Bill and Joan Tentinger

Bill and Joan Tentinger farm near Le Mars in Plymouth County, Iowa. The Tentingers were named 2019 Master Pork Producers by the Iowa Pork Producers Association.

Bill and Joan Tentinger did not plan on celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in the midst of a pandemic. But just like they have done throughout their farming career, they adjusted.

“The restaurants were closed and we couldn’t go anywhere, so we just cooked at home,” Bill says. “We made it work.”

That’s a path they have followed since he first started raising hogs on his own in 1969. They have gone from pasture farrowing in the summer to marketing nearly 50,000 pigs annually from their northwest Iowa farm.

The Tentingers, who were named 2019 Master Pork Producers by the Iowa Pork Producers Association, farm near Le Mars in Plymouth County. In addition to the hog operation, they grow corn and beans. Their son Nathan and daughter Mandy are also involved on the farm.

Three years after they were married, the couple put up their first confinement finisher and increased their sow herd.

“I can only think of one other confinement in our neighborhood when we built that one,” Tentinger says. “And it’s still in operation on the farm where my nephew lives and where I grew up.”

In the mid-’80s, they converted a horse barn and added 27 raised farrowing crates. In 1993, the Tentingers constructed a gestation barn, updated farrowing facilities and grew their numbers to 72 sow batches every five weeks.

“We just grew along with the industry,” Tentinger says.

A year later they added gestation stalls and began using artificial insemination.

“As an independent producer, you have to be able to adapt,” Tentinger says.

After selling primarily weaned pigs, the Tentingers later switched to using contract growers for their nursery and finishing pigs. They stopped farrowing in 2018, and now buy feeder pigs from suppliers in Canada and South Dakota.

“We always liked farrowing and being around baby pigs,” Tentinger says. “I always looked at farrowing as a new life, a new animal that we could raise, new income for the farm.”

In addition to his farm chores, Tentinger has been active in his county, state and national hog organizations. He has been on IPPA’s board for the past 15 years, serving as president in 2012.

“Derrick Sleezer asked me to run to be on the board, and I’m a firm believer that there needs to be more than one candidate for an election,” he says. “I didn’t plan on winning, and I wasn’t that excited about it, but it only took a day or two for me to realize this was one big family, and that everyone cared for each other.

“When I came home from the first Iowa Pork Congress after I was elected, I told Joan that we need to see where this is going to take us. That was the first time we talked about the need to get some hired help.”

Tentinger currently represents Iowa on the National Pork Board. His time on the two boards has given him the opportunity to travel globally.

“It’s just been a tremendous experience,” he says.

Tentinger says they have been able to stay in business because of their ability to adapt in an industry where the winds of change constantly swirl.

“I figured if the big guys can do it, so can I,” he says. “I’m an independent producer, but I’ve watched and listened and paid attention to what they are doing, and that has helped make me a better producer.”

It is a troubling time for the pork industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tentinger says producers are doing their best.

“In the last week or so, I think it has relaxed some as more packing plants have started increasing capacity,” he says. “But I think people are still pretty worried. I think we may be through the worst of this go-around, but there is a lot of concern about what might happen this fall.”

Tentinger says he plans on sticking around for a long time.

“Even though I spend more time at a desk than I used to, I’m still out in the barns every day for the most part,” he says. “It’s something I love, and I’ll keep doing it as long as I possibly can.”

Jeff DeYoung is livestock editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.