Phil Kramer is a fifth-generation hog farmer on Kramer Family Farm. The farm is located in North Central Iowa where the family has farmed for decades. They have grown and raised just about everything from corn, soybeans, alfalfa, oats, hogs, laying hens, to cattle. Kramer’s dad, Martin, and his wife, Erin, along with the help of their kids and nephews all work on the farm. Phil raises hogs from farrow (birth) to finish using a deeply bedded system that allows the pigs plenty of room to root around.
Kramer’s father, Martin, has raised pigs for Niman Ranch for more than 15 years and was awarded the prestigious Hog Farmer of the Year in 2010. Phil has raised hogs for Niman Ranch for the last ten years. Kramer Family Farm sells about 500 hogs per year to Niman Ranch. Working with Niman Ranch, as a farmer and a shipping manager, Kramer has the opportunity to own his own hogs and manage his own farm operation for fair pay while working closely with other farmers to coordinate trucking and logistics among farmers and Niman Ranch. He has a great respect for the Niman Ranch community and their family oriented values. Kramer loves that his career and life revolve around “working with livestock and being outside.”
Food Tank spoke with Phil Kramer about the importance of niche pork markets and educating the American public on food production.
Food Tank (FT): What do you think is the most important reason to farm sustainably?
Phil Kramer (PK): The most important reason to farm sustainably is to preserve the land and traditional farming practices for future generations.
FT: What are your family’s favorite farming activities?
PK: My kids like to ride in the tractors and skid loaders and help with different activities such as feeding the animals and providing additional straw bedding for the newborn pigs. They really love anything to do with baby pigs. As a family, we enjoy showing Hereford hogs at different shows and county and state fairs throughout the Midwest.
FT: What is the biggest change you’ve encountered in agriculture during your years farming?
PK: There has been a substantial increase in the amount of larger pork companies taking over the pork industry, resulting in fewer independent hog farmers. There are more large crop farmers and fewer small to medium-sized crop farmers.
FT: Have you observed changes in the number, size, and type of farms that are found your immediate locale? What is your attitude toward any trends you may have noticed?
PK: The number of larger crop farmers in my area has increased, and the number of small crop farmers has decreased over the years. I don’t like the shift towards larger operations. Due to these larger hog operations a growing demand for humane and sustainably produced pork has created niche markets, such as Niman Ranch, where our farmers can compete and be profitable.
FT: How do you see your role as a Niman Ranch farmer? How do you see your role in the community?
PK: I am a farmer as well as an employee of the company. As an independent farmer I’m supporting my rural economy by using local banks, stores, and services. I try to share information and get involved with the local community by volunteering time with my church and youth athletics.
FT: If you could broadcast a message about farming to people across the country, what would it be?
PK: It is up to the consumer to know the facts about U.S. agriculture and for them to decide on their own how they want the food they eat to be produced. Niman Ranch pork is raised by farmers who are good stewards of the land and farm animals. Our pork is produced here in the United States by independent family farmers. It is delicious, safe, and wholesome to eat – with no antibiotics-ever.
FT: What originally inspired you to get involved in your work?
PK: I have enjoyed working with livestock since I was a little kid. I grew up helping my dad on the farm with our farrow-to-finish operation. In 1999, as I was preparing to leave for college, my dad began selling pigs to Niman Ranch. This sparked my interest in niche pork production and was something I focused on during my time at college.
In 2003, I began working for Niman Ranch and have been with them for almost 15 years under different titles. I have always enjoyed working with the farmers and helping them improve their operations in any way possible. I began raising pigs for Niman Ranch in 2007. I enjoy spending time and gaining additional knowledge working with other like-minded farmers who supply Niman Ranch.
FT: What is the best opportunity for young or aspiring farmers and entrepreneurs to get a foothold in America’s agricultural future?
PK: Today’s consumers are interested in where their food comes from and how it was raised, and that is an area where young beginner farmers can get a good foothold in the agricultural industry. It can be really difficult to get started in agriculture where, in general, a lot of capital is required to get started to be successful. However, niche markets that offer all-natural, antibiotic-free, humanely raised, organic, etc., within the agricultural industry have created an alternative market, and pay good premiums to the farmers.
FT: How can we best stimulate young people’s curiosity about food and agriculture and encourage their participation in building healthier food systems?
PK: Everyone has to eat. Social media has been a great place to start to get young people interested in details about their food; from blogs, videos, and webinars. These are all good forms of communication that help young people who want to know where food comes from and how it gets to their plate.
At Niman Ranch we often coordinate farm tours as a good way to interact with consumers. As farmers, we need to show people how farms work on a daily basis and what is needed in order to keep a successful farm operation going.
Farmer Friday is a bi-weekly series featuring 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.