Sustaining the Farm from One Generation to the Next

For pig farmer Thomas Titus of Elkhart, Illinois, the goal of sustainable farming is to protect the farm for future generations.

Titus comes from a six-generation farming family and his wife, Breann, is a third-generation farmer. He now manages a 750-sow farrow-to-finish farm on 1,700 acres that is part of the Tri Pork Inc. company owned by his wife’s parents, Dave and Lisa Conrady. He hopes his focus on the environment, the community and the health of their pigs will allow his two young daughters, Reagan and Lakin, to become the farm’s next generation.

“We want to continue that legacy,” Titus said. “So, we must find ways to sustain the farm into the next generation.”

Shrinking the farm’s carbon footprint

Titus didn’t start his career on the farm. After growing up on a multi-generational farm in Arcola in east central Illinois, he attended the University of Illinois. After graduation, he began a job with Cargill, where he worked for six years in various roles, including pork procurement. But in 2012, Titus had the opportunity to join his wife’s family farm, where four generations actively work. Today, he helps manage the livestock, including the farm’s pork production business.

Through his work at Cargill, Titus brought a fresh perspective to the farm, especially about sustainability. Watching Cargill’s determination to reduce its footprint by focusing on areas such as packaging, water use and recycling gave Titus ideas to increase sustainability in farming.

“We’re always looking for ways we can do our jobs better, save water and reduce our carbon footprint,” he said.

In recent years, the farm installed reserve power, revamped the lighting systems with more energy efficient bulbs, introduced new manure handling equipment to reduce energy use and began milling corn in a new way to reduce feed requirements.

Sharing the farm’s story

Achievements such as reducing the farm’s carbon footprint is part of the story that Titus believes must be shared with the American public.

Few Americans today (1.4%i) have ties to the farm, yet they are increasingly curious about it, Titus said. They want to know where their food comes from and how the animals are cared for and treated.

That’s why Titus looks for opportunities with local, state and national groups to teach people about what farmers do. For example, the farm hosted a “farm-to-fork” harvest dinner a few years ago for 125 doctors, dietitians, food policy makers and elected officials, to show them the farm’s equipment, crops, animals – and how they care for them.

“We need to rebuild our trust with decision-makers, showing them how we care for our land and animals,” he said.

Titus and his family also work through non-profit programs to show their farm to underprivileged youth.

“The farm is a teaching tool to show young people how they can be productive citizens with a sense of their own value and self-worth,” Titus said. “We want them to understand the importance of animal care and that what we do on the farm holds a greater purpose than ourselves.”

Caring for the animals is job one for Titus. They must be kept comfortable and well-nourished, safe from predators and parasites, and as healthy as possible, even if that sometimes requires antibiotics. It takes healthy pigs to provide safe, quality pork, he said.

“Our goal is to maintain the efficacy of antibiotics we use,” Titus said.

The future depends on sustainability

In the end, Titus said, it’s all about his kids. When his daughters get off the school bus, they run out to help on the farm, and their excitement is what helps him stay focused on finding new ways to protect and preserve the land and the animals.

“My wife and I say that the most important thing we raise on the farm is our children,” Titus said. “We want to provide our kids with the same opportunities we had. Focusing on sustainability will help us do that.”

When will Titus know he has succeeded in creating a sustainable farm? Not until he is sitting at the end row of his field watching the next generation at the wheel.

We’re always looking for ways we can do our jobs better, save water and reduce our carbon footprint. We must find ways to sustain the farm into the next generation.