Tosh Farms: Integrating Technology for Healthier, Tastier Pork

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The Tosh family has been in the pork industry for generations, and today Tosh Farms LLC (TFL) manages to combine the approach of a family-owned and -operated pig farm with cutting-edge technology. To date, TFL produces over 500,000 pigs a year, sourced from owned and contract swine farms across Kentucky and Tennessee. From headquarters in Henry, Tenn., where the Tosh family has historically farmed, Jimmy Tosh, his wife Alonna and their sons Jamey and Jonathan work with the entire TFL team to find ways of maximizing efficiency and producing America’s best pork.
 
“We take pride in working as a team to coordinate with our farms and manage our workflow better than the competition,” says Jimmy, president and COO of TFL. Since the company’s inception, the Tosh family has prided itself on encouraging a collaborative work ethic and an innovative spirit. As a result, Jimmy has seen the operations grow from a small family operation with just 126 acres in 1968 to a versatile operation sourcing from over 250 barns and 61 contract growers in three states. A row crop operation of 10,500 acres compliments the swine operation, of which 6,000 acres of this is owned.
 
By the late 1990s many hog farmers across the nation jumped ship due to low market prices and high production costs, but Jimmy saw the shift as an opportunity to try something very different and pioneered a contracting approach to hog farming. The model aims to consolidate risk for owners and stabilize prices for farmers. Instead of assuming all the production costs for herds of pigs, the production process could be streamlined while distributing costs across the vertically intergraded production system.
 
A New Approach
In practice, TFL manages the production of 21,000 breeding animals from the TFL farms and contracts the finishing of the 500,000 produced from these herd to farmers in the region. Farmers provide the barns, utilities, waste disposal and the daily management. In return, TFL owns the animals and pays the farmers for feed and barn usage, so that all pigs are raised according to TFL and the industry’s strict welfare, quality and health standards.
 
TFL also grows some grain crops to subsidize feed supply and has made several forays into the arena of unconventional feed options. “We mostly grow corn, soybeans, wheat and barley to supplement our feed supply. This has been a good business model since the growth of ethanol has driven up feed and grain prices,” explains Jimmy. In addition, the company has looked to creative alternatives to supplement its feed mix, including hominy, wheat midds, dried distiller grains from a nearby ethanol plant and even blueberry muffin mix.
 
TFL has pioneered innovative approaches to more than just feed in order to make its operations more cost- and time-efficient. In recent years the younger generation has spearheaded a shift towards greater technology integration in the row crop operation. “We have GPS guided equipment, yield monitors and comprehensive software to track our finances and yields,” says Jimmy. With the new software, TFL can track the progress of individual barns and individual fields to produce Cost of Production for individual units and the entire operation. Quicker access to information means the firm can better manage risk and make adjustments for higher returns.
 
Armed with new data management software, TFL keeps strict records of its feed mix to analyze long-term profitability and yield in relation to cost. If muffin mix happens to be in the mix one week or not, TFL will pull a sample for analysis to determine the value in nutrients and dollars of the feed mix long-term.
 
Settling In
Simultaneously, TFL has made some major infrastructural investments to further streamline the production process. “We built over 60 new barns in the past six years to transition from a feeder-to-finish operation to wean-to-finish, which is more efficient,” says Jimmy. The wean-to-finish system requires less movement of the pigs and, as a result, the animals are less stressed, money is saved on transportation costs and the animals take less feed to reach market.
 
As part of that transition, the business took the opportunity to streamline the barn design. Barns are now built atop a concrete pit fit with slatted flooring above. In turn, waste can be pumped and applied to crops nearby as fertilizer or sold off as manure for added revenue streams. TFL has also updated its heating systems to provide the animals with a better range of temperatures. So far, TFL has successful converted 90 percent of its facilities to wean-to-finish and plans to moves closer to 100 percent in 2012.
 
In the next few years, TFL will concentrate on growing the healthiest pigs possible and tweaking the operation to increase yields and returns. Through and through, TFL will continue to be a family-owned and -operated business and Jimmy is already beginning to plan for the farm’s succession. “It’s about more than estate taxes. We need to make sure that our younger generations are prepared to take over and that the operation is in the best shape for them to choose to continue with it,” asserts Jimmy. With that in mind, gradual and stable growth will be the objective and completing TFL’s transition towards wean-to-finish operations will be a top priority.
 
As the company moves into the next generation of Tosh ownership, the team is sure to find ways of coordinating with local farmers to stretch production cost dollars farther. In the meantime, the dust will begin to settle for Tosh Farm LLC’s new facilities, enabling the farm to reinforce its stronghold in the pork industry.