to fruition has led Gordon Spronk in business at Pipestone System and in life.
Spronk joined the Pipestone Veterinary Clinic out of veterinary school in 1981, heading into some of those gloomiest times for U.S. agriculture.
"Production models were changing, and it became very apparent to us in the middle to late-'80s, that pig production was changing rapidly," Spronk recalls, "and farmers, our veterinary clients needed better genetics, better health, larger groups of pigs, better nutrition and better management."
Spronk has also been faced with overcoming gloomy times in his own life, including manning up to a being found guilty of making false statements to a federal lending institution. "I'm a convicted felon," Gordon says matter-of-factly. "That's a dark period in my career."
That dark period of 1998, appeared quite bright compared to what hit Spronk on May 2, 2017, when a vehicle that he and five others were traveling in crashed in the Czech Republic, killing three including Spronk's wife, Deb.
Spronk has learned how to deal with grief, realizing there are seasons of grief. Death of a spouse is the most dangerous because "you've lost half of yourself. Another way to say it, especially for men, you lose your target. For me, when I got up every morning, I went to work for Deb. All day I worked hard, for Deb. Every day I went to work hard for Deb. I came home every day to see Deb."
Spronk lives on for his children and grandchildren. "Sometimes your purpose in life is to serve as a warning to others and serve as an example, so you want to make sure you still fulfill your purpose and your calling in life and make sure that the values and the way their mother or their grandmother lived, that you want to honor that," he says. “To teach them the most important thing they can do every day is to relentlessly focus on eternity.”
Carrying along the same lines that Spronk as served the U.S. swine industry by identifying needs, Bob Goodband has been finding answers to nutritional questions that have perplexed the world's pork producers.
Though Goodband has made a name for himself in solving swine nutrition problems, he has gained the greatest satisfaction by looking at the successes of his fellow teammates at Kansas State University as well as the impact his students are making in the industry.
"As they go through their program and graduate, they've done things that have really moved the program forward, that have made the K-State swine program a better place. And it's that transition, that process, that they go through," Goodband says. "I can think of a couple kids that started that were awfully green, and were certainly enthusiastic and passionate, curious. But just how they've developed their skills and where they are today, it's very rewarding to see the kids, the jobs that they have — really influential people in the swine industry."
COVID-19, just likes crises of the past, will see survivors as well as those less fortunate. This current global situation has created situations that are far beyond our control, but if you're looking for a beacon of hope, look to this year's Masters class, or look to someone who you see as a Master. It can be your spouse, your brother, your father, you mother, your sister, your priest. Masters come in all sizes, shapes, genders and ages.
What the swine industry will look like on the other side of this pandemic is anyone's guess, but just know that we are all truly in this together.
Stay safe, be well.