From the Farmer's Tractor
May 28, 2015
Erin Brenneman, 33, raises pigs and farms around 3,000 acres of corn and beans on her family farm in Iowa. The farm, Brenneman Pork, is a family farrow to finish operation with just over 20,000 sows over three sites. Erin's main home farm is located in southeast Iowa, and she also has two sow farms in Missouri. The operation was started by Erin's in-laws and is where almost all of their children and spouses work full-time. Erin is also a member of the second class of Faces of Farming & Ranching.
How did you get into farming?
I actually had never set foot on a farm until I got married and came back to my husband’s family farm with him! So I think it is safe to say that I got into farming by marrying into it. I have been living here and a part of the day-to-day operations on the farm for almost 11 years now.
How have your farming practices changed over the last 10 years?
Our farm has really embraced the concept of “specialization” of tasks. To us this means that each person here has a certain niche that they really enjoy and do exceptionally well. We become “experts” in that area and are able to reach our goals and also develop new ways to improve every day. With so many family members working here every day, this really helps us excel as individuals as well as bring our talents to the table and help the farm team run smoothly and top notch!
How will farming evolve in the next five years?
I think that farming will become more transparent than ever in the next five years. Today, the consumer wants to know more and more about where their food comes from and about the specific people who raise it. It is incredibly important for us as farmers to establish a connection with the consumer and believe in and be passionate about what we do every day. When we are confident and sustainable in our farms, it is easy to share our stories and help communicate to the consumers just how awesome farming really is!
What is your greatest challenge as a farmer?
I feel that my greatest challenge as a farmer is sharing the passion that I have for what I do and reaching a non-farming audience to show that. So often we are presented with the opportunity to open up to other farmers, but we are rarely given the chance to share among consumers who might be generations removed from the farm. There are so many days on the farm and in the country, that I come across such beautiful and amazing sights and experiences. I so desperately want to share those with everyone that I can possibly reach, and I find that reaching that curious, distant and receptive audience is a great challenge.
How does a farmer know what a retailer will want a year from now?
As a pig farmer, we work in a demand-based world. We as farmers rely on the packer to communicate with the retailer regarding trends in consumer demand. It is our responsibility as farmers to look at industry trends that are ultimately driven by the consumer.
What steps are you taking toward conservation on the farm?
Manure from our pigs is incredibly valuable to us, and we utilize many cutting-edge technologies when it comes to applying it safely and correctly. Each source of manure is sent in to be analyzed for its nutrient content as well as the soil it is being applied to. We then use GPS technology and minimal compaction equipment to inject all of our manure into the ground at a variable rate according to what that specific field needs. All of the crops that we grow are harvested and then made into feed for our pigs. Another method of conservation we are implementing is solar energy. We are beginning to place solar panels at our pig building sites. They are mounted either right next to the building or directly on the roof. These solar panels can help provide up to 80 percent of the electricity at each site!
Do you sell any of your products locally, and if so, what is the process?
We sell all of our pork to Tyson Foods. We are also working with several local restaurants to get our pork on to their menus. This is a great opportunity to show people how their food is raised. This also allows us to offer anyone a visit to the farm to see what we do every day. It is an excellent opportunity to start a great conversation about farms and food!
What kinds of reactions do you get from consumers when they meet you in person?
Whenever I speak to a “removed from the farm” consumer, it has always been an extremely positive and curious reaction. Everyone is incredibly interested as to why this city girl moved so far away from what she knew best to live on the farm. Of course, my move was a result of falling in love and getting married, but I received so much more than I expected in that process. Consumers are eager to hear our story and are grateful for all of the hard work, commitment and passion that we have for raising pigs, and our families, on the farm.