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Chickasaw County family honored as good neighbors

Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, center, awards the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award to members of the Leon and Barb Sheets family. Contributed photo
Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey, center, awards the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award to members of the Leon and Barb Sheets family. Contributed photo
Press staff report

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, he said, which is why he and his wife, Barb, focus on good stockmanship and also service in their community.

Sheets’ friend and neighbor, Joanne Tupper, nominated them for the Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award, a distinction that celebrates Iowa farm families who practice responsible livestock farming on and off the farm.

“Leon has taken the lead on animal welfare and implementing the newest technology to constantly improve his farming operation,” Tupper said in her nomination.

The Wergin Good Farm Neighbor Award is presented by the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship and Iowa Ag Radio Network in partnership with the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers.

It is awarded to Iowa farm families who raise livestock, and is given in honor of late WHO radio farm broadcaster Gary Wergin, and recognizes families who take pride in being good neighbors and stewards of the land.

A ceremony was held in honor of the Sheets family in October. Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey presented the award to Leon and Barb, congratulating them as the first farm family from Chickasaw County to be recognized.

“Being a good farm neighbor means using practices that are good for the land and good for the community,” said 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.”

Pigs Come First

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 the birth stage to when they go out the door at harvest.”

In 1980, Sheets’ journey back to farming was set in motion when he pursued an opportunity to manage a sow farm near Ionia. The Sheets gradually bought interest in the farm, and grew it from 700 sows to a 1,200 sow farrow-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.

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 of the association 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.”

In 1984 Leon 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.