Jude Becker’s parents, John and Joyce Becker, instilled in him a passion for building community through farming. Even though Jude’s father had to quit farming in the 1980s due to arthritis and the farm crisis, the family stayed on the farm and were committed to their rural community and the values they wanted to continue see fostered there.
“My father is gone now, and I live on the farm. We have two different places and my mom is able to still live here, too,” Jude began, explaining life near the Eastern Iowa community of Dyersville. “I have been lucky enough to have parents and grandparents who believed in the rural tradition and what the small, family farm can bring as a value to the rural landscape and community. When I was in high school, I had a rekindled interest in agriculture. Then I went on to Iowa State University and got a degree in Ag Business. There, I got some ideas about niche production and organic farming.”
In-between his sophomore and junior years at Iowa state, Becker began raising organic soybeans. His family had also raised hogs in the past and he decided to bring them back, “Because I felt that was the way to make my farm ventures more economically sustainable and the pigs would also allow me to employ people in a different way. So, I started direct-marketing the hogs in 2001.”
More than a decade later, Becker has built a strong brand — Becker Lane Organic.
“Becker Lane is the road we live on,” he said. “It’s very simple and people seem to remember it.”
The organic operation has grown to roughly 120 sows and about 2,000 Berkshire and Chester White pigs sold a year to grocery stores and restaurants in different regions of the country.
Becker admitted the organic certification process may seem scary in the beginning, but he has found it an overall positive experience.
“You have to find a third-party auditor and there are probably one or two in every state now,” Becker said. “They send an auditor to your farm and you have some paperwork to fill out and must create a method of bookkeeping and tracking everything, so it is traceable to someone on the outside. A lot of what is required are just good business practices anyway.”
The land takes three years to transition to organic, Becker said.
“We transitioned one section of the farm at a time and that helped buffer the process,” he said. “In the long term, we have been far more profitable going this direction.
“We have about 240 acres of row crops and some of that land is committed to pasture for pigs every year. The pigs and sows are in rotation with the crops. Every time we decide we want to have pigs on a field, we put up electric fence paddocks and temporary water lines and insulated metal huts where the piglets are born. That goes on for a couple to three years. Then we follow that up with corn for a couple years followed by rye or barley for a year and then we go back to a meadow, clover crop to re-establish cover crops for the pigs when they cycle back around again. Everything we grow on the farm is fed to the pigs.”
Selling direct, Becker said, means he keeps in close contact with butchers and meat buyers from the areas he is marketing his product.
“The processing part is the most limiting factor,” Becker continued. “Processing plants are very much in demand and very few are in existence that are doing small-scale, niche products. We take a five-hour trip to the other side of Iowa to SIG International to process our pigs.”
Bringing more people back to the farm was a big goal of Becker’s. Today, he has two full-time employees and an intern from South Korea who is learning organic farming.
“We typically have interns like that through an exchange student program,” he said. “His dream is to start a farm like this in South Korea.”
Becker also said the Practical Farmers of Iowa, an organization that invites members from everywhere and focuses on farmer-to-farmer learning opportunities, has been important to keeping him connected to others who are pursuing organic and sustainable practices.
“I had a field day with Practical Farmers, and you learn a lot from each other,” Becker said. “For example, I learned about growing a special type of rye seed from Denmark that I would have never known about if I had not connected with this group.”
You can also see Becker presenting: The Advance Organic Swine Farming System workshop during the first ever Midwest Organic Pork Conference to be held March 8-9 in Waterloo, Iowa,
“I will be conducting a workshop with farmers who are curious about this type of animal husbandry,” Becker explained. “I will overview every aspect of the farm, from the growing and finishing phase to how to organize your farms with crop rotations and pigs on pasture. I will also be addressing healthcare and disease control.
“I am less interested in growth in my business. I am focused on having a business that is economically viable and I find more joy in growing my ideas and seeing my philosophy grow in other people, essentially planting the seeds of ideas into others. It is more important to me to see a community that does this. I want to see more farmers instead of fewer people on the landscape and living in town.”
To learn more about Jude’s farm visit: www.beckerlaneorganic.com