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Pork powerhouse began as a small Tennessee family farm

Jimmy Tosh shares his journey.

Jimmy Tosh liked to tell people he was a row crop farmer who got into pigs. Now he calls himself a pig farmer with row crops.

He’s not just any pig farmer, though. Tosh, CEO of Tosh Farms in Henry, Tennessee, was ranked 26th among Successful Farming’s exclusive listing of Pork Powerhouses in 2021, with 36,000 sows. Tosh’s operation was one of the 11 out of 37 that expanded last year. The farm is set to grow again, by at least 2,500 sows, by the end of 2022.

Like many pork producers, Tosh is watching to see what the Supreme Court will decide in the case challenging California’s Proposition 12.

The measure, approved by California voters in 2018, would ban the sale of pork produced from sows housed in pens that do not allow 24 square feet of space for each sow.

California represents about 15% of the U.S. pork market, mostly sourced from out of state. The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) and American Farm Bureau Federation argued Prop 12 unconstitutionally restrains interstate commerce, and would threaten animal welfare and increase costs to producers and consumers in their case against California’s Secretary of Agriculture Karen Ross on October 11. A decision is expected in 2023.

Tosh is also concerned about increasing costs of production.

Feed costs rose again in 2022, up 19% on average for farrow-to- finish operations from September 2021 to September 2022, according to Holly Cook, NPPC staff economist, based on data from Iowa State University. Since September 2020, those costs have increased 83%.

The bigger story this year, Cook says, is inflation in other variable costs, including transportation, labor, and energy. Together, these costs have consistently been up about 28% in 2022.

Even with increasing costs, Cook says pork producers, on average, have had a fairly profitable year because of strong consumer demand and lower pork production.

More industry insights will be available in the 2022 Pork Powerhouses story, which will be available in the May/June 2023 issue of Successful Farming magazine. It will be the 28th in the series.

Jimmy Tosh (center) with sons Jonathan (left) and Jamey in front of the mill facility at Tosh Farms.

Humble Beginnings

While Tosh Farms today ranks nationally for number of sows, its pork operations did not begin with a breeding herd. The Tosh Farms story doesn’t even start with pigs.

Jimmy Tosh’s grandparents, A.L. and Ida Tosh, started the family business when they moved to Henry, Tennessee, in 1913. They were farmers and merchants, growing sweet potatoes, green beans, and tomatoes and selling coal and ice.

After World War II, Tosh’s father, James Garland (J.G.), built a small grain elevator and feed mill. J.G. and his wife, Sue, also farmed 123 acres, operated a 50-cow dairy, and ran a restaurant and motel.

In the mid-1950s, the family sold out of the dairy business after J.G. became disabled. As a 4-H and FFA member in the 1960s, Jimmy Tosh started buying feeder pigs with his parents. He raised 100 or 150 feeder pigs at a time in high school and up to 3,000 while traveling back and forth to the University of Tennessee at Martin, about 30 miles away.

By the time he graduated with an animal science degree in 1972 and officially took over the family business, Tosh had already built two finishing barns. The industry was beginning to move to indoor housing for pigs, one of many changes Tosh has seen in his 50-plus years on the farm.

Expanding With Contracts

When Tosh was a boy, half the town of Henry had pigs in the backyard.

Today, his family and the more than 90 farm families with which they contract raise the majority of hogs in Tennessee and a large percentage in Kentucky.

Tosh entered his first contracts with local pork producers in 1994, after realizing he would need to “either get in the pig business or get out” to keep up with the increasingly efficiency-focused swine industry. He purchased weaner pigs then contracted with nearby nurseries. The same year, he also contracted with a family now in its second generation of working with Tosh Farms. The family’s sow herd was the first to produce pigs for Tosh Farms.

Tosh saw benefits in raising pigs from birth. Previously, he had dealt with “about everything under the sun in the way of diseases” when buying commingled feeder pigs. He bought a sow unit in the late 1990s and another in 2000. Then he built one in 2005.

Today, Tosh Farms owns all but two of the nine barns housing its sows, as many as 7,500 in each. Contracted growers in Tennessee and Kentucky take care of Tosh-owned pigs at 90 wean-to-finish sites.

“Contracting has been good for us to allow our business to grow,” Tosh says. “We have a very good set of contract growers. I think we’ve been good to them, and they’ve definitely been good to us.”

Making the List

Tosh Farms first ranked on the U.S. Pork Powerhouses® list in 2014, when Tosh built and populated a 5,600-sow unit. That brought its total sow number to 27,000, putting it 24th out of 25on the list.The year was marked by a porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV) and record producer profits across the industry.

“[2014] was one of the best years we’ve had profit-wise,” says Tosh, adding he had only one site break out with PEDV. A benefit of being the majority hog producer in Tennessee and Kentucky is some buffer from disease issues. He says he faces disease challenges, but not as extensively as producers in more densely populated hog areas such as the Midwest.

Tosh describes himself as a self-taught businessman who picked up knowledge from his mother, “a very good businessperson” who died just days before he turned 21. She helped run the family farm, mill, and restaurant.

“The most important thing in any business is knowing where you’re at and where you’re going,” Tosh says. “You need to know what your financial condition is, what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong. Correct what’s going wrong and continue doing what’s right.”

Don’t be afraid to try something new, he adds.

“But do your research before you try it, and make sure you think it’s going to work,” Tosh says. “That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work. But the early adapters for new technology are the ones who are going to reap the greatest benefits.”

Tosh Farms was among the first in the country to move to free-access sow housing in 2005, which he says was successful after a steep learning curve.

He is most amazed, though, by the technological advancement of the computer, which he first bought in 1983. A record book from 1979 sits on his desk, a contrast to how he tracks revenue and expenditures today. He makes more transactions in a couple of days now than he did in a year when he started farming.

“I’d love to come back 50 years from now and see the changes after I’m gone,” Tosh says.

Key to Success

Technology, good facilities, and good animals are important, Tosh says, “But the key is you’ve got to have good people.”

He’s found the most success with hiring local people, many of them young. He looks for those with a good work ethic, who love pigs, and who are honest, and he aims to develop talent from within.

He also likes to give back to the community. Tosh Farms supports the Second Harvest Food Bank, sponsors youth sports leagues and college scholarships, and provides jobs to women who have gone through a local drug rehabilitation program, as a few examples.

“I’m just proud we’ve been able to grow the operation,” says Tosh, whose sons, Jonathan and Jamey, are actively involved in the business and will succeed him. “As long as I’m enjoying it, I’m going to keep growing.”

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