Food, Nutrition & Science

from our newsletter, broadcast on
Sunday June 28, 2009

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Pork Producer

Farmer

Craig RowlesDr. Craig Rowles, 51, runs Elite Pork Partnership, an operation of 8,000 sows, farrow to finish, in Carroll, Iowa. A former veterinarian, Rowles made the decision to go into pork production in 1996. He now produces 140,000 pigs a year on his farm, which is the equivalent of about 280,000 slabs of bacon or 32 pork chops per pig. 

What’s your earliest memory of food?

My earliest memory of food is pot roast. I remember growing up on a farm and we raised our own meat. My mom made lots of pot roast. Comfort food.

Why did you want to get into pork production after being a vet?

The best way to describe it is you can take the boy off the farm, but you can’t take the farm out of the boy. I’ve always had an interest in production agriculture and circumstances presented themselves to me in a way that I could go back to production, and so I followed my heart. 

How does your product actually end up in the market?

The entire cycle from gestation to the point of actually getting to market takes 10 to 11 months. Our product is transported to one of two different harvest facilities owned by Tyson. Tyson then will manufacture that product. In one of the plants, a significant portion of that product ends up in Japan; it’s specifically designated for an export market. Other product would go into the U.S. meat supply. They are manufactured into products like pork chops, bacon and cured ham. We’re very proud of the product we produce.  

How would you define food sustainability?

We have an obligation to produce safe, wholesome and affordable food for the consumer. In my opinion, it has to be done with the best of science and sound technology that we have available to us, with a focus on making sure that we are careful to protect, maintain and conserve these precious resources that we’ve been given to work with.

Why is sustainability important?

It’s important from the sense that every generation has an obligation to pass on to the next generation a world that’s better then the one they found. That means that we have to take care in every process to produce a product that will allow the consumer to have that safe and affordable product and have it be done in a manner that protects the land and water. We all eat the same food. We all drink the same water, and we have an obligation to protect it.

What steps specifically are you taking towards sustainability?

By being more efficient, we are using the resources we have available to us most effectively. What that means is it takes fewer acres to raise pigs than it did 10 or 20 years ago because we’re doing a better job of it. Secondly, we put our animal nutrient product, an offset of this product, back onto the field. Crop farmers can then utilize those nutrients to produce next year’s crop. It’s a really nice process, and it’s working well. Lastly, we invoke new technologies that improve the production practices that we have including changes in housing, changes in management, and changes in genetics and or nutrition. 

How have your business practices changed in the last 10 years?

I think anybody that is in any business today probably has better technology than they had 10 years ago. Today we’re using web based Internet systems to keep track of all our livestock and processes. We’re using records to analyze what we do and sustain a continuous improvement process. Moreover, we have better facilities and management techniques that allow us to care for these animals so they can reach their full genetic potential. All of these technologies have allowed us to maintain a safe and affordable product in an efficient manner.

What are the biggest challenges you’re facing today?

Our industry faces a number of challenges. We need to do a better job of reaching out to our consumers so they understand our focus and our commitment to producing a product they can trust. We want to make sure they understand that the processes, procedures and animal health programs we use are proper, effective and safe, and we’re doing things that are appropriate for the animal’s well being. 

Are the products you use to maintain the animals provided locally?

We’re a large consumer of corn and soybeans, and the corn and soybeans that we use to feed our animals are grown locally. They are transported to a local feed mill where those products are transformed with vitamins and minerals and nutrients into a feed source that we can feed our livestock. Meanwhile the nutrients that are produced by our pigs are reapplied to the farm fields. Farmers are really the original recyclers.

How do you think we can help educate the consumers?

We as producers are realizing that we have to reach out to the consumer; we have to tell them our story, so they can understand what we do and how we do it. We carry those same ethics in our daily lives and in how we run our business. We care about the livestock that we raise, we care about the environment in which we raise them, and we care about the customer. 


Dr. Craig Rowles will be just one of the many farmers featured in our upcoming Public Television special, Phil Lempert’s Food Sense, now in production. This interview is an excerpt from his story that is scheduled to air Winter 2009.