Luke Tjelmeland has always been the "neighborhood kid" — prepared to help when the need arises.
Those neighbors Luke has helped along the way showed their support of their neighborhood kid during an open house held last week at the newly constructed 105-by-310-foot pig barn. The wean-to-finish barn near Nevada will house up to 4,600 head.
"He would come over and do some mowing for us, and he was always the kid in the neighborhood that people would call and say, ‘We’re leaving. Can you check our house or can you mow for us?’" said Loren Book, a neighbor to Luke and his wife, Krista.
"If anybody needs help, I’ve always tried my best to be there in the dirt, mud, anything helping them," Luke, 24, said.
When the Tjelmelands decided to pursue their passion for pork, they were advised to call Kent Mowrer, senior field coordinator for the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers (CSIF) for guidance. In January, the three met to discuss the correct location for the 4,600-head capacity barn.
With guidance from both Mowrer and Seth Wengert, an agronomist with The Maschoffs, which will own the hogs, the couple got started talking to neighbors.
They talked to their neighbors about their plans to build the barn, and welcomed any questions regarding the site or their plans for the barn. They called members of the Story County Board of Supervisors to introduce themselves and their plan, even before the plan hit their desks prior to a public hearing in May.
First matrix site
The Tjelmelands worked with Mowrer, Wengert and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to complete a master matrix application.
Most Iowa counties, including Story, require a master matrix application for sites that propose feeding a larger number of animals. For hogs, that’s typically at least 2,500 head.
The matrix is used to score proposals on air, water and community issues that go beyond what regulations would otherwise require and are incorporated into the construction permit.
The Story County site scored within the parameters of the master matrix, making the site eligible for the construction permit.
"They were as good of people as you could ever have to work with. They are certainly enthusiastic and proactive," Wengert said.
He added that the Tjelmelands’ barn is the first new construction master matrix hog site in Story County since the matrix was introduced in 2003.
"They talked to their neighbors, they talked to supervisors, they did everything right to make sure the barn got built," Wengert said.
Standing up for barn
Thirteen proponents of the site talked in favor of the plans to build the barn during the 3.5-hour public hearing in May. The Story County Board of Supervisors received more than 15 letters of support for the site.
There were some who voiced their opposition to the site, citing concerns about the odor and the site’s potential to discharge. It’s close to the headwaters of the Indian Creek.
But Wayne Clinton, a member of the Story County Board of Supervisors, said Luke and Krista provided assurance to the board, and maintained an open door policy. "The bottom line is they had their ducks in order," Clinton said.
Any time there were questions, Luke and Krista invited them to the farm for clarification.
The Story County Board of Supervisors voted 3-0 in favor of the barn. "Neighbors and supervisors turned the tables on ICCI (Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement) and provided the assurance to pass the site," Mowrer said.
Experience in hogs
While this may be the Tjelmelands’ first pig building, it certainly isn’t their first experience raising and caring for pigs.
Luke grew up on the family’s farrow-to-finish pig farm. He managed a 3,300-head pig site southwest of Roland while he was in high school.
He said those experiences have prepared him for his new business venture. "With that background and history, I’m not really nervous at all," he said. "I just can’t wait to get the pigs in the barn."
Krista, a patient registration representative at McFarland Clinic, grew up on a pig farm in northwest Iowa, so the idea wasn’t a foreign concept to her, either. But the idea of the couple having a pig barn together wasn’t an easy sell, they said.
"I had my oppositions from the beginning," Krista said. "I grew up on a hog farm, and I knew the smells, but he told me about the building and the technology that’s out there today (to help control odor)."
Luke explained the features of the barn that would help control odor: misters on the fan to help break down dust and odor particles, tunnel ventilation that pulls air through the north side of the barn, pit additives that break manure down, a manure pit under the barn instead of an outdoor slurry. These helped to alleviate Krista’s concerns.
"I think it’ll be a good investment; it’ll help our kids out eventually," she said.
Book, who worked as a field manager for the Iowa Beginning Farmer Center, knows that livestock is a tool that helps young farmers like Luke and Krista get established. Though he said he wasn’t initially thrilled of the idea of a hog barn within a mile from his farm, the Tjelmelands have the right to farm.
"I will go to the wire with him for his right to do it," Book said. "He owns the land, and as long as he goes by all the rules and regulations that the DNR puts in place, who am I to say that he shouldn’t do it?"
Book said he credits Luke and Krista for their decision to place the barn behind their house instead of other pieces of land in the area. "They do have land they could have used away from here, but they didn’t. If it smells, they’re going to know it," Book said.
Though a lengthy process between choosing the site, public hearings and construction, the Tjelmelands welcomed their first group of pigs into the building last week.
"I think it’s great," said Rick Sanders, a member of the Story County Board of Supervisors. "Anytime a young Iowa farmer can take on all the challenges that come your way and be able to build something, that means he’s going to get to farm for the rest of his life."