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Q&A: Jeff Hansen, Owner of Iowa Select Farms

At a brand-new 6,250-sow farm near tiny Derby, Iowa, Jeff Hansen is welcoming 800 people to lunch on a chilly March morning. This is the first new sow farm built by Hansen’s company, Iowa Select Farms, in 12 years, and he wants to show off the place. Folks from the local community are streaming down the gravel road in pickup trucks. The Iowa Pork Producers staff is running the grill. Hansen is in the farm’s kitchen, beaming with pride, yet cautious at the same time.

SF: Why expand now?

JH: What’s really driving the expansion are the new slaughter plants coming online. If we didn’t have the new slaughter plants, there would be no opportunity. We have a long relationship with JBS, and we are filling in for some of the volume it’s going to lose to the new plants. We saw the opportunity and decided to add more sows.

SF: How large will Iowa Select Farms be by the end of the year?

JH: Our sow count by fall will be 200,000. It may be a little more than that by the end of the year.

SF: Your new barns feature a filtration system for disease control. How important is that technology?

JH: The positive pressure is the whole future of the industry, especially with sows in Iowa. We’d be foolish to put sows in Iowa without filtration. We had a boar stud that broke three times with PRRS. After we put filtration in 15 years ago, it never broke again. But we couldn’t afford it for the sow farms. The technology on a large scale wasn’t there. Now it’s there, so we are moving as fast as we can.

We have remodeled 17 farms. We go in, tear them all apart, build them back like new, and put the filtration in.

We can’t afford another break with PED. It was terrible. The only good thing about it was that the outbreak was so big, it affected the markets. Eventually, the filtration technology will be used by everybody.

SF: How do you feel about the pig business, in general, right now?

JH: It is exciting and scary at the same time. We’ve all seen the ups and downs of the last 25 years. The new slaughter plants have created such a panic in the industry. I’m worried about the export market, and I’m concerned about immigration. We can’t run slaughter plants or production facilities without labor. So it’s really concerning where we are in terms of the big picture as an industry and where we are going. Hopefully, we won’t have a major hiccup.

SF: Do you plan to stay in Iowa?

JH: Oh yeah! I have no desire to leave. With the new slaughter plants in Iowa, that’s the place to be. We’ll never build out of Iowa. This is a family business. My son, daughter, and son-in-law are all involved in the business. I focus on financing, environmental issues, and our relationship with our packer. Noel [chief operating officer Noel Williams] is the key to our business. He is in charge of production and basically runs the whole company. He’s a great guy. 

BIO

Name: Jeff Hansen

Title: Founder and owner of Iowa Select Farms, the largest pork producer in Iowa and the eighth largest in the U.S.

Background: Hansen is a third-generation family farmer from Iowa Falls, Iowa. He and wife Deb married after high school in 1976. Hansen converted an old barn at his dad’s farm for farrowing and bought used farrowing crates for $35 each. He and Deb bought three sows from a local sale barn and started their own farrowing operation. In 1993, they founded Iowa Select Farms with 10,000 sows. 

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