Brenneman Pork Farms

Bringing youth back into the pork production picture in Iowa
Written by: 
Molly Shaw
Produced by: 
Sean Barr

In the last decade there has been a serious turn around in agriculture; farming is a strong interest again in all corners of the country. More consumers are drawing connections to the farm through their food, demanding not only a high-quality product, but answers to where that product originated, and Brenneman Pork Farms has a story to tell. The Iowa-based swine and grain operation’s story is one of incorporating generations – young and old – in 33 years of family business.

Located in Washington, Iowa, Brenneman Farms is an emerging force in the pork production industry, marketing some 600,000 pigs per year from farrow to finish. As a fully integrated, family-run swine and grain operation with 3,200 acres of corn and soybeans and an in-house feed mill, the company focuses on raising quality pork in an environmentally efficient, healthy and humane manner.

Brenneman Pork

Generational progression

Today Brenneman Farms oversees production at three sites in Iowa, along with two locations in Missouri, supplying pork products to large processors such as Tyson Foods, but the operation started small as the product of a family farming tradition.

Rob Brenneman, founder and owner of Brenneman Farms, was introduced to Ag as a young boy. “I started when I was about 9 years old; my grandfather gave me 10 pigs and every year that number grew a little more,” he recounts. “When I graduated from high school I had 150 sows.”

Rob and his wife, Char Brenneman, wanted to pass this opportunity on to their four children. “My husband, Tim Brenneman, is one of the four children,” says Erin Brenneman, head of public relations and farrowing specialist on the family farm. “But I didn’t grow up on the farm – I’m a city girl from Chicago.”

Before Erin met Tim, she says she never stepped foot on a farm. “I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and before I met Tim at Iowa State, I’d never been on a farm,” she reveals. “Now part of my job is our farm public relations and marketing, but also farrowing and helping mother pigs give birth to healthy baby pigs.”

“We all work on the farm in specialized areas; we’re big into specialization and we really own what we do,” continues Erin. “Tim is in charge of nursery and finishing production and his sisters are involved in the business too.”

Brothers, sisters, daughters, sons, brother-in-laws, cousins and even eight grandkids – it’s a family affair at Brenneman Farms. “Our employees might as well be family; they’re a part of our farm and treated just like any other family member in our close-knit group,” says Erin.

A fresh face on the farm

After 10 years in the industry, Erin says she’s not the only one who’s fairly new to the farm. “Even in the last decade, I’ve seen greater interest from young couples in the local community looking to get into Ag and we’ll help them raise pigs for us,” she says. “This is all part of the huge push to know where your food comes from, so we’re doing our best to put our story out there, educate and help people get into Ag if they want to.”

In fact, out of the 100 employees Brenneman Farms has on staff, 70 percent of them are under the age of 40. “We’ve really focused on bringing the next generation – both in our own family and local people – into the farm because we just love what we do and we want to share that with others,” explains Erin.

Forward thinking

Ensuring the efficient production and distribution of safe, healthful and abundant pork around the globe while furthering success for the next generation has been part of Brenneman Farms’ mission from the beginning.

“I wake up every morning so I can go to work and do what I enjoy – to have a future for my children and my grandkids,” says Rob. “That’s what it’s about. I want technology that moves my business forward, for my family’s future.”

Rob has always been a proponent of pushing the bounds of Ag technology. “Innovation is always at the forefront of our minds,” he says. “It’s a constant reinvention to improve the quality of the animal and the final product. One example is the in-house feed mill we run. This allows us to change the pigs’ diet every week, depending on what is most available. This helps us feed more efficiently and all of the corn that goes into the feed is raised within 20 miles of the operation.”

The goal is an end product that’s as wholesome as possible. If it wasn’t, Rob wouldn’t be feeding it to his own family. “We want consumers to know we’re the first to eat our product – our employees and our grandchildren all consume it, so we’re confident it’s as wholesome as can be,” he says.

Animal welfare

One of the cornerstones of a wholesome product is animal welfare. Brenneman Farms proudly participates in the “We Care” responsible pork initiative led by the National Pork Board and the National Pork Producers Council. The company is dedicated to upholding the pork industry’s highest ethical principles and animal well-being practices to maintain consumer trust.

“This program affirms six principles: produce safe food, protect and promote animal well-being, ensure practices to protect public health, safeguard natural resources in our practices, provide a work environment that is safe and consistent and contribute to better quality of life in our communities,” says Erin.

In addition to following the “We Care” ethical principles, Brenneman Farms participates in Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus), Transport Quality Assurance (TQASM) and Neighbor to Neighbor programs provided by the National Pork Board, as well as Tyson Foods’ Farm Check Audit Program to maintain high-quality, safe pork production.

Educating the world as a responsible producer

But Brenneman Farms’ commitment to excellence doesn’t stop with the animals; the company also takes great pride in education surrounding communities and the world over on the pork industry as a whole. “We serve on the local Pork Board and we host farm tours for interested student groups,” says Erin. “This is becoming more and more important, especially in 2015 when people really want to know where their food comes from. We want to provide those answers and connect people back to the modern farm.”

Erin says 2015 is going to be a year of education for Brenneman Farms. “We want to be on the front lines of this movement, because as a producer we’re in a unique position,” she explains. “We’re passionate about our story and we want to tell the world.”

Today, the Brenneman Pork Farms family looks to the second generation to further its story and shape the future, proving youth can connect with agriculture.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
AgStar Financial Services
Animal Health International
JBS United
Latta, Harris, Hanon, Penningroth, LLP
Shuttleworth & Ingersoll PLC
Win-Win LLC