Leadership insights from Billi Hunt, Executive Director of America’s Cultivation Corridor
I grew up on a farm in Diagonal, a small farming community in southwest Iowa. Our family’s farm focused on livestock, particularly cattle, and we had a rather large operation by the farming standards of the late 1970s and 80s. My Dad loved animals and animal husbandry. He loved advocating for policy on livestock care and growing the industry in Iowa and across the U.S.
My father passed away almost 40 years ago this month, and I reflect on him and his farming practices often, especially when I visit with innovators, scientist and fellow livestock producers. I know he would be amazed at how an industry that can appear so simple from the outside has continued to innovate year after year. From the last day he stepped foot on our operation to the things I see today, innovation continues to drive animal production from the farm to the consumer.
While I grew up on a cattle farm, it is only fitting to highlight Iowa’s leadership in pork production during National Pork Month. That leadership is possible through a combination of world-class research and diagnostic facilities, high concentration of animal science professionals, growing startup ecosystem, and robust producer education and outreach programs. We offer a unique advantage as the best place in the world to bring new ideas and innovations for pork production.
With nearly 25 million hogs on 5,400 hog farms across the state, pork production is a key factor in Iowa’s economy and rural communities. Pork production and processing sales deliver $40.8 billion in revenue to Iowa’s economy, with value-added economic activity of $11.9 billion.
And, pork producers are boosting sustainability as well. When compared to 1960, the use of natural resources per pound of pork produced has been reduced significantly. Nearly 76% less land is used, 25% less water and 7% less energy, shrinking the carbon footprint by nearly 8%.
The concentration of research facilities and expertise centered in Iowa is incredible. The Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State University represents 60 faculty and staff programs and the Iowa State Veterinary Diagnostic Lab is a national leader in protecting animal and human health, with full-service laboratories that process more than one million tests each year. Ames is also home to the USDA National Centers for Animal Health, National Animal Disease Center, National Veterinary Services Laboratory, and the Center for Veterinary Biologics.
Iowa’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem is an ideal fit for a number of startup companies bringing new solutions to the pork industry, including Mazen Animal Health, Genvax Technologies, FarrPro, many of which are delivering technologies to improve animal care and wellbeing.
The technologies and tools to keep animals healthy have come a long way from the days of riding in our old blue Ford pickup through the pastures checking on cattle, but the commitment of Iowa’s livestock producers, researchers and industry leaders to improve how we care for animals and land while delivering a nutritious, safe and sustainable food supply to the world is unwavering.
What do you think have been the most exciting or influential innovations in animal care and production?
Published October 2023.