If Larry Sailer had his way he’d stay home and raise pigs.
“But we need to have spokespeople out here,” he says. “Didn’t think it would be me, I’m just a shy old farm boy.”
This “shy old farm boy” also claims he isn’t a writer, and that he never has been a writer. In spite of that claim, it seems Sailer sure writes a lot in the name of agriculture advocacy. And, a lot of people are reading and listening.
Sailer, a pork producer from Iowa Falls, IA, got involved in advocacy because he says he didn’t like the way he saw things going in U.S. agriculture, more specifically the way government regulations seemed to be interfering with farmers doing their job.
“Biggest thing to me, the biggest reason I got involved is when we have all these anti-ag groups out there hammering all the time and being vocal, and getting all rallied up to make more government regulations,” he says. “More government regulations are just strangling business in this country, and I just don’t see we need it. Government doesn’t need to babysit everybody.”
A Farm Bureau Speaker Corp. meeting about six years ago was Sailer’s first step into telling his side of the story. “There was a young man at that meeting who said we should be using social media to tell agriculture’s story,” Sailer says. “Well, three or so of us started doing that, and it really seemed to take off.”
Facebook and Twitter had been his main avenues for spreading his words at that time, but then 2½ years ago he began a blog called, “Musings of a Pig Farmer.” Sailer is a Latham Hi-Tech Seed dealer, and his blog appears each Tuesday on the Latham Seed website at www.thefieldposition.com/category/industry-news/musings-of-a-pig-farmer. Sailer readily admits he isn’t a trained writer, but he has an editor in Shannon Latham who does have a journalism degree, and can polish his blogs to get them ready for “prime time.” Though his blog is called “Musings of a Pig Farmer,” he tackles a wide variety of rural-related topics. For example, his last few blogs have covered how he came about being a seed dealer, rainfall and soil conservation, and looking at the bias some groups have in their statements on various issues.
With Facebook and Twitter, Sailer has developed quite a network of people with whom he communicates. “I have a lot of people from all over the world who I communicate with, and not just agriculture, but I have politician friends and media friends,” says the man who boasts 2,000 Facebook friends and about 1,000 Twitter followers.
His activity in social media has gained him greater exposure in more traditional media, too. Sailer says Fox News did a Google search for “corn” and his name came up. “They sent a crew out and we were combining beans, so they got video in the combine — they didn’t even know what beans were,” he relates.
When Sailer blogs or posts on Facebook or Twitter, he is in control of his message. He has learned this isn’t always the case when the general media get involved. “This was during the last presidential election cycle, and I thought we were winding down the interview in the soybean field, and they [Fox News] started asking who I was going to vote for for president.” After they kept badgering him, Sailer finally gave in and admitted who would receive his vote. As it turned out, when the Fox News report was aired, “It was 5 seconds of me saying who I was going to vote for. It had nothing to do with ag. Their story was, ‘Here’s an Iowa corn farmer who’s going to vote Republican.’ So you never know what it’s going to boil down to,” he chuckles.
Sailer has been working with the National Pork Board’s Operation Main Street (OMS), where he says he has, “pretty much covered all the community groups within 50 miles of me. We’d usually talk to retired people in little bitty towns, maybe have 20 people show up.” OMS 2.0 is now reaching out to a broader audience.
Even though he enjoys speaking to groups of people through Farm Bureau or OMS, Sailer still prefers social media for its reach.
As a self-described pig farmer for the last 50 years, Sailer has worked in almost every facet of the industry. He has farrowed, finished, contract-fed and worked for a hog management company. During the 1990s, he owned a construction company that built and installed equipment in pig barns, when the big push was to get pigs inside. He raised pigs outside and inside barns. So when he blogs about raising pigs, he is speaking from experience about what will and, maybe more importantly, will not work.
Currently, he manages a 4,000-space site for a different owner. “I like to raise pigs, so I like to stay in it,” he says. Sailer’s background has helped him develop the experience and instincts it takes to raise pigs these days. “You just have to be meticulous,” he says. “Some people don’t pay attention to details like you need to; you need to look at every pig.” Sailer notes that it is much easier to raise many more hogs today than it was when he started on his own in 1972. “I bought seven sows from a neighbor, farrowed them and finished those pigs. Then I bought feeder pigs, bought 200 to 300 at a time. I was a ‘large producer’ at the time, but you spent all day taking care of those pigs, keeping them cool in the summer, and in winter bedding them down, moving snow, keeping water unfrozen, and fighting all kinds of diseases brought in by rodents and birds. …
“Today people think we just pack pigs into these new barns and they’re just filled with disease, but it’s just the opposite. They’re healthy, comfortable in an environmental-controlled barn with all the feed and water they want. We don’t have near the diseases we had back then; I use by far less medications than I did back then,” he says. He works hard to share this message with his non-farm audience.
Sailer says it is impressive that pig farmers are also doing more with less, at least when it comes to feed efficiency. He reflects, “We used to have to feed 5 lb. of feed to get 1 pound of pork, now it’s 2.41 lb. feed to 1 lb. pork. Yes, there are tighter margins, but you can do it so much more efficiently.”
When sharing the pork production story, those are the stories Sailer likes to tell — just why farmers do what they do. “Overall, I think the rational people, like when I give a speech to a civic group, I think they actually listened and learned. When do they actually get a chance to talk to a farmer? Studies have proven that we apparently have credibility,” he says. “In our organizations, we used to hire a guy in a suit to go out to do our publicity for us; that didn’t work. But if they [the audience] know you’re an actual farmer, that holds a little more merit. The way I write may not be real smooth, but that’s me. and that may give me credibility.”
He feels farmers speaking for themselves are making gains with the general populace.
“I talk about listening quite a bit, mainly because the anti-farming groups do not listen. They share the same listening points and just use the same points over and over again. It makes no sense to continue because they just will not listen. I try not to be close-minded. I try to listen.”
His Facebook, Twitter and blog comments are his opinions, which he is not afraid to share, and he admits he is not always politically correct. “I usually don’t get into arguments. I’ll state my case once or twice and then walk away,” he says. “Some people who want to argue, just want to argue.”
Argumentative or not, Sailer sees people reading his social media posts as a first step. He concludes, “If they’re reading, they’re at least thinking about it, and that’s starting a conversation.”