The Food Journal and Food, Nutrition & Science

An alliance between The Lempert Report and The Center for Food Integrity

Farmer Q&A: Corn, Soybeans, Wheat and Pigs

Farmer Q&A: Corn, Soybeans, Wheat and Pigs

From the Farmer's Tractor

July 29, 2012

Heather Hill, 34, farms approximately 1300 acres of corn, soybeans, and wheat in addition to marketing approximately 13,000 pigs each year from her farrow-to-finish and wean-to-finish operation. Hill’s family farming operation, Hill Farms LLC. in Greenfield, Indiana, consists of her husband, Marc, his parents, Steve and Debi, and Heather and Marc’s three young children.

How did you get into farming?

My husband is the fourth generation of his family to farm and raise hogs in the county where we live. I personally got involved in farming through marriage; however, I was always a farm girl. Both of my parents grew up on farms and taught my siblings and me the importance of agriculture. I was a 10-year 4-H member and am a graduate of the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. I am proud to be helping to raise the fifth generation of our family on our family farm. Our children couldn’t grow up in a better place.

How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?

We are constantly educating ourselves to see if there are better ways to raise our corn, soybeans, wheat, and pigs. Over the last 10 years there have been many advancements through research and technology for agriculture that have allowed us to become more efficient on our family farm and make better decisions for our corn, soybeans, wheat, and pigs. The well being of our pigs is our top priority. The number one goal on our farm is to raise healthy pigs that can be converted to healthy pork. We cannot reach this goal if we do not take care of our animals to the best of our ability. We truly take better care of our pigs than we do ourselves. We are constantly checking on them to make sure that they have food and water and are healthy. Our veterinarian comes to our farm every month for an overall herd visit to check all of the pigs on our farm and comes more frequently if needed. I know that I don’t go to the doctor every month for a checkup. We are in constant communication with our veterinarian and nutritionist to make sure that we are doing the best that we can do for our pigs. We are farmers and livestock producers because we love the land and the animals. Additionally, in just the last few years, we have really taken an active role in telling our story to our neighbors and consumers.

How will hog farming evolve in the next five years?

Over the past few years we have started to see more and more consumers wanting to know where their food comes from and how it was produced and question how we raise our pigs. This will play a big role in how farming changes as a whole in the future. Additionally, over the next five years telling our story through conventional and unconventional methods such as blogs and other social media avenues will be a part of our daily lives and will be crucial to our futures in agriculture as well as future generations.

What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?

Being a family farmer is full of challenges, but we wouldn’t trade it for anything. The biggest challenge we face is continuing to find ways to grow our family farm while dealing with less available land, more government regulations, consumer concerns, and ever increasing input costs. Finding that balance can definitely be challenging as our number one goal is for our children and future generations to be able to return home to the farm and have a career in agriculture if they so desire.

What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?

Taking care of the land is one of the top priorities on our farm because we would like to make sure that it is around for future generations, and if we do not take care of it, it might not be there for them. As farmers, we are true stewards of the land. We consistently conduct soil tests to determine the nutrient needs of our land. We are able to use our hog manure as an organic fertilizer for the land, which drastically cuts down if not eliminates the need for man-made fertilizers on our land. We grow all of our soybeans through no-till methods and have waterways in several of our fields. Additionally, we try to observe the 3 Rs, reduce, reuse, and recycle, whenever possible on our family farm and in our homes.

Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?

We sell most of our hogs to a commercial processor such as Tyson, so when you purchase Tyson meat in the grocery store you might be eating pork from our family farm or a family farm much like ours. We also market some of our hogs through our own retail meat business, The Pork Shoppe. The Pork Shoppe allows us to directly market frozen farm fresh retail cuts of pork directly to consumers through farmers’ markets, retail locations, farm pick-up or delivery.

What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?

In general, I would say consumers find it hard to believe that my mother-in-law and I are farmers. They are very intrigued to learn more about us and our family farm. We really enjoy being able to engage with consumers and tell our story.