ERIE, Ill. — Todd Dail has been raising pigs and corn full time for more than 20 years in northwestern Illinois. His advice to those just starting out is to listen to an older generation and learn from their experiences.
“They’ve been through a lot of what you need to hear,” said Dail, who had input from his family and from leaders in the industry.
He grew up on the family farm near Erie, Illinois and was active in FFA in Whiteside County. He didn’t know if farming would be his career when he graduated from high school and joined the Navy.
Even after he finished his degree in agriculture finance at the University of Illinois in 1996, he wasn’t certain what career path he would follow. Growing up on the farm, he was aware of the pluses and minuses of such a life.
“My family never said I had to farm. They encouraged me to do what made me happy,” he said.
Likewise, he and his wife, Rebecca, the farm’s office manager, encourage their daughter to do what she wants when making career decisions.
For a few years after college he worked in banking.
“The timing wasn’t right,” he said of starting in pork production during part of the 1990s, when pig prices were low.
But an opportunity came up when a local business wanted to put up a hog building and needed someone to run it. His dad, Max, thought their father-son team would be the answer, so they rented it and eventually bought it.
The expansion provided enough opportunity to support everyone in the early 2000s, and Dail and his father, now 75, continue to grow their business.
For Dail, timing has always been important. He gained experience through the Navy, his education and working in banking that help him today. He chose to expand when interest rates were low.
Dail continues to adjust the operation as the timing is right. He sold the sow operation in 2015, moving from a farrow-to-finish operation to wean-to-finish.
The Dails partner with Phil Borgic, a Nokomis, Illinios, farmer. For Dail, the partnership suits his farming practice better than being a contract grower would, he said.
Growing their own feed is an important part of the operation as 60-67% of the cost to raise a pig is feed, he said. He grows about 1,000 acres of crops, mostly corn.
Dail has been active with the Illinois Pork Producers Association, including serving as 2014 president. He is also active on the Council of Best Management Practices, which promotes nutrient stewardship and voluntary agricultural best management practices.
While he said he benefitted from participating in such organizations, Jennifer Tirey, IPPA’s executive director, said the organization likewise benefited from his knowledge and efforts.
“He strives to promote pork and is the first to lend a helping hand when needed,” she said.
As a farm boy in the 1980s, Dail saw some of the challenges of farming then and followed the ups and downs of hog prices in the 1990s. Farming full-time in the 2000s, he said raising their own corn helped insulate them from some of the higher feed costs.
“Luck has helped,” he said, noting that interest rates were lower when he and his dad wanted to expand.
And family is key.
“I’m fortunate I grew up in a farm family,” Dail said. “It would be difficult for young people to get into farming without that because it’s so capital intensive.”
Bringing on a “next generation” now doesn’t necessarily mean someone in the family, as long as they have a passion and skills for the work, Dail said.
As for the rest of 2020, Dail said he “remains cautiously optimistic.” Part of the reason for that optimism, he said, is “the Midwest has a competitive advantage.”