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How an Illinois Farm Family Built Their Booming Hog Business

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PHYLLIS COULTER Illinois Farmer Today

SHANNON, Ill. – Darrell Stitzel’s grandparents moved to a farm in Carroll County, northwestern Illinois 65 years ago. His wife Laurie’s father began his career as a sharecropper in South Dakota. Together, the couple developed a thriving pork business while being active in their community.

They were recognized this year at the Illinois State Fair as the 2022 Illinois Pork Producer Farm Family of the Year.

“I was happy to see Darrell recognized for his hard work and dedication to pork producers and I’m very proud of him,” said Laurie.

Darrell helped on the farm as a teenager, but said he was in college earning his degree in agricultural economics at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign when he began to “enjoy the idea of ​​full-time farming”.

Today, Stitzel Hog Farm markets 10,000 hogs from its weaner-to-finish hog farm and grows 450 acres of corn.

“Corn is primarily for hogs,” Darrell said.

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The evolution of the farm and its buildings is proudly captured in a few aerial photos of the farm hanging in their home office.

Darrell’s parents, Dan and Paulette, took over the operation from his grandparents in the 1960s, building the first barn in 1972 and more in the 1980s. The family began as a cow-to-finish operation with outdoor production, Darrell said.

“Now we focus on one aspect,” he said.

Darrell started farming full-time in 1990 and took over day-to-day operations from his parents over a decade ago. With the help of his cousin, Nathan Cluck, they now manage the farms.

Over time, Darrell’s interest in politics and the promotion of hog farming grew and he became active in the Carroll County Pork Association. This interest became a stepping stone to being elected to the Illinois Pork Producers Board of Directors. He served in each of the IPPA offices for nine years and became its president in 2005.

Darrell attended the National Pork Leadership Academy, where he said he learned more about pork production and marketing. He used this knowledge to speak at more than 30 Operation Main Street rallies, telling the story of the pork industry and dispelling myths about the industry to his audience.

“The two points we tried to get across are that pig farms are environmentally friendly and lean pork is healthy,” he said.

His involvement in the IPPA has given him many opportunities, including participation in the Pork Leadership Academy. He said he really learned a lot in half a dozen visits to Washington, D.C. Being part of national and state pork associations, he said he learned to look at the pork industry as an image bigger, instead of just how an individual problem would directly affect him.

“As a group, we (pork producers) are a consumer-driven industry,” he said.

For Darrell and Laurie, it was a highlight helping Texas pork producers through Operation Snowball Express, a nonprofit to help families who have lost a spouse or parent on active duty. . In the Lone Star State, pig farmers from Illinois and Texas served food and interacted with families.

“It was great to be a part of it. It’s a great cause,” he said.

Brent School of Polo, Illinois, who was part of the Texas team, also worked with Darrell on the IPPA board and nominated the Stitzels for the Pork Producers Family of the Year Award from Illinois. His nomination included recognition of the Stitzels’ many efforts in promoting pork as well as the many events they cook pork for.

In addition to being active members of the pork industry, the couple embraces their community. Laurie, who recently retired from running a beauty salon in Polo, says she still does hair and is active with the Shannon Lions Club.

Darrell serves on the state board of Farm Business Farm Management (FBFM), is a township supervisor, and recently resigned from the Carroll County Board after a decade of service there.

Darrell, who started farming full-time 30 years ago, said he looks forward to at least another decade working “at a successful business that has value.”