By Hayley Berry
Leon Sheets says every day is a great day to be a pig farmer. That’s the mantra he lives by each morning when he gets out of bed and heads to his hog barns. Pigs are Leon’s passion, which is why he and his wife, Barb, focus on good stockmanship and service in their community.
The Sheets family’s friend and neighbor, Joanne Tupper, recently nominated them for the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, a distinction that celebrates Iowa farm families who practice responsible livestock farming and dedication to their community. “Leon has taken the lead on animal welfare and implementing the newest technology to constantly improve his farming operation,” Tupper said in her nomination.
More than a tradition
The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture & Land Stewardship and Iowa Ag Radio Network in partnership with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers, is awarded to Iowa farm families who raise livestock. It’s given in honor of the late WHO radio farm broadcaster, Gary Wergin, and recognizes families who take pride in being good neighbors and stewards of the land.
A special ceremony was held in honor of the Sheets family on October 13. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey presented the award to Leon and Barb Sheets, congratulating them as the first farm family from Chickasaw County to be recognized with this honor.
“Being a good farm neighbor means using practices that are good for the land and good for the community,” said Leon Sheets. “In my neighborhood, it’s expected of you to set the guidelines and lead by example. It’s more than a tradition; it’s an obligation to do the right thing.”
A love for livestock
Sheets Farms consists of 600 acres of corn, soybeans, pasture and hay, but Sheets says his main business has always been raising pigs. His love for livestock grew from early childhood memories helping his father and grandfather care for dairy cattle, hogs and chickens on the farm where he was raised near Britt.
“There’s something exciting about going to the barns every morning,” said Sheets. “Pigs are like people. They have good days and bad days, but I’ve really enjoyed the challenges of raising them from birth stage to when they go out the door at harvest.”
In 1980, this family’s journey back to farming was set in motion when pursued an opportunity to manage a sow farm near Ionia. The Sheets family gradually bought in full interest of the farm, and grew it from 700 sows to a 1,200 sow farrow-to-finish operation. He has since scaled back to 6,000 spaces of nursery-to-finisher pigs he raises in partnership with RC Family Farms of Orange City, but over the span of his 40-year farming career one thing has remained the same — his focus on practicing good animal husbandry.
Leon Sheets has applied the same approach in managing his crop acres, making improvements to his farm ground by implementing a combination of conservation practices including grassed waterways, buffer strips, terraces and cover crops.
Caring for land and livestock
According to Sheets, being a spokesperson for the agriculture industry parallels a farmer’s duty to care for their land and livestock. It’s a calling he has fulfilled through his role on the Iowa Pork Producers Association (IPPA) board of directors, where he served as president in 2011.
“We need to engage the public to help them understand what we do,” he said. “If it starts with me, then I will try to tell those that till the land and raise the animals we have to be out chatting with the public every opportunity we get.” This farming couple has also been influential in their local community through the 4-H program and as members of the Republic Community Church.
Although the Sheets humbly insist winning the Good Farm Neighbor Award is more of a reflection on their neighborhood, this isn’t the first time they’ve have been recognized for their dedication to doing things right. In 1984, Sheets was named a Master Pork Producer by IPPA. He was also inducted into the IPPA Feeder Pig Hall of Fame and is a recent recipient of the Iowa Farm Environmental Leader Award.
Nominate a livestock farmer
To nominate a deserving livestock farmer or farm family for the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, visit supportfarmers.com/goodfarmneighbor or contact Haley (Banwart) Berry at 515-225-5526 or [email protected].
The Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers was created more than 10 years ago by farmers to help farmers raise livestock responsibly and successfully. It’s a joint partnership involving Iowa Beef Industry Council, Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, Iowa Corn Growers, Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Pork Producers Association, Iowa Poultry Association, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Turkey Federation and Midwest Dairy Association.
Berry is an assistant field specialist with CSIF.