’17 Pig Farmer not going away quietly

What was it like being America’s Pig Farmer, how has the experience changed him and what’s next for Sheets?

Ann Hess, Content Director

October 5, 2018

5 Min Read
’17 Pig Farmer not going away quietly
Leon Sheets, Ionia, IowaPork Checkoff

Leon Sheets may have only held the title of America’s Pig Farmer of the Year for the past several months, but it was a position he has been preparing for his entire life. On Thursday, Sheets turned over the reins to the next producer to represent the 60,000-plus pig farmers across the United States, but he’s in no real hurry to slow down.

What was it like being America’s Pig Farmer, how has the experience changed him and what’s next for Sheets? National Hog Farmer had the opportunity to talk to Sheets on his last day in office.

Q: What was one thing that surprised you most in your role as America’s Pig Farmer?

“I’m not certain that there was anything surprising. I have been actively involved on the consumer side from being on the Iowa Promotion Committee, doing a lot of promotion on the pork side. On the National Pork Board side, I was on the marketing committee for several years on producer education, now producers services committee. So, I was certainly active and took those training courses.

“As a leader we are always prepared to get a radical question, which we did, but it’s kind of those run-of-the-mill, those questions you get when you are out engaging with the public, that they do want to know about our business. They’ve read some things, they heard some things. They are becoming more concerned about what they eat and where their food comes from.

“There is a percent of people that have got their minds made up, are activists and will choose other lifestyles, but there is a percent of people that are for us and understand us. There is also that 60 to 70% in the middle that don’t know and want to form an opinion, but they don’t know who to believe.

“Some of the things I had been doing already as a participant in Operation Main Street, National Pork Board’s speaker core program. This took us to bigger stages and bigger platforms, but it is the very same message that we are out delivering as producers.”

Q: What was the most difficult part of the job?

“You know opportunities come from challenges and I’m not saying that I didn’t stumble around and not present as good as I could have. Sometimes you get a question and when you walk away, you think to yourself did I answer that question correctly? In retrospect, I wish I handled that question a little bit differently. Did I get the correct information to that person? It may not be an activist, but they may be a little firmer in their stance and not as easy to persuade to your point of view. I’ve made my points and they have the information, now they can make their decision on their own because they may not make that change on the spot.

“It has been an enjoyable experience and I would encourage those who want to step up and learn to get out and deliver the message. I’m just one of 60,000-plus pig farmers that could be out doing it, delivering the message.”

Q: Was there one favorite experience or memory that stands out?

“It was enjoyable trip from the time they announced I was the Pig Farmer until right to the end. The really neat thing is I will give up being the Pig Farmer of the Year but I will still always be the Pig Farmer of 2017. I still have the opportunity to represent America’s pig farmers as a Pig Farmer of the Year. We need plenty of folks doing what we are doing.”

Q: If you could do anything differently, what would it be?

“I would say probably being as clear, as articulate and as comfortable at the beginning of the year as I am at end the of year, because a little more practice, book an extra session or two, just for more comfort in the role and in front of the crowds. I think my messages and presentations have gotten better, but that’s been all through time and that is rightly so, they should get better the more you do it.

“During an interview there are questions you think you’d like to handle better, but that’s part of being human and sometimes that is part of your character. When you are the pig farmer and producer, you have a little color, you have a little character. Your passion and your desire shows through when talking about your farm.”

Q: How has this experience changed you?

“I’m more appreciative of the folks that ask questions because I’m learning it’s because they do want to know. When people ask you a question, it’s not that they have an objection about something. They want to appear knowledgeable about our industry a little bit. When they don’t, they will bring up the last thing they may have seen, read or heard and some topics we would rather not jump into right away — whether it be antibiotic use, sow housing or hormone usage — it’s the last thing they remembered so they are willing to start the conversation if I don’t get the first question into them right away.”

Q: What are your plans moving forward for your career?

“I’m probably at the stage in my career, that I will keep doing speaking opportunities with Operation Main Street, promotions or events with Iowa or National Pork Board and the community work where if I’m asked to step up, I will go have those conversations. On my farm, I will probably stay with the numbers I have got because I’m getting to that stage thinking about the transition.”

Q: Any advice for the next America’s Pig Farmer?

“My advice to the new person is to relax and just step up and do what you learned and kind of roll with the flow to speak. Some platforms and some venues — what you think is going to work — all of a sudden you realize you have to change just a little bit, your style or your message, to convey to the crowd. Just relax and let it happen.”

About the Author(s)

Ann Hess

Content Director, National Hog Farmer

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