Iowa Agriculture Feeds the World

November 7, 2023 | Iowa Agriculture Feeds the World Emery Styron,

“We are a business that is 100% Iowa-rooted,” said Jamie Horbach, public affairs director for Iowa Select Farms. “We can’t get up and move our 800 farms, 1,200 employees and our 650 contractors. We’re very proud because we know, based on research, that where livestock grows, so do communities.”

The Iowa Falls-based company, owned by third-generation Iowa farmer Jeff Hansen and his wife, Deb, is the fourth largest pork producer in the U.S., marketing more than 4 million hogs and 1.5 billion pounds of pork per year. “We’re very, very proud to feed the world,” said Ms. Horbach.

Iowa Select is equally proud of its support for rural communities and its role as one of the leading economic engines for outstate Iowa. “When people are talking about rural Iowa and the population decline, we find that where Iowa Select is located, and livestock production in general, we’re able to generate jobs in these rural communities and support other rural businesses, too,” Ms. Horbach said.

An economic impact study conducted in 2019 by Iowa State University’s Dermot Hayes showed that Iowa Select Farms created more than 10,900 direct, indirect and induced jobs per year. The direct jobs included nearly 7,500 people who rely on the company for their primary income, including employees, contract growers, contracted farm managers, manure applicators, livestock haulers and others.

Nearly 600 indirect jobs are supported in industries such as feed manufacturing, propane delivery and equipment supply. Some 2,900 indirect jobs are supported in businesses that benefit from the patronage of those directly and indirectly employed by Iowa Select Farms. Those include workers at businesses such as restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores and other retailers.

“If you take one of our truck drivers, he’s stopping at a local gas station, filling up on gas, grabbing coffee or whatever you at local c-store, from there hitting the road,” said Ms. Horbach. Other Iowa businesses, including many owned by ABI members, are impacted, she added. That includes companies whose employees “keep those roads sturdy and strong for our people and maintain trucks.

“It can become a full circle. They are bringing their loads to either of our largest customers, JBS and Tyson, maybe stopping at a local feed supplier, mill or co-op. We’re kind of everywhere. You can tell because all of our cars and trucks are branded.”

Iowa Select’s wide array of employees, from animal caretakers to truck drivers to veterinarians and environmental specialists, value “doing the right thing,” said Ms. Horbach. “It’s hard to find an employee who won’t step in and do what needs to be done. We’re all committed to the company’s success. We take a lot of pride in being able to feed the world.”

Humble Beginnings

Married after high school in 1976, Jeff and Deb Hansen converted an old barn at his father’s farm for a farrowing house, starting with three sows bought at a local sale barn. As the herd swelled to 50 sows, the Hansens modernized their farm with better equipment, including raised floor decks. They began selling the flooring system to other producers and founded Modern Hog Concepts, “an equipment supply company that eventually grew to include manufacturing facilities and offering producers across the Midwest custom or turnkey building packages,” according to a company history.

The Hansens founded Iowa Select Farms in 1992 after getting financing and a contract for 10,000 sows. The business has grown to include gene transfer centers, multiplication, gilt development, sow, nursery and wean-tofinish farms with an emphasis on animal health, nutrient management and environmental stewardship, according to company literature. Environmental efforts include supplying neighboring crop farmers with manure to replenish soil fertility and utilizing Geographical Information System software to view all farms receiving nutrients to ensure manure is applied responsibly and in compliance with state regulations.

Hansen Foundation Gives Back

The Hansens established the Deb and Jeff Hansen Foundation in 2006 to further support the communities where their employees live and work. “We’re so proud of what we do for our communities through our foundation,” said Ms. Horbach.

In the last year, the foundation raised more than $2 million to invest back into communities where Iowa Select Farms are located. The foundation focuses on three areas — child and family support, military and childhood cancer. In 2022, the child and family support included serving power snacks to 27,717 children in 113 schools, 20,000 families with a Christmas meal and 85 food pantries assisting 8,400 families. Pork care packages served more than 14,000 military families. Cancer care included a $300,000 donation for the Jeff and Deb Hansen Home for Hope renovations and gifts for families and cancer patients.

Ms. Horbach likes to talk about the “unforgettable opportunities” offered by the Children’s Cancer Connection’s Iowa Adventure program. Families of children with cancer receive a special free weekend at Iowa attractions of their choice such as the state fair, Lake Okoboji and visits to apple orchards.

A 501c3, the Hansen Foundation is funded by gifts from Jeff and Deb Hansen, employees, contractors, owner-operator truck drivers for Iowa Select Farms and other friends and sponsors. Ms. Horbach invites ABI members to join forces with the foundation “to keep Iowa strong."

Flexible Yet Focused

As shifts in public attitudes and changes to agriculture such as California’s Proposition 12 affect the way farming is done, Iowa Select Farms counts itself “lucky to be in a really great ag-friendly state,” Ms. Horbach said, praising “the awesome political climate we have here, the way Iowans in general continue to value and celebrate agriculture.”

“At the local level, we value working with our city councils, supervisors, DNR, all these entities that really help foster this great community and environment for livestock production.”

The company’s farms are in the process of becoming compliant with “Prop 12,” which, among other regulations, requires producers who want to access California’s markets to provide at least 24 square feet of floor space per breeding pig in hog confinements.

“As a company we will continue to gauge what consumers demand,” noted Ms. Horbach. Preliminary indications are that pork prices are rising in California, which represents 13% of the national pork market, but demand isn’t matching that, she said. “As an industry, it will be interesting to see what happens there.”

Other challenges include higher prices for feed ingredients like corn and soybeans, along with skyrocketing labor costs. In the new year, Iowa Select hopes to see inflation moderate, the economy stabilize and free trade agreements negotiated to expand the market, especially in Asian countries where pork is the number one food.

Ultimately, “consumers call the shots,” and Iowa Select Farms will remain focused on what it does best, said Ms. Horbach. “All we do is produce pork. Our pigs are hungry. We have to keep them fed and happy.”