Building a Future

12-01-2015 in Events

Two hundred-seventy friends, neighbors and curious onlookers gathered at Farson Livestock, LLC, Monday, November 23, for a chance to view the farm’s new swine production facility. The open house was hosted by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.

Industry personnel were on hand to provide information on Farson Livestock’s two buildings, each designed to hold 2,480 animals and joined by a walkway with administrative offices. Farson Livestock family members greeted guests and answered questions as well.

With the new facility, Farson Livestock becomes one of 500 JBS grower-producers in Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, in a low-risk arrangement perfect for the beginning farmer. While Jim Sterling and his wife Joan have spent their lives carrying on the family tradition of Wapello County livestock production began by his great-great-grandfather in 1869, son Josh Sterling, and son-in-law Andrew Vandehaar and wife Jaime are beginning their careers.

“When you start out, you have no cash, no assets,” says Josh. “The contract arrangement guarantees a return with little risk.”

Farson Farms provides the building, utilities, and labor. JBS provides the pigs and assumes the market risk, as well as any needed medical care and a ration that will grow the 12-pound freshly weaned piglets to 300 pounds in 26 weeks.

“And they get to keep the manure for their crops,” explains JBS Representative Art Halstead. The hogs will consume grain from 500-1,000 acres and provide natural fertilizer for an equal amount of farmland.

Feed will be processed at the JBS United, Inc. feed mill in nearby Hedrick. The pork will be processed at JBS USA Pork in nearby Ottumwa. “We really like that it’s all local,” says Josh.

The building, constructed by PSI, features a natural tunnel design for energy efficiency and animal comfort. The design utilizes natural breezes. Tunnel curtains pull in additional fresh air. A completely automated feed, water, and environmental control system sends the guys a text message in the event of any malfunction.

The automated production system makes it possible for Josh and Andrew to concentrate on other farm activities, checking the hogs one or two times a day. The low-risk contract arrangement makes it possible for them to join an active Wapello County farm economy. There are 742 farms in Wapello County, where production agriculture and ag-related industry creates more than $2 billion annual economic activity. Livestock production accounts for 18.8 percent of all jobs in the county. Market value of livestock sold equals $23.8 million.

They also join a long list of producers helped by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers. “We first contacted the Coalition about a year ago,” Jim explains. “We had chosen a site, but they informed us it was too close to a cemetery, and helped us pick a better one.” The new location not only met siting requirements, but is in close proximity to the fields slated to benefit from the natural fertilizer.

“And they helped us communicate with neighbors and the community,” says Andrew. Josh and Andrew met one-on-one with neighbors and say the effort was appreciated. “They thanked us for talking with them, and respected us for doing it.” When the Wapello County Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the project, not one objection was heard.

“Communicating with our neighbors not only helped with this project, but laid the groundwork for our future here,” says Josh. The pair see the swine unit as just the beginning of their farming days, hoping to build on Jim’s swine, beef, and crop production framework.

“It’s good to have the family back home,” says Jim, “and for them to have this opportunity.”

CSIF is a non-profit organization that assists livestock farmers who want help interpreting rules and regulations, guidance on good site locations for barns, counsel on enhancing neighbor relations and tips on how to protect the environment at no cost. For more information, call 1-800-932-2436 or visit

The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created by farmers to help farmers raise livestock responsibly and successfully. It’s a joint partnership involving the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Egg Council, Iowa Farm Bureau Federation, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.

By Terri Queck-Matzie for CSIF

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