Local family wins national award
By ANDREW MCGINN
GRAND JUNCTION — A story this fall in a national magazine called the land owned by Bruce and Jenny Wessling an “environmental oasis,” which brings to mind some kind of theme park where an animatronic Al Gore greets visitors.
It’s true that each visitor leaves squealing in delight — they just don’t know they’re destined for a processing plant in Ottumwa.
As fourth-generation Greene County pork producers, the Wesslings manage to supply Cargill Pork with 19,000 hogs annually while at the same time making sure that the land can be used for generations to come.
Yeah, it’s not often you get to use the phrases “environmental oasis” and “manure management” in the same story.
The Wesslings have been honored as the nation’s 2014 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards, an annual award sponsored by the Pork Checkoff and National Hog Farmer magazine.
They’re sharing this year’s award with a farm in Malta Bend, Mo.
“It takes very few poor producers to give the industry a bad rap,” Bruce Wessling, 44, explained.
“We don’t try to do things to win awards,” he added. “For us, it’s our way of promoting the industry.”
In an era in which the term “hog confinement” seems to rank somewhere just above “sweatshop,” the Wesslings have emerged as accidental ambassadors for the nation’s 63,246 hog operations.
“They do a good job at doing things right,” said John Andersen, the Ames-based business development manager for Cargill Pork. “That’s who we want to do business with.”
On Monday, Cargill Pork donated $1,500 to the Greene County High School FFA program in the Wesslings’ name in recognition of their national award.
For the Wesslings — both 1989 graduates of East Greene High School — it’s less about hugging trees and more about just being good neighbors.
“We were looking at a way to make the place look nicer and help on snow drifting,” Wessling said. “I’ve always tried to make the place look nice.”
As the first family to sign up for the Green Farmstead Partner program through the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF), the Wesslings planted four rows of trees in 2010 near their hog barns.
The trees serve as a buffer around the family’s finishing operation, reducing odor and filtering particulate matter.
A monthly additive to the manure pit also works to reduce the stink.
Under contract since 2000 with Cargill to finish hogs — “It takes the market risk out of it for us,” Wessling said — the Wesslings receive pigs at 50 pounds and get them up to their average market weight of 270 pounds.
The hog barns are kept at a constant 70 degrees.
“And it’s 40 in here,” quipped Jenny Wessling, who serves as the operation’s business manager. “I’ve got my heater on under the desk.”
The Wesslings, who also farm corn and soybeans, have been on a winning streak as of late, winning the Iowa Pork Producers Association’s 2013 Iowa Environmental Steward Award, in addition to the 2013 Izaak Walton League Windbreak Award from the Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District.
In 2012, the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship honored Wessling Ag with the Good Farm Neighbor Award.
It’s still unsure whether their two high school-age daughters — Jolee and Taylor — will one day take over the operation.
But, the Wesslings are doing everything they can to ensure that it’s at least an option.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and will continue to live here,” Bruce Wessling said. “I want the things to be in place for them.
“It’s in our best interest to take care of the environment.”