Individuals and families who have made significant contributions through pork promotion, consumer and producer education, youth mentoring and service to the pork industry were recognized this week by the Minnesota Pork Board at the annual Awards Reception in Minneapolis.
This year's award recipients are:
- Distinguished Service: Gary Koch, Sleepy Eye
- Environmental Steward: Craig Holm, New Ulm
- Family of the Year: Hugoson Family, Granada
- Pork Promoter of the Year: Dale and Lori Stevermer, Easton
- Swine Manager of the Year: Tim Kerkaert, Marshall
The Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual or group who has contributed to the long-term success of Minnesota pig farmers. Agriculture and the pork industry as we know it would likely not look the same had Gary Koch not immersed himself in the industry decades ago. Koch's impact on farmers, their families and rural communities has not gone unnoticed, and his legacy continues to live on through those he has served and incoming generations.
In 1989, Koch crossed paths with Bob Christensen when the markets began to turn, and the pork industry went into expansion mode. Many of the templates that exist today were created by the duo including feed tolling agreements, packer agreements and grower contracts, to name a few. At the time, none of those existed, and the two trailblazed their way through to create an atmosphere in which farmers could succeed. It was also time for the younger generations to begin their reign and move their businesses forward.
"The most rewarding part of my career has been helping businesses that I have worked with from the beginning transition to the next generation," Koch says. "It's the most rewarding because it's the most enduring. Their impact will go way beyond me. There are outstanding people who are poised to take over and will advance all of agriculture."
Along with helping farmers build their businesses, the decision made with Bob Christensen and other producers to establish the Triumph Foods packing plant in Missouri in 2004 marks another career highlight for Koch. A producer-owned processing plant had never succeeded at that point in time, and Koch notes the great partners and managers involved in the process are what made it so successful.
Over the last four decades, farming operations have grown in both size and complexity as American farmers have worked tirelessly to feed a growing global population. As a result of this evolution, farmers have faced more business challenges, market pressures, governmental regulation and escalating opposition from environmental and animal rights activists. Koch dedicated his entire legal career to serving and protecting farmers against these growing challenges, embodying the virtues of those he served. His work with GreenSeam, an organization whose mission is to promote, develop and educate leaders within agricultural businesses, provides a testament to his dedication of developing a community of like-minded individuals striving to keep agriculture in this region successful.
"From a science and social based approach, look at the economics," Koch says. "People don't understand how important the pork industry is to the state of Minnesota and the viability of the general economy. That message needs to be spread more widely."
The Environmental Steward Award recognizes an individual and/or operation demonstrating the positive contributions pig farmers make to the natural environment. This year's environmental steward award recipient, Craig Holm, embodies what it means to be an environmental steward through his willingness to step up and be a leader by integrating unconventional practices into his operation. From his first year to present time, Holm points out the difference he has seen over the years in overall pig health and livability rates, which he appoints major credit to the biosecurity practices put into place. Since those early years, Holm switched gears and now finishes pigs, where he continually seeks out new practices to help his business succeed while also keeping his environmental footprint at the forefront of his mind.
With every pig and every acre, Holm strives to raise a better product in the most environmentally-sound way possible. Over the years, he has realized farming practices need to be done right in order to be successful. He notes the public's concerns of over-fertilizing or giving unwarranted antibiotics is trivial and unrealistic; farmers do not waste their resources, time or money on impractical endeavors.
"We need to make sure things are just as good as or better than when we took things over," Holm says. "We're always trying to improve and make things better, whether that be by using less fertilizer or coming up with ways to prevent runoff or reduce waste. We generally just need to do what is best for everyone and use our resources appropriately."
One way Holm lives this out is through his ideology of performing tasks the right way on the first try. He believes in maintaining stability and slowing down when things get hectic to operate the farm safely and have every process run smoother for the long run. Not only does this philosophy create a safer environment for him and those he works with, but it also reduces the waste of resources and time.
"We are going to be using these barns, these soils, these farms and these areas for a long time," Holm says. "We certainly don't want to overproduce, overuse or overapply. We don't want to wreck our future."
Family of the Year
The Family of the Year Award honors a farm family who has contributed to the long-term success of Minnesota's pig-raising traditions. The official business title, Hugoson Pork, was incorporated in 1989, but the history of the farm runs much deeper. Fourth generation pig farmer, Kevin Hugoson, grew up farming with his father and took over the 250 sow farrow-to-finish farm with his wife, Mary, in 1985. Growth over the years provided the opportunity for their two children and their families to come back to the farm and be involved.
"I am most proud of the fact that our kids have chosen to come back to the farm," says Kevin. "Our kids are the fifth generation to be involved with this farm, and being able to continue to have further generations on the farm is really exciting."
Last year as a family, the Hugoson's sat down and contemplated where the farm was, where they envisioned it going and how they planned to get there. This process led them to create values and a mission statement both for Hugoson Pork and for their family. Since companies are impacted greatly from top leadership, the family values and mission statement were created first. Faith, respect, hard work, trust, affirmation and love encompass the six family values paired with the family mission statement: "We work hard together through love, respect and faith in God. We are stewards to each other and the communities we serve to make it a better place for generations to come."
Following the family-focused process, the Hugoson's, along with members of their leadership team, began the formation of the Hugoson Pork mission statement and values. The extensive process spanned several months and began with each person listing their own mission statement for the farm; each statement was reviewed, and certain bits and pieces were chosen from each to make up the final statement: "Through honesty, hard work and stewardship, we create opportunities for our employees, their families and the communities we serve. As a family farm, we provide superior care for our pigs through the use of leading-edge technology to produce a safe, wholesome food product."
The six final values followed a similar process refining the list down until it encompassed Hugoson Pork to a 'T.' The six values include honesty, teamwork, safety, respect for people and animals, hard work and communication. The crossover between each set of values and the mission statements appears with no surprise, due to the solid foundation the Hugoson's have formed within their family and the business.
"We truly believe that if we have and live out these values, it is going to be a recipe for success for our organization, and a place that people can call home and be proud to work at," Angie says. "If each employee can be good at all of these and strive to practice them each day, we believe we will excel for generations to come."
Pork Promoter of the Year
The Pork Promoter of the Year Award highlights an individual, couple or family who has done an outstanding job promoting pork products and the raising of pigs. Some may consider the 2020 Pork Promoters of the Year a "Pork Promoting Power Team," but for Dale and Lori Stevermer, promoting pork and advocating on behalf of pig farmers is a lifelong passion they feel privileged to share with each other and their three kids, Brett, Adam and Beth.
Growing up on farms in Southern Minnesota, Dale and Lori have supported each other's engagement in the pork industry which has resulted in opportunities at the county, state and national levels. With a young family at home, Dale first committed to supporting the industry through his six year involvement in the Faribault County Pork Producers serving as president during his tenure. Thereafter, he transitioned to the state level where he later served as MPB president. As their children grew older and Dale's service on the MPB began to sunset Lori became more involved at the state level by first serving on the Promotion and Image and Pork Congress committees. Lori brought a different perspective than many because she was able to combine her farming and exhibitor backgrounds, having worked the trade show in previous years with Wayne Feeds and Hubbard Feeds.
From there, Lori was nominated to run for a position on the Minnesota Pork Producers Association board of directors. Lori spent nine years on the MPPA board, serving two terms as president during her tenure. In 2019 Lori was elected to serve on behalf of Minnesota pork producers on the National Pork Producers Council board of directors. Speaking to both of their involvement on the state boards, Lori says, "We were both passionate about the industry, knew the people, and knew we wanted it to continue and evolve. So, we jumped in and committed to partaking in it."
As leaders within the state and national organizations, Dale and Lori choose to lead by example and engage in promotion and image opportunities that align with their strengths and passions. "If there is an opportunity to talk about what we do as farmers, or to clear up misconceptions, we want to do it," says Dale. "We have an opportunity and responsibility to promote, but more than anything, it's an opportunity."
Swine Manager of the Year
The Swine Manager of the Year Award distinguishes an employee (non-owner) who excels in the management and care of pigs. In his 20 years of involvement in pig farming, Tim Kerkaert, the 2020 Swine Manager of Year award recipient, has risen to become a well-known leader within Boerboom Ag Resources.
Two decades ago, when he came back to the world of pig farming, Boerboom Ag was in the process of expanding the business. Kerkaert saw the opportunity to come back, and was thrown right in, having the chance to oversee some of the sites. Today, Kerkaert manages grow-to-finish sites, overseeing approximately 65,000 pig spaces. At each of the sites, he communicates with the contract growers and makes sure they all have the necessary tools and information needed to succeed.
One of Kerkaert's favorite parts of training someone is working with them from the ground up and seeing their confidence grow throughout the process. He finds the process very rewarding and strives to get each employee to be as good, if not better, than himself. When working with someone who essentially has no background in pig production, it is like any job – there are countless practices and rules that must be learned, but it takes time to fully understand the system. Kerkaert believes in making each individual feel comfortable, especially in the beginning weeks and months.
"You can't let them get too overwhelmed. It is important to explain all of the processes but help them realize they won't understand everything within a day, week or even month," says Kerkaert. "It takes time to gain experience and confidence, but when you see them develop confidence in their own decision-making, it is very rewarding."