Five reasons why pigs are good for Iowa
Folsom shares a farmer’s perspective
ROCKWELL CITY — When Jason Folsom travels across rural Iowa, one thing is clear. The areas with livestock production tend to have more young farmers and more vibrant rural communities.
“Almost all the successful young farmers I meet have livestock,” said Folsom, 36, a contract finisher who raises hogs in Calhoun County near Rockwell City and Jolley. “There’s also life in the towns in areas with livestock farms, since these communities tend to have viable business districts.”
Folsom grew up on a crop and livestock farm in the Rockwell City area and has farmed for full-time for 14 years. Pigs have been an important part of his operation from the start.
“Raising livestock was the only way I was going to get started in farming,” said Folsom, who has five 2,400-head finishing barns on three sites and farms roughly 2,000 acres with his father, Mike, who also has a 3,000-head finishing barn. “I like working with livestock. If you grew up on a livestock farm, it sticks with you.”
Most of Folsom’s swine barns are located near his farm home northeast of Rockwell City.
“I always knew I wanted to farm and started thinking about it seriously in high school,” said Folsom, who dabbled in construction work before farming full-time. “I like the independence of farming, watching things grow and being able to see rewards for your labor.”
“It’s still family farming.”
These rewards come in many forms, said Folsom, who shares five reasons why pork production is good for Iowa:
1. Pork production helps young farmers get started. While it can be challenging to rent or buy enough land to get started in a row-crop operation, it takes a much smaller amount of ground to build a swine barn. Raising livestock helps keep more farmers on the land, Folsom said. “Lenders are often willing to finance livestock barns,” added Folsom, who built his first two confinement barns in 2007. Today, he and his father raise about 30,000 hogs per year. “Combining livestock production with row-crop farming also keeps you fully employed.”
2. The pork industry helps drive Iowa’s economy. Countless jobs are connected to the swine industry. When new barns or packing plants are built, this creates jobs for construction workers, plumbers, electricians and others, Folsom said. “Swine farms create work for custom power washers, employees you hire, lawn mowing services, propane and electricity providers and the local hardware store, since you’re always needing supplies,” Folsom added. “Pork producers also pay property tax dollars to the county.”
3. Pork producers are rooted in Iowa for the long term. Sustainability and stewardship guide Folsom’s management decisions. He regularly tests the nutrient content of the swine manure from his barns, where hogs grow from 50 pounds to 285 or 290 pounds before they go to market. Folsom adds the nutrients to his fields to enhance soil health and feed his crops. “These nutrients are too valuable to waste,” said Folsom who has a manure management plan on file with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and is subject to random DNR inspections.
4. Agriculture helps cultivate new leaders, especially in rural Iowa. Folsom is well versed in many current local, state and national issues facing agriculture and the economy. He has been involved with the Calhoun County Farm Bureau for 14 years, where he’s a past president of the board and current voting delegate. He’s also a graduate of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s Ag Leaders Institute, has served on the IFBF Resolutions Committee and serves on the IFBF’s Swine Advisory Committee. In addition, Folsom is a member of the Calhoun County Corn Growers Association and serves as a District 4 representative for the Iowa Corn Growers Association. “Agriculture and the pork industry are only going to succeed if people are willing to step up and tell agriculture’s story,” Folsom said. “Getting involved in these organizations also gives you good opportunities to learn from some of the best producers and leaders around the state and nation.”
5. Pork producers make meals more satisfying. Producing high-quality pork starts with a focus on animal well-being. That includes providing proper nutrition, following tight biosecurity standards and maintaining a good working relationship with the veterinarian. “We focus on keeping the hogs healthy,” said Folsom, who has two full-time employees. All this leads to a healthy, nutritious, affordable food source. What’s Folsom’s favorite pork cut? “Everyone loves bacon. It’s also hard to beat a good pork loin, smoked pork chop or ham. I like all of it.”
All the hard work that’s required to raise this food is just part of the job for pork producers like Folsom. If an ice storm or blizzard hits, Folsom heads to his hog barns to check on the livestock, often before he takes care of things at home.
“Sometimes I don’t think people realize how much the land and livestock mean to farmers,” Folsom said. “Even though modern agriculture may look a little different than it has in the past, it’s still family farming.”