Lessons learned from the other side of the aisle

We consume about 40% of the organic production of all products and devote roughly 0.5% of our crop ground to organic production.


Joseph Kerns, National Hog Farmer

Mar 11, 2019


Democrats versus Republican. Vikings versus Packers. Ford versus Chevy. Some of the things that polarize us via our identification of “self” need to be challenged every now and then. If you are a Chevy guy, it will not kill you to ride in your buddy’s F-150. If you lean to the right, there may be some merit in what Bernie has to say if you listen long enough. If you are a Packers fan … I will never expect you to cheer for the purple team from Minneapolis.


I bring up these apparent contrasts in our biases to share that I recently had an experience that challenged my personal assumptions. I attended the first-ever organic pork conference held in Waterloo, Iowa. Now let’s set the table on this one just a bit. I have no problem with those who choose to buy and support organic products — I generally don’t choose to pay the premium as I do not believe there is a significant enough difference between organic and conventional items to justify the price spread. This is an economical/cerebral decision. If you are nodding your head to this thought process, we may be kindred spirits who are missing an incredible opportunity via our perspective. I will unfold how that looks in a bit. Here is what I recently learned.


The organic production crowd is a bit emphatic and voracious in their perception that they are “right,” and anything other than organic is somehow sub-standard. A bit of zeal in their opinions and a willingness to share their view of the world from the rolled-down window of their Prius as they cast a shameful look at you being a single passenger in a 4-wheel drive truck becomes quickly evident. Average herd size for the producers in the crowd hovered around the 100 or so mark. The “big” producer in the crowd had 1,500 sows; he was from Denmark.


This is a little slice of society that harkens back to a simpler lifestyle but maybe not an easier life. I have worked in a labor-intensive, 600-sow pasture farrowing operation and can attest to the physical nature of the work and the challenges compared to modern production techniques. We did not know any different in the early 1980s and generally moved with the times as production practices shifted. We will probably never put the genie back in the bottle on large-scale techniques, but the niche market of organic pork production has some lessons for the rest of us and is also opening up possibilities.


The path to organic pork production is not easy...