Back to the Barn… Showcasing Careers in Pork Production

by Carrie Webster

Youth trying to find their path in life are often told that they can be anything they want as long as they are willing to work hard and do a good job. The Pork Checkoff’s recent first-ever Elite Pork Intern Summit reminded young people that careers in pork production can be both rewarding and diverse.

“Investing time to train and encourage youth is a good investment in our future as pork producers.”
– Brad Greenway, South Dakota

Nine production interns from across the U.S. attended the summit, which was held at the National Pork Board office in Des Moines, Iowa. The Pork Board hosted the event with the U.S. Pork Center of Excellence (USPCE). The group included interns from America’s top 30 pig farms.

“The pork industry attracts youth looking for careers as accountants, communicators, researchers, owner/operators and more,” said Ernie Barnes, director of industry services for the Pork Checkoff. “While it is great to see that interest, it also is encouraging to see youth who are passionate about working directly in the barns in animal care.”

The Elite Pork Intern Summit was a concept developed by a team at the National Pork Board and brought to fruition by Austin Pueschel. The animal science senior at Iowa State University was an intern this summer for the Checkoff’s Producer Services and for the USPCE.

“The summit provided pig farm interns a firsthand look into networking, developing team skills and expanding their knowledge for future careers on pig farms,” Pueschel said.

The interns who attended have ambitious post-graduation goals. Among the group, some hope to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in animal nutrition and animal handling, while others are planning to become veterinarians, barn managers, human resources managers and agricultural educators.

Developing the Next Generation of Caretakers

“These careers all include paths that lead back to the barn in some fashion or another,” Barnes said. “Developing the next generation of animal caretakers and pork production employees is key for the pork industry to continue to thrive and grow.”

During the two-day summit, the interns learned about career opportunities in the barn and beyond, with presentations from the National Pork Board, the USPCE and the National Pork Producers Council.

Speakers also put the spotlight on pork careers. They included Mike Gaul, director of career services at the College of Agriculture at Iowa State University; Marcos Fernandez, professor of animal sciences at Purdue University; Brad Greenway, the 2016 America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSMdsssdsdv; and Maynard Hogberg, retired dean of animal science at Iowa State University.

“The interns at the summit were eager to learn more about on-farm careers and other pork industry careers,” said Greenway, Mitchell, South Dakota. “Investing time to train and encourage youth is a good investment in our future as pork producers.”

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey also addressed the group.

Northey, who encouraged the youth to reach out to role models, leaders and those with the same passions in life, said, “When you say yes to something, you never know where it will take you.”

He also advised the interns to “tell the story of agriculture in a way that people can relate to,” such as sharing that there are seven pigs per person in Iowa.

Diane Sullivan, an anti-poverty advocate from Boston, also addressed the group. She discussed poverty in America and the vital role pig farmers play in helping to feed the nation.

“Our ability to feed ourselves is the one thing we as Americans can agree upon,” Sullivan said. “Agriculture is a grocery store.”

New Doors to Open

The interns appreciated learning more about careers in pork production.

“I felt very inspired,” said one intern at the summit’s conclusion. “I left with ideas about other doors I can walk through when it comes to pork production careers.”