Farmer Fridays: Scott Sibbel on Sustainable and Humane Farm Practices

Scott Sibbel, a Niman Ranch farmer, tells how sustainable, traditional, and humane farming techniques are transforming the U.S. food system.

Photographs courtesy of Scott Sibbel and Niman Ranch.

Scott Sibbel is a fifth generation, young Iowa farmer following in the family tradition of small, sustainable farming on Sibbel Family Farm (SFF) south of Carroll, Iowa. SFF has been in Sibbel’s family since 1919 when his family immigrated from Germany. He is an independent rancher and farmer committed to raising hogs and cattle in accordance with Niman Ranch’s high standards and strict protocols and has been selling hogs to Niman Ranch since 2006. In 2016, Sibbel won the Farmer of the Year Award from Niman Ranch, the ten-year farmer award in 2017, and won the fifth place meat quality award in 2014.

Scott and his wife Martha, have two children: Anthony (13), and Ellie (11), who all help out on the farm. They grow corn, soybeans, oats, and alfalfa. The farm produces fresh eggs and raises some broiler chickens in the summertime for butchering. Between 40 and 60 sows are raised from farrow-to-finish and 600 to 800 pigs are sold to Niman Ranch every year. The Sibbel herd consists of 50 cow-calf, which are mainly angus with a few Hereford. Sibbel markets 50 to 75 a year as fat cattle to Niman Ranch.

Food Tank spoke with Scott about his small family farm and how his partnership with Niman Ranch is helping change the way consumers in the United States buy and eat meat.

Food Tank (FT): What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?

 Scott Sibbel (SS): My passion to start farming came from my desire to continue my family’s tradition of farming. It really started at a young age for me. I looked up to my Dad and my two grandpas who were both farmers.

FT: How are you helping to build a better food system?

SS: The way I farm is helping to build a better food system. I raise hogs and cattle for Niman Ranch, meaning they are antibiotic free with no added hormones. The animals are raised in an environment where hogs are able to act like hogs, and cattle are able to act like cattle.  Our use of good husbandry practices and heritage genetics produces some of the best tasting meat. I also employ sustainable farming practices with the livestock and crop ground, which is good for the animals and land.

FT: What sustainable farming practices do you use on your farm

 SS: On my farm, my Great-Grandpa Henry Sibbel was a big advocate of sustainable farming way before his time.  He put in one of the first terraces in our area to help prevent soil erosion, as well as many grassy waterways, and he always farmed on the contour.  Today, we still use these practices as well as using minimum tillage.

FT:  What’s the most pressing issue in food and agriculture that you’d like to see solved?

 SS: The most important issues are fair prices for the farmers and farm financing. Even in niche markets, it is important to maintain the proper balance between payment to the farmer and the final cost of the end product at the store or restaurant. It is important to find solutions to make food fair and balanced for everyone. Additionally, it is extremely challenging for aspiring young farmers to gain a foothold in regards to banking, financing, and access to affordable land.

FT: What innovations in food and agriculture are you most excited about?

SS: What excites me most is seeing the growth and improvements in niche markets, allowing us to get our story to the consumer, and then receive their positive responses. Thanks to Niman Ranch, we have experienced great improvements in the sale and distribution of niche pork and beef to meet the increasing consumer demand.

 FT: What is one small change every person can make in their daily lives to make a big difference?

SS: First, be grateful for what we have. Also, waste less food. Growing up on the farm, it was a crime to waste food or resources. There is a lot of food waste out there today. If everyone takes care of their little piece, it can have a big impact.

FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?

SS: Start to raise and sell products you can sell to niche markets, especially ones that employ good husbandry practices, and more natural means of production. Direct marketing to consumers, groceries stores, or restaurants is also important opportunities to keep in mind when starting a small farm.

 FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?

 SS: It starts with getting people back out on farms, to see how their food is raised, and to make the connection of where their food comes from. More farmers need to tell their stories to give people insight into what challenges we deal with every day and to increase our operational transparency. I also think including farm branding on restaurant menus like Shake Shack has done with Niman Ranch bacon, Pret a Manger does with our ham and bacon, and Chipotle did with our pork and beef, helps stimulate interest. People should know the origin of their food and that the animals they’re eating were raised with care and without antibiotics or added hormones. As a farmer, we want to know the value of our work is trusted and that what we do really matters. I wouldn’t have that feeling without the support of Niman Ranch.

Farmer Friday is a bi-weekly series featuring up and coming livestock farmers selected by Niman Ranch, a network of more than 700 family farmers raising livestock in a traditional, humane, and sustainable way. With more than 40 years as an industry leader, Niman Ranch works with small, independent family farmers and ranchers across the United States to encourage better food system practices. All Niman Ranch pork, beef, lamb, and prepared products are certified under the Certified Humane® program and available nationwide at both food service and retail locations.


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