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Back to the Farm: Why Tim Schwartz Switched from Pharmacy to Pigs

This Minnesota sow farm manager sees a bright future for his generation.

Tim Schwartz, 37, was a pharmacist for seven years after college, but the tug of the family farm lured him back in 2012. Today, he is the sow farm production manager for Schwartz Farms, Sleepy Eye, Minnesota (#17 on the Pork Powerhouses® ranking with 62,000 sows).

Why did you come back to the farm?

I wanted to be involved in the family business, be a part of the team. There is a sense of pride in continuing that legacy. The family business had expanded and it offered an opportunity for me to be involved. When I came back we had about 30,000 sows. Since then our company has grown by developing relationships with other successful family operations. These partnerships have created opportunities for us to grow.

What other family members are involved in Schwartz Farms?

My uncle, John, is the CEO and president. My father, Joe, is in charge of the farm’s crops and cattle. My uncle, Mark, is in charge of pork production. Right now we have three in the next generation: me; my brother, Brian; and my cousin, Dan, who is John’s son. 

How important is succession planning?

You have to keep one eye in front of you and one eye out 10 years from now. With any business, it’s important that you are looking forward with succession planning. I have four kids ages 3 to 12, so it’s too early to know about the next generation. You hope your kids find passion in what you are doing every day, but that’s their decision. John and my dad wanted to make sure I was in it for the right reasons – because I love the industry and am passionate about what I’m doing every day. It had to be something I chose to do. That’s how I would view it going forward, as well.

What is the farm’s biggest advantage?

We are located in a great place when it comes to pork production. There is an ample supply of corn and ample access to packers. That is a very good combination when it comes to cost of production.

How do you improve production?

Production is a day in, day out grind. You try to do the best you can, looking for that 1% or 2% improvement in production here and there. The sow farm is my area of focus. We challenge ourselves to do better each day, whether it is preweaning mortality or pigs weaned per sow. You are trying to pick up a percentage here and there to challenge yourself and continually improve your system. We focus on weaning the most number of pigs from a farm at an age and weight that your wean-finish guys can handle. That’s the primary driver and what I focus on every day.

Do you have any production concerns?

The biggest thing that drives production costs is health. We must continue to maintain a healthy herd. That is very important. We put a lot of time and effort into doing everything we can to safeguard the herd, whether it’s vaccination programs or biosecurity. It’s extremely important that we keep our animals healthy because that drives our cost of production.

How is your herd health?

Health this year in our system has been about average. We haven’t had PED in quite a while, so that is a good thing. This area of Minnesota always has challenges with PRRS around this time of year. Pits are being pumped, and the corn is out. Whether it’s the climate or the fact that there are no cornfields to provide a little bit of a biosecurity barrier, I’m not sure, but this area always spikes a few breaks.

What do you do to avoid disease breaks?

Going into fall every year, we talk about what we can do as a company to make sure we maintain good biosecurity. We are careful about air breeches when pumping pits, monitor materials entering the farms, and follow all the standard procedures a little closer. It’s more likely you are going to break with PRRS this time of year, so we are doing everything we can to potentially stop that.

How do you know if a farm is breaking with PRRS?

The first sign is sows off feed and abortions. We do routine monitoring of piglets out the door. If we have signs that we might be breaking, we go in and collect diagnostics.

Is labor a concern?

Yes, we are in the same position as everybody else. You try to do the best job you can in terms of recruiting and retention of employees. You think about what it’s going to take to onboard and train the next generation of farm leaders, farm managers, and employees. We are continuously trying to do a better job at the recruitment process. We recruit at college career fairs. We have an internship program to bring in that next generation of the workforce and get them interested and involved in pork production. Population is declining in rural areas.

One thing we are quite proud of is the significant contribution we make to the rural communities. We help them stay vibrant and thriving. We provide a viable source of jobs and opportunity, so children can grow up in these areas and hopefully want to stay around the area. Our company has been built around working with very good, talented people; both employees and independent contract growers. We owe our success to those folks. 

Is Schwartz Farms integrating into the pork packing business, as others have done?

The pork industry is in a very dynamic state, adding major plant capacity as well as live production. Currently, our family company has decided to focus on live production. We are continuously monitoring the situation. Our long-term vision will be influenced by what we decide is the most viable business model.

Do you worry about the trade situation?

Trade is extremely important to the pork industry. We have to continue to work toward free and open trade. Hopefully, long term, we can get some deals made with China and other emerging markets to get our pork over there. We are going to produce a lot more pork in the upcoming years, and all of it is important when it relates to trade.

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