July 31, 2019
When Brooke Heisinger, then Brooke Pravecek, left home for her first year of college at South Dakota State University in 2014, she had no intention of returning to the family farm — a 500-head nursery, 1,000-head feedlot and 2,000 acres of corn, soybeans and alfalfa in southeastern South Dakota.
“I helped on the farm growing up, but when I went off to college, I really didn’t want to come back to the farm. My boyfriend worked on a farm, but he wanted to be in the ag field, not working on a farm,” Heisinger says. “Well, we both went to SDSU, and within the first year we decided that we wanted to move back to my family farm.”
Heisinger says it wasn’t anything specific that happened her freshman year that made her homesick; she just found herself looking forward to each time she got to go home.
Heisinger wasted no time in getting back. It took just three years for her to graduate from SDSU with a degree in entrepreneurial studies and a minor in agriculture business. Now married to that boyfriend, Jared, Heisinger says both were eager to get started on the farm — but first some changes had to be made to make the business profitable for the entire family.
“At that point, my dad knew he needed to expand to make it realistic for us to come back in,” Heisinger says. “He decided to go with the pork industry, because Jared was really interested in that, and a lot of people had started building hog barns.”
Her father decided to quit the nursery and instead build two 2,400-head finishing barns. He also scaled up the feedlot to 2,000 head, and Heisinger and her husband brought 60 cow-calf pairs into the business.
Even with all the expansions, Heisinger and her husband knew realistically she would have to take a full-time job off the farm to make it work. Right out of college, she worked for a vet clinic and now is a credit analyst at a local bank. While her job takes her off the farm most days from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Heisinger is devoted to farm chores nights and weekends.
“It’s very challenging — but right now I don’t have any kids, so that makes it a little easier,” Heisinger says. “College taught me a lot about how to balance my time, to figure out what’s most important: instead of just doing a bunch of things halfway, giving all my ambition to get it done the right way.”
In addition to balancing her two jobs, the soon-to-be 23-year-old also is an active South Dakota Pork Producers Council board member; she was elected in January. Heisinger was selected to take part in the National Pork Producers Council Spring Legislative Action Conference in April, where she had the opportunity to visit with members of the House and the Senate and connect with nearly 100 other producers from across the U.S.
She says, “Not only being a woman, but also being young and having the senators and representative respect your opinion, and having older people who obviously have been farming a lot longer than me and know a lot more than me trust me to share what I know and speak: That’s very empowering for me and makes me want to keep stepping outside of my box.”
Heisinger says producers who would like to entice the next generation to come back to the farm also may need to step out their box.
“I was very fortunate that my dad and grandpa made it possible for Jared and I to come back. It can be very hard to get the older generation to make changes,” she says. “On top of that, it is very challenging to be a young producer in the current agriculture environment. If what the operation has always done isn’t working, step outside the box and think what else can be done.”
Swine’s Promising Next Generation is independently produced by National Hog Farmer and brought to you through the support of Boehringer Ingleheim.
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