America’s Pig Farmer of the YearSM judges share their perspectives

Raising pigs looks different today than decades ago, thanks to major advancements in animal health, food safety and environmental stewardship. No one knows this better than producers, especially the 2018 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year and the producers chosen as finalists.   These exceptional producers stepped up to share stories of how America’s pig farmers are doing what’s right for people, pigs, and the planet while producing the best pork ever. Hearing their messages firsthand were this year’s judges, who shared their impressions:

Q: What impressed you about these four committed producers?

Robin Ganzert: These four producers are inspirational and great Americans. I was truly impressed with their commitment to humane farming practices and sustainability. They all showed that animal welfare is job one.

Scott Vernon: These farmers have skin in the game and really care about their livestock. These professionals know the stakes are high, and I was impressed by their courage. While it’s easy to think, “I’ll just keep my head down and mind my own business on my farm,” pig farmers can no longer afford to do this, especially in today’s 24/7 news cycle.

Kari Underly: I love their passion and was impressed by their knowledge of all aspects of pig farming and their ability to communicate with consumers. What really resonated was their ability to dust off their boots, present their story and be a spokesperson for pig farming.

Sarah Hendren: I was impressed with each candidate’s expertise and professionalism. They are thought leaders in their industry and are actively involved in their communities. While they live the farming life every day, they recognize how important it is to be part of the conversation with issues that affect agriculture.


Q: What skills are essential to effectively tell pork’s story?

Robin Ganzert: To tell ag’s story, producers need to be able to showcase their passion, their knowledge of the industry and their ability to speak to ag issues beyond their own farm. I was impressed with these farmers’ incredible commitment to opening their farms as showplaces and was moved by their stories of multi-generational farming families, who are the backbone of feeding the world.

Scott Vernon: These farmers can explain technology and sustainable management practices in a way that non-farmers can understand. They also serve their community from civic groups to church organizations, work hard to be good neighbors and keep learning about better ways to farm. All this shares pork’s story in a powerful, positive way.

Kari Underly: Producers must be comfortable and passionate when speaking about the successes and challenges of the American pig farmer.

Sarah Hendren: As ag experts, pig farmers know how to communicate in a consumer-friendly way. They can translate complex issues such as biosecurity into clear, easily-digestible messages. Producers also need to be willing to work with retail/foodservice professionals to help share these messages.


Q: How can America’s Pig Farmer of the Year and other pig farmers guide conversations about agriculture and food production?

Robin Ganzert: Pig farmers can bring tremendous insights into the dialogue around food production. With global threats of disease outbreaks, trade wars, immigration battles and the impact of sustainability, today’s pig farmers are no longer just managing matters at home but are on the front lines of the global headlines, dealing with real issues in real time. Their sophistication with food production on a global stage benefits not only families in America, but those around the world, allowing us to enjoy the benefits of a safe, affordable and ethical food system.

Scott Vernon: They can help people learn that farmers provide a safe, abundant food supply, which allows other people to pursue their own interests. When people don’t have to worry about producing their own food, they can focus on the arts, politics or whatever else interests them. My hat’s off to the National Pork Board for supporting the America’s Pig Farmer of the Year program and bringing the farmer’s perspective into the conversation more often.

Kari Underly: Today’s American pig farmers must be comfortable having conversations about how food is produced, specifically regarding sustainability. It’s also important for consumers to know that American pig farmers practice the We CareSM principles and are committed to responsible, ethical animal agriculture. We’re blessed in this country to know that this is the baseline for how animals are raised.

I was encouraged by the candidates’ beliefs that American pig farming is not a one-size-fits-all industry. Farmers can raise their pigs in a barn or in the pasture. It’s really up to farmers about how best to sustain their farm using the We Care principles.

Sarah Hendren: While “barn talk” makes perfect sense to other farmers, many of the concepts and terms used to explain today’s agriculture are foreign and confusing to non-farmers. It’s like an astronaut trying to explain all the complexities of how a space shuttle works. If they don’t put it in terms people can understand, the message gets lost.

We need pig farmers who can explain agriculture in a calm, clear way and be part of the conversation about food. Studies show that consumers view farmers and ranchers as trustworthy and credible. The America’s Pig Farmer of the Year program plays a key role of representing America’s 60,000 pig farmers and putting a face on today’s agriculture.


Meet the Professional Judges


Dr. Robin Ganzert – Robin Ganzert, president and chief executive officer of American Humane, which has been promoting the welfare and safety of animals and strengthening the bond between animals and people for more than 100 years.

Sarah Hendren – Sarah Hendren, nutrition and quality assurance manager with Culver Franchising System, LLC.

Kari Underly – Kari Underly, an author and award-winning butcher at Range, a Chicago-based business that helps companies in the fresh meat industry develop merchandising tools and market strategies to promote their products.

Dr. Scott Vernon – Scott Vernon, who teaches leadership and agricultural communication courses at California Polytechnic State University.


America’s Pig Farmer of the Year 2018 Finalists

Patrick Bane – Arrowsmith, Illinois

Bill Luckey – Columbus, Nebraska

Brad Lundell – Kiron, Iowa

Kevin Rasmussen – Goldfield, Iowa