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Good neighbors impact soybean demand

Article cover photo
From left: Haley Banwart, Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers assistant field specialist; Joanne Tupper, Ionia farmer; Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey and Barb and Leon Sheets of Ionia, recipients of the latest Gary Wergin Good Neighbor Award. (Photo by: Matthew Wilde/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer

Future growth of Iowa’s pork industry relies on being good neighbors.

To Chickasaw County farmers and agriculture officials, there are no better examples than Leon and Barb Sheets of Ionia. The longtime pig and grain producers were presented with the Gary Wergin Good Neighbor Award Oct. 13 at the Republic Community Church.

It’s an honor the couple humbly accepted on behalf of their neighborhood.

“I’m not sure if we rise above anyone else,” Leon said. “All the farmers in the area are good stockmen, take care of the land and involved in the community — it’s just expected. Still, it’s nice to be recognized.”

The award, sponsored by the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF), highlights producers across the state who care for their animals, protect the environment and serve the public. It’s named after famed WHO Radio farm broadcaster Gary Wergin.

Even though the Sheetses are the 129th family to win the award since 2004, CSIF Executive Director Brian Waddingham said recognizing successful and caring livestock farmers is more important than ever. He said there’s a faction within the state that would like to stifle pork growth.

Iowa leads the nation in hog production. The state has 22.9 million hogs and pigs and 980,000 sows as of Sept. 1, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture Hogs and Pigs Report.

Some people believe swine numbers are too high. Water quality, public health and odor are often the top concerns. Calls for a moratorium on new pig barns and stricter regulations continue.

Industry and farm economists predict pig numbers will increase as new processing plants come online and worldwide demand for protein, especially pork, builds.

“This award does a great job recognizing farm families going above and beyond what they have to do to be good neighbors,” Waddingham said. “You don’t have to look any further than Leon and Barb.

“A good neighbor takes care of the land and livestock and is a vested member of their community,” he continued. “The more livestock farmers that can be recognized will go a long way. Hopefully, satisfying some questions being asked by some groups that aren’t so livestock friendly.”

As the No. 1 consumer of soybeans, anticipated growth of the pork industry is welcomed by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) — a founding member of CSIF — and its farmer members.

Nearly 120.5 million bushels of soybeans were fed to more than 44 million head of hogs in the state last year, according to the latest National Pork Producer Council state impact studies. Pigs consumed nearly 2.9 million tons of soybean meal.

Rick Juchems, an ISA Board member from Plainfield, would like to see more hungry hogs.

“At a time of low commodity prices and another near-record soybean crop being harvested, we need additional demand for our commodities,” Juchems said.

The grain and pig farmer joined more than 100 other northeast Iowa farmers, residents and dignitaries, including Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, at the award ceremony.

Juchems has known the Sheets family for decades. It’s an award that’s well deserved, he said.

“Being a good neighbor, like Leon says, is doing things right with the well-being of animals and others in mind,” Juchems added. “The Sheets lead by example.”

Leon was named a Master Pork Producer by the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) in 1984 and inducted into the association’s Feeder Pig Hall of Fame in recognition of production excellence and contributions to the pork industry.

The Sheetses operate a 600-acre grain and nursery-to-finish pig farm. The ISA and IPPA members have 6,000 pig spaces and contract feed for RC Family Farms of Orange City. In the hog business for nearly 40 years, the couple previously farrowed 1,200 sows.

Leon said there’s a misperception by some that modern animal agriculture, especially pork and confinement buildings, is bad for the state. It’s a myth the fourth-generation farmer hopes more and more Good Neighbor recipients will continue to bust.

“The award is set up to show the public that most producers are doing the right thing,” Leon said. “Farmers are taking care of animals, land and community.

“If we are not doing things right, the consumer will let us know with their spending,” he added.

Here’s what the Sheetses do to be good neighbors:

  • Proper animal husbandry: Ensure pigs are safe, fed and well cared for.
  • Environmental stewardship: Utilize crop rotation, plant cover crops and a suite of conservation practices like terraces, grassed waterways and buffer strips. The family received an Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award in 2017.
  • Use best management practices: A manure management plan is strictly followed and nutrients are incorporated per the four Rs — right source, right time, right rate, right place.
  • Community service: Members of several agriculture organizations, including ISA; past president of the IPPA, active on several state and national pork committees, Republic Community Church volunteer, 4-H volunteer and helps neighbors in need.

To Joanne Tupper, who nominated the Sheetses for the award, the couple set the bar when it comes to land stewardship, public service and animal husbandry. Tupper raises pigs, cattle and crops with family near Ionia.

“Leon and Barb are super involved in our community,” Tupper said. “They represent some of the best in pig farming.”

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For media inquiries, please contact Katie Johnson, ISA Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at Iowa Soybean Association | 1255 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy | Ankeny | IA | 50023 | US

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