Pig Farmers of Tomorrow program encourages young people to lead

By Darcy Maulsby

America’s Pig Farmers of Tomorrow (from left) Kyle Coble, Maddie Schafer and Logan Thornton were honored at the 2017 Pork Industry Forum.

Kyle Coble admits he’s no social media sensation, although metrics for his Facebook Live pork production videos hint that there’s more to the story.

“Reading the responses to my Facebook Live videos was really fun,” said Coble, a 2017 Pig Farmer of Tomorrow winner. He also is a swine nutritionist and senior manager of production strategies for New Fashion Pork, Inc. in Jackson, Minnesota.

“For someone who is a long way from being a social media star, it was remarkable to have more than 10,000 views and hundreds of positive comments on those videos,” Coble said. “It really gives you a sense of the impact you can have in sharing pork’s message.”

This positive impact has defined the Pork Checkoff’s Pig Farmers of Tomorrow program since it debuted in 2017. This new award recognizes future farm leaders, ages 18 to 29, who intend to make pig farming their life’s work and are committed to the U.S. pork industry and to raising pigs using the We CareSM ethical principles.

Three award recipients were selected in the program’s inaugural year, including Coble; Logan Thornton, who runs a farrow-to-finish farm near Kuna, Idaho; and Maddie Schafer, a seventh-generation farmer from Goodhue, Minnesota. Her family operates a 1,600-sow farm, a 600-sow farm and seven replacement gilt development barns.

“I’ve met all the 2017 Pig Farmers of Tomorrow, and they are very impressive,” said National Pork Board President Terry O’Neel, Friend, Nebraska. “It’s exciting to see young people get involved in this great program, which is a ‘farm team’ to help develop new leaders for the pork industry,” O’Neel said. “I wish I’d had this opportunity when I was their age.”

The three 2017 Pig Farmers of Tomorrow credit several aspects of the program with improving their leadership skills.

“Approaching conversations from a listener’s perspective is often more effective. It’s not agreeing with them; it’s sharing what we do.” – Kyle Coble Jackson, Minnesota

Expanding Social Networks

One of the best parts of the Pig Farmers of Tomorrow program is connecting with people you might not otherwise meet, said Thornton, who was part of a social media panel at World Pork Expo with fellow pig farmers Brad Greenway from South Dakota and Erin Brenneman from Iowa.

“It was great to be included on the PQA Plus® task force,” Thornton said. “I’ve made connections with people with a wide range of knowledge about raising pigs, which will serve as a lifelong resource.”

Shattering Myths

Coble has enjoyed sharing his version of today’s pig farming as a Pig Farmers of Tomorrow winner. “Often the ag industry is plagued by a misconception that we aren’t on the cutting edge of technology. It’s the complete opposite. We have a lot of smart people who challenge the status quo and make us better.”

“My Pig Farmers of Tomorrow experience has given me the tools and skills to tell our farm’s story in a way that truly makes a difference.” – Maddie Schafer Goodhue, Minnesota

Moving Beyond the Comfort Zone

Schafer appreciated the chance to attend the National Pork Industry Forum last March. She also conducted a Facebook Live tour of her family’s farm for the Real Pig Farming Facebook page and spoke at the Illinois Pork Leadership Institute. She also was trained as an Operation Main Street (OMS) speaker and has worked with OMS staff and the South Dakota State University Swine Unit to put together virtual tours of pig barns for presentations nationwide. “When you’re able to move beyond your comfort zone, that’s when true growth happens,” Schafer said. “I can certainly say I grew as a person with this experience.”

Having Fun

Thornton has participated in Snapchat “takeovers” where he showcased his farm to the hundreds of people who follow the Pork Checkoff’s #RealPigFarming social media account. “I’ve done this a number of times and have really enjoyed it,” said Thornton, who noted that the Pig Farmers of Tomorrow program has strengthened his commitment to sharing his story through social media. “Sometimes farming can be a lonely endeavor, but sharing the farm with others makes it fun.”

“I’ve made connections with people with a wide range of knowledge about raising pigs, which will serve as a lifelong resource.” – Logan Thornton Kuna, Idaho

Communicating Like a Leader

Coble says that the Pig Farmers of Tomorrow program has made him more aware of his communication style, especially with non-farm audiences. “Approaching conversations from a listener’s perspective is often more effective,” he said. “It’s not agreeing with them; it’s sharing what we do.” Schafer agreed, saying that the program has equipped her to share pork’s story more effectively. “I’m proud of our family farm of more than 130 years,” Schafer said. “My experience has given me the tools and skills to tell our farm’s story in a way that truly makes a difference.” Coble encourages other young people to apply, saying, “We need bright, young professionals to carry the pork industry to the next level.”