Two things quickly become clear when you meet the Wessling family of Grand Junction, Iowa – family is paramount and innovation is never ending.
From immaculately maintained machine sheds that house the latest equipment to closely managed grass waterways, the farm showcases what it means to stay at the forefront of technology. And they do so while maintaining a genuine caring attitude for the people and pigs involved.
Bruce and Jenny Wessling, who have been named 2014 Pork Industry Environmental Stewards, have what many consider a picture-perfect family farm. The multiple-generation farm started with Bruce’s grandfather and may include a fourth generation if the Wesslings’ daughters, Jolee and Taylor, decide to stay on the farm.
“I was raised on a farrow-to-finish operation with my dad and my grandfather,” Bruce said. “We transitioned to a feeder-to-finish farm, and now we’re contract finishing.”
Today, Bruce and his family work the land along with his parents, Roger and Judy. Bruce began raising pigs in 1990 in outdoor lots – a very different world in terms of today’s technology.
In 1997, Bruce built his first two finishing barns and transitioned from a farrow-to-finish farm to a contract finisher farm. Bruce was able to expand and build another finishing barn in 2009.
While increasing pig numbers to about 19,000 head annually, Wessling Ag also added crop acreage to the farm, totaling 4,600 acres of corn and soybeans.
Commitment to Efficiency Also Protects Environment
Wessling Ag uses a consultant to create a comprehensive manure management plan for the farm to guarantee the best techniques for nutrient use and odor control. This helps ensure that manure nutrients are used as required by their crops.
Wet-dry feeders in the barns help create a concentrated manure slurry in 8-foot-deep pits, adding to its value and increasing the number of acres covered per gallon. Bruce uses phytase in swine feed to help lower phosphorus in the manure.
“Phytase helps pigs better utilize the feed while also lowering the phosphorus level in the manure,” Bruce said. “When we apply manure to the fields, we get an overall lower phosphorus level, which is good for the environment.”
Reducing phosphorous limits potential buildup in soil levels and decreases the risk of nutrient runoff and leaching into waterways, he said. For additional water-quality protection, the farm uses terraces, grass waterways and buffer strips.
“With help from the state, we created 90-foot-wide buffer strips next to our creeks,” Bruce said. “The strips, which have been in place for about eight years, help filter out any unused nutrients and reduce soil erosion.”
To ensure that nutrients in the manure are used efficiently, Bruce has worked with On Farm Network to research nitrogen levels required for the corn-soybean rotation. A local agronomist samples the soil and makes fertilizer recommendations.
“We don’t need to apply commercial nitrogen because manure supplies what the crops need, making it a valuable resource to us,” Bruce said. “Plus, we’ve been able to reduce tillage, aiding soil health and helping to retain nutrients and water and nutrients on the cropland.”
Water conservation is another key environmentally friendly practice used by Wessling Ag. Installing pre-soakers in the barns for pen cleaning has helped lower overall water consumption. This practice softens any crusting and surface manure, reducing the water and time it takes to clean a barn properly. Employees make sure water meters in each barn are read and tracked daily so any issues with water conservation can be promptly detected and addressed.
As part of their commitment to good air-quality control, the Wesslings have implemented several practices to keep odor down. These include planting trees around the building site to help reduce wind flow and odor, as well as treating the manure pits with an odor-reducing additive.
We CareSM Principles Put into Practice Daily
As part of being good neighbors in their community, the Wesslings partnered with the Green Farmstead Partner Program. It was offered by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers and Trees Forever to plant hybrid willows, cedars, evergreens and shrubs.
“We started working with the program when we built our first modern barn,” Jenny said. “The Coalition put us in contact with Trees Forever, which provided us with trees here at the site. The trees serve as a great natural filter system for our barns and also make the farm more attractive from the road.”
Providing safe, nutritious pork to consumers is one of Wessling Ag’s main goals. This makes top-notch pig care essential to everyday practices. Today, that means special attention is paid to good biosecurity.
“It’s certainly easier to prevent disease than it is to treat sick pigs. We want to keep our barns clean, wear protective clothing and boots and be sure to do the same good job every day to keep pigs healthy,” Bruce said.
The We CareSM initiative helps let consumers know that producers have been doing – and will continue to do – the right things when it comes to the care of their animals and to protecting the environment, Jenny said.
“When you come from a family with generation after generation in farming, you’re still operating today because you’ve done what’s needed to protect the environment and your community,” Jenny said. “It’s important to share that message with the public.”
Giving back to the community has always been important to the Wesslings. Bruce’s grandfather played an important role in planting over 400 walnut trees in the Grand Junction Lions Club Tree
Park. When he was young, Bruce helped him mow the park, and now Bruce and Jenny’s daughters have taken over the task.
Sharing their Story
In 2012, the Wesslings won the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s
Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award. By raising their profile in the community, the Wesslings encourage dialogue that can help replace misinformation and stereotypes about farming with facts and understanding.
Some of this education is done through youth and community activities that the girls are involved in, such as 4-H and various fund-raisers. “We participate in and help with many community and school events,” Jenny said. “Some examples include donating money to the after-prom party as an agricultural group, grilling pork for different events and sponsoring a ‘glow run’ that raises money for our community center in town.”
Preparing for the Next Generation to Farm
What does sustainability mean to Wessling Ag? For Bruce and Jenny it means taking a multi-generational commitment to farming and adding today’s best farming practices inside and outside the barns. It’s a natural, almost instinctive way of approaching farming for Bruce.
“I was born and raised here, and my wife and I are raising our kids here,” Bruce said. “Protecting the environment and water quality is not something we take lightly. Being a good steward of the land is important for us today and for future generations who will farm here.”