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5 questions for: Dr. Jeff Knott, owner of IDEAL Animal Nutrition, in Tracy, Minn.

Q. Tell us about your operation, IDEAL Animal Nutrition. A. IDEAL focuses on swine nutrition by providing nutritional advice and consulting to swine farmers. The programs are customer- focused, based on the goals of the operation. I like to get o...

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Q. Tell us about your operation, IDEAL Animal Nutrition.

A. IDEAL focuses on swine nutrition by providing nutritional advice and consulting to swine farmers. The programs are customer-

focused, based on the goals of the operation. I like to get on the farm and deal with pigs at the barn level to improve productivity and, ultimately, profitability of the producer.

I worked for a company as a swine nutritionist for 10 years before starting IDEAL Animal Nutrition.

Q. What do you see as the greatest advancement in the industry over the past 10 years?

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A. As with all farming, the greatest advancement is technology and the implementation of new technologies to improve production. The whole industry looks very different today compared to 10 years ago.

A couple of the biggest changes are the improvements in swine genetics and production facilities. Today’s pig is very efficient and fast growing. From weaning to market, some genetics are capable of converting feed into pork at a 2.25:1 ratio. Not that many years ago, we were happy with 2.70:1 conversion.

There also is a renewed focus on meat quality. I believe this will pay the industry great dividends as farmers realize they are in the business of producing safe, nutritious, delicious pork versus producing pigs for market. With the advancements in genetics, the pigs become more sensitive to nutrition and diet. It is my constant goal to ensure pork producers have diets that align with the genetics on their farm.

The other big change is the changes in production facilities. Ten years ago, producers were building 1,000-head curtain-sided barns, which, for the most part, were naturally ventilated. Today’s facilities are high-tech and mostly 2,400 head, power ventilated barns. These barns do a superb job keeping the environment optimal for pig production and pig comfort. There are phone apps that can help the caregivers monitor the barn’s environment and if a bin has run empty.

Q. People in the swine industry always stress how clean and comfortable the conditions are for the animals. But a lot of people outside the industry have a negative perception. Is there anything the industry should do differently to sell its message?

A. There are some media groups and organizations that do their best to promote a negative perception of agriculture in general. I think, as producers and suppliers of agriculture, we need to continue to tell our story. It doesn’t matter if we are producing grain for feed, or animals for meat, eggs or milk. Farmers are the ultimate conservationists and animal caregivers.

I get asked why pigs are raised indoors, and I tell them that it is best for the pigs. They have a controlled environment, clean feed and water, low exposure to rodents and birds (which carry disease) and no exposure to soil, which contains many parasites that can affect pig health and meat quality.

We have to do a good job explaining the story of animal stewardship, husbandry and providing the best for our livestock. When negative media hits the news, we shouldn’t shy away from the negative publicity but remind consumers of programs like the Pork Quality Assurance Program, and remind them the pork industry has a zero tolerance for animal abuse and negligence. It truly is our job to stand up for the high quality, nutritious products we produce.

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Q. There’s a dispute as to whether producers should use the term “cages” or “individualized housing.” Which do you prefer and why?

A. There are many new and old housing methods being used today, including small groups, big pens, individual stalls, small groups and electronic sow feeding stations. All are proven systems with the goal of providing the best care for the animals based on each producer’s differing management capabilities.

Recently, there have been a number of new sow production facilities that have put in big pen housing systems with ESFs that work really nice. It really depends on the management capabilities and goals of the operation.

Q. Many livestock producers and vets say they’re in the business because they like animals. What do you find satisfying about your job?

A. I like helping people and seeing them reach their goals. In the swine industry, there are many older producers bringing their children back into the operation, and sometimes that can be a difficult transition.

One of the more satisfying aspects of my job is to bridge the gap between parents and children, and helping them set goals and work toward reaching their goals. I also find great satisfaction going into a lower producing barn and working with the farmer to adjust production practices to optimize performance.

Since I was a child growing up on a diversified grain and livestock operation, I have always really enjoyed pigs. It is really fun to help bring management and technology together to implement success on the farm. The industry has changed, and I am very happy to be involved in helping farmers convert grain into delicious bacon, pork chops and all the other value the pig returns.

Would you like to be featured in this segment? Know of anyone who would make an interesting profile? Email kstromsodt@agweek.com .

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