pork producer Everett Forkner

Vernon County, Mo., pork producer Everett Forkner is always looking for ways to improve his operation, and he is willing to try new strategies and technology. He is a past president of the National Pork Board. 

Editor’s note: This is part of an ongoing series on leaders, educators and innovators in the livestock industry in the Midwest.

RICHARDS, Mo. — For Everett Forkner, whether it was in his days as a young pork producer in the 1960s, or today as someone with over a half century of experience in the swine industry, his focus has been the same — always striving to get better at what he does.

Forkner farms in Vernon County near Richards, Mo. He and his family have primarily had a seedstock operation with purebred hogs.

He graduated from the University of Missouri in 1961 and joined the family farm. His family raised cattle, but he became interested in raising pigs while in college.

“I got my interest tweaked when I was in college at the University of Missouri,” Forkner said. “I didn’t grow up with pigs. I grew up with Hereford cattle.”

He bought 10 gilts and a boar his junior year and decided to go into the swine industry when he was starting as a full-time farmer in the 1960s.

“We had our first production sale in 1965 with purebred Duroc hogs,” he said.

Forkner remembers it was the early days for ultrasound technology, estimating fat depth and lean carcass data. He utilized that technology even though it was new. It was part of a trend in his career of being willing to try new things as the industry and technology changed.

“It seemed like every five to 10 years we had to make a major change in our business,” he said.

Some of these changes included using different breeds through the years.

Forkner continued having two to five production sales a year through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, but they ceased having production sales in 1992, after 99 of them. Then he focused on selling an entire breeding system to clients up until 2000.

This was the direction large breeding companies were going, he said.

“They were selling a whole program to people, and not just boars,” Forkner said.

In 2000, Forkner realized an emphasis on pork quality was the next wave.

“Our personal interest in the early 2000s moved toward superior breeding stock with eating quality,” he said.

He remembers the arrival of the bacon craze, and the ongoing discussion about antibiotic use. Around 2007 and 2008, Forkner and his family made a decision, again looking to the future and what would work best for their family business.

“At that time, we made a pretty bold move,” he said. “We made a family decision, a business decision, to remove all antibiotics from birth to market.”

Forkner said they were one of the forerunners on this, especially among producers in the genetics business. The move provided access to more markets.

He said he has always been willing to reconsider how he does things and try something new if it seems like it could be successful and profitable.

“I guess it’s because of who I am,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in new ideas and new technology. You’ve got to be flexible in any business that you’re in.”

Forkner said he doesn’t strive to be the first one to try new technology, but he wants to be in the top 10%.

He became very involved with the National Pork Board in the early 2000s, serving as a member and then as president in 2011-12.

“It was a great experience, and it still is,” he said.

The past presidents of the Pork Board still have a two-day meeting every July, Forkner said. He enjoys the opportunity to meet with them and talk about the issues facing the industry.

“The first thing that’s on every pork producer’s mind in the U.S., will we be able to keep African swine fever (ASF) off our farms and off our continent,” Forkner said.

He said the industry has plans for what to do if ASF is found in the U.S, and he said it is important for states to work together on the issue.

Another challenge is the economic outlook.

“The economics of pork production haven’t been real great,” he said.

Forkner is hopeful Congress will take action on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a new trade deal he said would be helpful for producers.

“Mexico and Canada have both approved it,” he said. “We have yet to approve it. Our Congress seems to move a little slow.”

A new trade deal with China and more pork exports to that country would also help, he  said.

“Those are major issues that once they’re resolved — and I think they will get resolved — it will help the economics of pork production,” Forkner said.

He and his family have had several state fair and national champions at shows through the years, even setting a world record boar sale that stood for years.

“We’ve had some good fortune,” Forkner said. “We’ve had some good breaks. Being a part of the leading edge of technology has been good for us. … The consistency is what I appreciate more than anything else.”

He said he is competitive by nature, which helps with the continuing effort to improve. He also enjoys talking with people in the industry, making deliveries and talking with customers to see what they are seeing and what they need to succeed.

“I enjoy people,” he said. “I’m a people person. I enjoy being able to help my customers be successful. … First and foremost, we want you to be successful in your business.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.