IAS’ Dewell uses hog farm experience to aid profitability

Posted October 31, 2012 at 12:43 pm

SALUTE TO PORK

By Pete Temple, Express Sports/Ag Editor

Brad Dewell, swine production specialist at Innovative Ag Services (IAS), said he hoped that any article about his job puts the emphasis on producers.

“I just like to help producers,” Dewell said. “Without my producers, I’m not in business. And the only way I’m going to stay in business is to help them stay in business.”

Dewell (pronounced “duel”) concedes that there are challenges facing hog farmers today.

“This fall is rather tough with the high corn prices,” Dewell said. “It’s going to be a struggle for the next six months to a year, depending on whether they raise their own grain or whether they have to buy their ingredients.”

Having been a hog farmer himself, Dewell understands the challenges that producers – particularly from small operations - experience.

“It comes down to volume,” he said. “There are fewer and fewer small hog farms around, because the margin the producers get today per pig sold is less than it was years ago. It’s volume of sales. You’ve got to sell more volume at less margin to make the same money today.

It helps, Dewell said, to diversify.

“The core of my business is traditional producers,” Dewell said. “So my customer base includes people that can stem a down market more readily because they are diversified, or they are feeding their own crops. That helps a lot too.

“You still have to be as efficient as the integrators. You still have to do the right things.”

Dewell, originally from Clarence, learned his trade in a variety of ways.

“My father farmed, and when I was a kid, I always enjoyed working with the livestock more so than running a tractor in the field,” Dewell said.

He graduated from Iowa State University in 1985 with a degree in animal science.

In 1987, he started working for a large hog farm in Cedar County, and stayed there for eight years.

“I always enjoyed the different jobs that you do on a hog farm,” Dewell said. “It doesn’t get mundane. There are always new things to challenge you when you do things with livestock. I guess I like the challenges.”

He said his experience gives him an edge.

“Every job that happens on the hog farm, I’ve done it. So that gives (customers) confidence that I know what happens on a farm, because I’ve done it. I didn’t learn it from a book; I learned it from experience,” he said.

In 1995, Dewell was hired by Swiss Valley (what is now IAS) as a swine specialist, and sold swine and beef feeds in the Andrew and Center Junction areas.

In 2004 Dewell interviewed for his current position, and has been there since.

“I enjoy what I do. The biggest thing is, I try to make myself feel like I’m part of the families. You feel their joy when they’ve had a good year, and when they’ve had a bad year, you feel their pain. I enjoy helping somebody be successful.”

Dewell does that by calling on hog producers throughout an area that includes Jones, Jackson, Dubuque, Cedar, Linn, Delaware, Buchanan and Clayton counties.

“I call on hog producers throughout the trade territory, trying to sell hog feed, hook alignments together, find sow sources and pig sources, and put together opportunities for producers,” he said.

“A lot of my job today is running cost of productions (COPs),” Dewell added. “I pull my computer out, and I punch in numbers and costs and so forth, and I kick out the cost of production. And then we’ll discuss it.”

One way producers are attempting to cut costs is by using alternative ingredients in feed. But there is a slim margin of error, so Dewell incorporates what he calls the “best-cost” diet.

“We best-cost our feed diets, putting alternative ingredients in to get the same performance,” Dewell said. “We’ re trying to low-cost the diets, but still get them to perform. That’s why I call it best-cost diets.”

He also works with the producers on closeouts.

“We take all the numbers from the sales and production numbers crunch them, and determine profitability after they’re all gone,” he said. “The COP projects what’s going to happen in this group of pigs; the closeout confirms it. So we do a lot of closeouts to confirm our projections.”

Dewell said his work is made easier by his co-workers.

“What makes Innovative Ag successful in the feed business is that we have a good team,” he said. “We have good feed truck drivers, good mill people and good store people. It’s a team approach.”

He said his customers are good to work with, as well.

“The biggest key to success is management,” he said. “You’ve got to have good managers raising the pigs. And I would say all my customers are excellent managers, or they wouldn’t be in business today.”

Dewell and his wife Lorna live in Lowden. He has two daughters and two stepdaughters, all of whom are college age or older.

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