Meet Patrick Bane, America’s Pig Farmer of the Year

By Darcy Maulsby

Life is a mix of the comfort zone, the panic zone, and the growth zone. When a friend nominated Patrick Bane for America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM, Bane didn’t enter the panic zone, but he knew it would propel him out of the comfort zone and into the growth zone.

“Like most pig farmers, I’m most comfortable in the barn,” said Bane, owner, and manager of Bane Family Pork Farm (BFPF), a 3,000-sow farrow-to-wean operation near Arrowsmith, Illinois. “I’m passionate about pig farming, though, and want to help more people understand modern agriculture.”

Bane brings more than 40 years of experience to the role of America’s Pig Farmer of the Year. He grew up in a family of nine on a small farrow-to-finish hog farm, earned an animal science degree from the University of Illinois and became a contract grower as the pork industry evolved. He built his first modern hog barn in 1994 and transitioned exclusively to pig farming in 2007.

Today, Bane and his eight full-time employees raise 74,000 pigs annually at BFPF, which includes two farrowing barns, three gestation houses, one gilt developer unit and one nursery. Animal agriculture is a family affair for the Bane family. One of Bane’s brothers is a veterinarian who works closely with BFPF. Another brother produces a variety of livestock for the niche organic market.

“We need diverse farms to meet different consumer preferences,” said Bane, who is PQA® Plus certified. “Producers should respect other systems and be supportive of the industry as a whole. I’m honored to be the Pig Farmer of the Year and appreciate the opportunity to represent all types of pork producers.”

The award honors a farmer who excels at raising pigs following the We CareSM ethical principles. But more importantly to Bane, it provides many opportunities throughout the year to share his farming story with the American public.

“We Care isn’t just a motto,” said Mike King, director of science communications for the National Pork Board. “It’s a way of life on the farm and a promise to the public.  Bane is connecting with audiences nationwide to show consumers how pig farmers are focused on continuous improvement that’s good for people, pigs and the planet.”

10 Messages Pat Bane Shares with Audiences

 

  1. His lifetime of farming experience.

“Pigs are my life. In my 40 years in this business, I can truly say I love my job and enjoy the people I work with,” said Bane, adding that the challenges of raising pigs can be humbling.

“Just when you think you have it all figured out, something like a new disease can change everything,” Bane said. “Fortunately, I have the ability to make the adjustments needed to create the best environment for the animals. Technology also allows me to provide a comfortable environment for our pigs.”

 

  1. A desire to connect with consumers.

To Bane, sharing a farmer’s perspective about raising pigs helps build consumer trust in pork and encourages them to purchase pork products more often.

“Our family has been in the pig business for three generations,” he said. “We devote 365 days per year to the care and maintenance of our farm. I want consumers to know that we take every precaution to ensure our animals receive superior care.”

Bane also uses a variety of practices to maintain high herd health other than medication.

“When medication is needed, we follow labels, regulations and laws,” he said. “I’d never use a product if it’s not right for animals or consumers. We all need to share our commitment to responsible animal care.”

 

  1. A people-first philosophy.

Bane’s employee strategy is simple: Hire and keep the best people.

“Raising pigs is a people business,” Bane said. “There is no GPS guidance system or auto-steer system for what we do. We work hard to find high-quality help and work even harder to train employees well and keep them happy.”

It’s working. Half of Bane’s eight employees have been with his farm 15 years, and the rest five to 10 years.

“I look for patient people who like working with pigs every day,” Bane said. “Animal care can be a rewarding way to make a living, but you need people who enjoy taking care of the animals and take pride in their work.”

Bane finds ways to let employees know they are an invaluable part of the farm.

“Not only do we give them the right training and tools to get the job done, but we get to know them as individuals and get to know their families, too,” he said.

 

  1. Attention to detail.

Bane uses proven practices on his farm to raise pigs responsibly, from biosecurity to proper nutrient management.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so I use a variety of protocols to minimize disease risk and raise healthy pigs,” Bane said. “We never stop looking for ways to improve.”

 

  1. Eco-friendly stewardship.

Through soil/manure testing, we utilize manure as a source of natural fertilizer and track crop nutrient removal records so we don’t over-apply nutrients,” said Bane. He also installed a windbreak to improve air quality and to add wildlife habitat on the farm.

 

  1. A desire to give back to the community.

For 10 years, Bane has volunteered and chaired a committee to design and build an exhibit at the local county fair to educate people of all ages about modern agriculture. The exhibit includes make-and-take activities for kids, along with animal care stations to help people learn more about what it takes to care for animals every day.

Fairgoers also can watch videos filmed inside livestock facilities. Other eye-catching items include life-sized posters of producers in the county. The posters share facts about how farmers raise food, how animals are cared for and how import agriculture is to the local economy.

Bane has worked with hundreds of youth volunteers during the annual fair on ways to communicate and share agriculture’s story. He also has provided information for the McLean County Historical Museum to update its agriculture exhibit, and he presented ag information during the museum’s open house.

“It’s critical for us to be active in our communities and to be known as good stewards of our animals and the environment,” Bane said. “I want people to know that I’m always looking for new ways to make life better for my workers, my animals, and my community.”

 

  1. A focus on continuous improvement.

Bane is always willing to look at new technology and innovations that can make pig farming more sustainable and productive. Through the years, his farm has transitioned from group housing for pregnant sows to individual maternity pens as the farm expanded.

“Specialized care of our sows ensures that all mothers are in good physical condition when they have their piglets, which in turn allows them to nurse a large litter,” Bane said.

The operation also has progressed from part-time help to full-time care.

“I have the daily commitment of employees and myself to provide dedicated care for the animals,” Bane said. “We work with a feed company and its nutritionist to perfect the diets for each growth stage and life cycle of the pigs.”

He added, “Technology and industry innovations such as room controllers and alarm monitoring also make it easier to ensure better pig care and comfort 24/7, 365 days a year. That is always our focus.”

 

  1. An open-door policy.

Bane gives many farm tours and welcomes questions.

“Since many farms are closed to the public and operate in remote locations, misconceptions among the public are prevalent,” Bane said. “It’s easy to mistrust someone or something you don’t know or understand. My goal is to help people better understand what we do and develop pork advocates.”

Bane works closely with state and national legislators to educate them about the pork industry and how proposed legislation would affect pig farmers.

“Countering misinformation is important,” Bane said. “When I had the chance to be part of a group discussion panel with healthcare professionals at a local hospital, I helped dispel misconceptions about today’s farming practices and fielded questions on antibiotics and animal care.”

 

  1. Farming focused on We Care.SM

Bane follows all of the We Care ethical principles. But ask him which principle is the most meaningful to him and he’ll say public health.

“We’re raising food for human consumption, which requires the absolute highest degree of care and concern during the entire process, from the care of the mothers to the newborn piglets to market,” Bane said. “We want to deliver safe, high-quality pork to consumers here and abroad.”

 

  1. An optimistic spirit.

Bane looks forward to expanding his knowledge and sharing it with more consumers and the media.

“I appreciate the opportunity to reach new audiences with the story of pig farming,” Bane said. “Consumers want to know more about how food is produced. If we don’t tell our stories, someone else will, even if they don’t understand agriculture.”

That’s why he’s willing to take time away from his business to fill this vital role as Pig Farmer of the Year.

“I want to share the truth and offer a different perspective from critics who often unfairly paint our farming practices in a bad light,” he said. “I hope my willingness to step forward and represent America’s pig farmers will encourage others to share their stories, too.”